There is a lot of information on the web about different types of massages. There are specified types of massages for women and kids, but what about infants? Is it safe to give a massage to a baby who is just one month old? Does a baby even need a massage? What are the benefits of giving a massage to your baby? Can you hurt your baby during a massage? Does a baby massage work for colic? And is it officially approved? Is it good to give a baby a massage for sleep?
To answer all these questions, we’ll dive deep into a full set of articles about giving massages to infants which will be presented on this website.
A Little Bit of History
To give an understanding of how massages were utilized for improving a baby’s health, let’s look back at the history.
Giving a baby a massage is an old practice that was often utilized in Asian and Pacific Island societies. Touch in these societies is viewed as a great benefit for the physical and mental health of both the mother and the child. For instance, the inclusion of a baby massage into a bath ritual is an essential tradition of the Maoris and Hawaiians. If we go and look at when the infant massage was introduced in the West, we will find the name of Dr. Frederick Leboyer, a French doctor who was a big supporter of natural childbirth and well-known for his book Birth Without Violence. His book Loving Hands: The Traditional Indian Art of Baby Massage was published after his long-time observations of new Indian mothers and their infant massage techniques, as well as their use of breathing and sounds for aiding the health of their babies. He believed that touch was the first language in which a mother speaks to her child.
Newborn child massages were brought officially into the United States in 1978 when Vimala Schneider McClure, a yoga guru, created a special training program for childbirth professionals. Since that time, the infant massage became very popular and many families and babysitters incorporated a massage into their care for babies.
Different methods are used in the practice of giving an infant a massage, with various strokes specific to different treatments. For example, special precautions are taken to massage a baby with gas and colic. The strokes are known as an “Indian milking” technique, which involves a delicate stroking of the baby’s legs, plus the delicate squeezing of the muscles in the thigh and calf, known as the “squeeze and twist strokes.” If you have ever had a massage, it is similar to the light strokes of the Swedish massage which is often given at the end of a session. Of course, special consideration should be taken for infants because all the squeezing movements must be gentle and appropriate for the baby’s age.
Many professional places in the US also utilize the Chinese strategies of a pediatric massage, incorporating it into massages for kids with special needs, like children that have cerebral palsy, for example. In China, these types of massages can be given by clinical experts, but they teach parents how to use the massage technique at home, so there is a continuation of care that benefits the child.
What Time Is Best?
It is a great idea to turn giving your baby a massage into an everyday practice. The time can be chosen somewhere in the beginning of the day when your baby is the most active, not hungry, and in a good mood. It is best to give the massage at least 45 minutes after feeding. It can also be given right after a shower or before bedtime. As a parent, you can figure out what time works best for your baby by observing the reaction of your child.
It is best to give the massage on a flat, sturdy surface covered with a towel or a sheet.
The room should be warm. All the child’s clothes should be off (or just in a diaper) during the massage, and the infant’s thermoregulation is not perfect yet. They are can easily and quickly become cold or hot. This is especially important for premature babies. The masseuse’s hands should also be warm.
It is preferable to give the massage after the baby has gone to the bathroom so as to avoid digestive discomfort. If they are wearing a diaper, make sure it is clean.
Keep lighting dim in the room if the massage is given in the evening and the baby is almost ready to sleep. Natural light works best if you are giving this massage in the morning.
As a parent, you will see that to give a massage with oil is much easier and pleasant than without it. Your movements will be smooth and your hands softer. And babies love it! Studies show that infants enjoy massages with oil like vegetable or plant oil. Traditional baby oils are mineral-based, which are not promptly absorbed, hence research was done to show which oils work best. Two oils were favored by most massage specialists: grape seed oil and sweet almond oil. Another popular option is coconut oil, which has anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial qualities. Which brand and which oil to use, you can decide for yourself. Additional studies published in the Indian Pediatrics Journal show that a massage given with a coconut oil helps with weight gain, both for full-term and premature infants.
On the other hand, some oils prove more harmful. Research done by the University of Manchester found that olive oil and sunflower oil appear to break down the barrier function of a baby’s skin. Children that were massaged with these types of oils were more likely to develop skin conditions like baby dermatitis and eczema.
Because a baby’s skin is very delicate, avoid essential oils like lavender, thieves, etc., or use them in a diluted state. They are usually very concentrated and can cause an adverse reaction by triggering allergies. If you really want to add a special touch of aroma to your massage, dilute 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 tablespoon of carrier oil for children over 2 years old. For a carrier oil, use oils such as coconut oil, sweet almond, and jojoba oil. Strictly avoid all types of “hot” essential oils such as oregano, cinnamon bark, peppermint oils, wintergreen, etc.