As an adult, most of us love what a massage can do for our mind, body and soul. It leaves us feeling relaxed and refreshed, not to mention how it can seem to melt away muscle strain and tension.
So, what can massages do for a baby? We spoke with experts who told us how to massage our babies in the privacy of our homes as well as what it does for their growing bodies.
1. Skin-to-skin contact is important for babies
Dr. Lisa Lewis, a pediatrician from Fort Worth, Texas, who wrote Feed the Baby Hummus, tells SheKnows that babies go through quite a bit of stress in their new environment — meaning, outside the womb.
While we may not realize why because they can’t tell us, Lewis says, “new smells, noises, unusual tastes and foreign sensations on the skin” can over stimulate our babies. Massage is a wonderful way to “soothe and relax” infants with all the changes and commotion happening around them.
2. Massage can improve the way your baby’s body functions
Lewis says that skin-to-skin contact can help calm and comfort an infant as well as regulate body functions like their breathing and heart rate.
3. Massaging can help your baby sleep better
One of the benefits to having a relaxed, calm child is they are more likely to sleep well, which in turn means their parents will get more sleep. When everyone is more rested, it’s a huge contributing factor in a more positive environment for the child, Lewis explains.
4. Baby massage is a great bonding & communicating experience
Massage is a great time to bond with your child, as it gives the parent “a tool to help control crying and calm your baby,” Lewis says. It can also help parents be more in tune with their infant and look out for cues, such as what makes them more comfortable and relaxed.
Stephanie Agakian, a licensed massage therapist and certified educator of infant massage, tells SheKnows that infant massage can help with attachment and that touch can help children thrive.
5. Don’t overdo it
Yes, the effects of massage are positive, but a baby’s delicate skin can become overly irritated. Lewis recommends no more than two massages each day.
How to do baby massage at home
If you’d like to try some techniques at home, Lewis and Agakian share what you will need and how to get started.
Materials: First, Lewis says to grab some fragrance-free oil, towels, clothes and a diaper. Next, wash your hands before beginning the massage.
Consent: Agakian says to always ask your baby for permission first. This can be done by rubbing your hands together (or another signal), that will eventually let them know you are going to be touching them and can be used as a communication tool.
While this may sound silly, Agakian says it gives them a signal you are going to be touching them and helps them learn to set boundaries.
Technique: Next, Lewis says to place your baby on a towel laid out on a flat surface, such as a changing table, then position yourself in front of the baby with your body close.
Remove your baby’s clothes slowly and gently while talking and touching the body. Cover your baby with a towel to reduce the risk of feeling cold.
Keeping the towel cover in place, start by placing your baby on their stomach with the head turned to the side. Apply oil to your hands and rub them together. Clasp your hands around the feet to get the baby used to the oil. Begin massaging, using gentle circular motions on the feet and legs.
Next, move to the knee, hip joints and buttocks, continuing the same gentle circular motions. Massage the back and arms. When required, add more oil to the hands and warm by rubbing them together.
Once you have finished the back and arms, Lewis says to delicately turn your baby over on their back and continue to massage. Start again with the feet, legs, knee and hips. Massage the toes and fingers by placing them between your thumb and forefinger. Massage the abdomen and chest as well as the earlobes and outer ear.
Extra things to note: When you have finished massaging one section of the body, cover it with a towel to keep your baby from getting cold. If at any time your baby seems uncomfortable, stop massaging, reposition them and put a gentle hand on their back to calm them. And lastly, no tickling, because it will make your baby tense up and not relax, Lewis adds.
With a little time and a few basic materials, you can establish a bonding routine with your baby through massage, which in turn can have some serious health benefits.