Think of all the reasons you enjoy getting a massage. It’s relaxing, soothing and sometimes stimulating. The perks of infant massage are similar, but also include so much more. Massage for babies differs from massage in the adult world in that the primary focus of the massage session is not working out the trigger points and tension, but rather eliciting a relaxation response in the baby. We use touch to communicate safety and comfort. For caregivers, baby massage becomes a way to build trust and bond with their infant. One of the greatest things about massaging your baby is knowing that when your baby feels calm and relaxed, it’s allowing their little body to use that extra energy on important growing tasks such as brain development and digestion.
What Is Baby Massage?
Baby Massage is exactly as it sounds. A massage therapist or parent/caregiver massaging baby. Infant massage is a great way to bond with the newborn but also help stimulate growth and development through gentle touch. If you’re wondering what age to start baby massage, it’s fine to begin right after birth, as soon as baby is medically cleared to be handled – and the sooner, the better. The infant massage techniques will be very light and gentle. The goal is to get baby comfortable and familiar with touch.
Benefits of Infant Massage for the Infant/Child
There are many health benefits to infant massage, which include:
- Reduced gas in colicky infants – An abdominal massage can aid digestion and help baby move the contents of the intestines along their journey through the colon.
- Improved muscle tone and range – By moving and circulating baby’s muscles, you’re preventing atrophy and helping them develop strength and motor skills.
- Brain development – When you massage baby, you’re increasing their awareness of the body’s position and movement. This allows the body to become more physically integrated.
- Improved focus and eye contact – With bonding and regular massage, baby gets to practice eye contact. Maintaining eye contact while massaging an overstimulated baby helps him stay present in the moment.
- Enhanced neuromuscular connections – Infants need to learn about all their different body parts and how to control them. With infant massage, baby becomes more aware of sensory connections and where they are in space. Which in turn, affects how they move.
- Healthier immune system – Believe it or not, baby massage can help cut down on colds! Massage increases our white blood cell count, thus improving immune response. It also assists in lymphatic flow, which can help fight off infections.
- Improved mood – There’s a good reason your little one is smiling after a baby massage: Endorphins – those happy hormones! They’re released in response to therapeutic touch. At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. The fight-or-flight response shuts off and the relaxation response is stimulated. As result, a stressed infant who may not have been gaining weight may begin to thrive and put on ounces and pounds.
- Better sleep – Bedtime massage is a popular choice because massage is so relaxing. Over time, babies begin to anticipate scheduled activities, which can lead to an understanding that first comes bath, then story, then massage, then nursing/bottle, then bed.
Benefits of Massage an Infant or Child for the Parent/Caregiver
One of the primary benefits to massaging your baby, is encouraging an emotional bond between yourself and the baby. Often in the first stages post-partum the birthing parent often feels mental and physical shifts that encourage negative feelings and lack of attachment and connection with the newborn. Massage can be a great way to begin encouraging that connection. Infant massage encourages bonding through eye-to-eye contact, smiling, soothing vocal sounds, loving touch, caressing. Noticing their positive cues to your interaction can be very encouraging and uplifting to a new parent. That said, it’s especially important for fathers/non birthing parent to massage baby. It puts him on an even keel with mom, who typically spends more time with the baby if they have chosen to nurse. It can sometimes take up to seven or eight months for fathers/partners to become enthralled with their little one, but when they start massage from birth, they may develop that bond much earlier.
The other benefits for parents and the development of parenting skills include:
- Promote better understanding of infant cues
- Alleviate post-partum depression and anxiety
- Enhance communication and emotional ties
- Increase confidence and handling skills
- Provide quality one-on-one interaction
- Encourage parents to unwind, relax, and listen to their baby
Early development is influenced by touch and infant massage can support development in these five areas:
- Communication skills – promotes emerging speech, direct eye gaze, listening and turn taking
- Motor skills – improves muscle tone and coordination, increases body awareness
- Social skills – encourages infant and caregiver to engage with one another
- Cognition – enhances overall awareness of self and body, cause and effect, and increase in attention span
- Self-help skills – stimulates oral motor musculature awareness, lip closure, and relaxation of tension needed for swallowing
Gentle, soothing massage to promote all of the above can be taught to the parent to perform on their own as part of their daily routine with baby. Massaging your baby is a wonderful way to begin a lifelong relationship. With that, massage can also be performed by a trained massage therapist and can include treatment to infants and children for conditions such as:
- Torticollis – from birthing or later in infancy/child years
- Tongue Tie – (in infants)
- Recurring ear infections – may be able to provide symptom relief (possible temporal bone imbalance resulting in pressure on eustachian tube)
- Growing pains – often in children 4 to 12 years of age. At the end of a day, the child may experience severe pain in the legs at bedtime. The exact cause is unknown but often musculoskeletal imbalance is found.
- Cleft pallet – pre- and post-surgical referrals. The facial, neck, shoulders and chest muscles can be addressed. Scar tissue and adhesions may also be treated to help in recovery.
- Birth trauma – malalignments and torsion created whilst in the womb, passing through the birth canal, or via cesarian section
- And many others
In older child years, children benefit from the massage as adults do (with modifications of course). Their tiny muscles get sore too, be it postural, sports and activities, or injury.
In conclusion, it is often unknown to parents that massage is indicated for infants and children too! There are many benefits and trained massage therapists use our training and experience to explore the possibilities that skilled touch can bring to support your child’s health and well-being. If you’re interested in learning more about how massage therapy can help your child, we can determine together how massage can make a positive impact on your child’s life.
-Melissa Andre, RMT