From a few weeks old, the potential benefits of massaging your baby are well documented. Massage can help with releasing hormones such as oxytocin (the feel-good one) and melatonin (the sleep-inducing one – always a good thing in our book!). There’s even some suggestion that it can help with your baby’s social, gross motor skill and mental development. How can you incorporate it into your baby’s routine?
1. After bath time/Before bed
The most obvious time to practice baby massage is when they are already undressed for bed or bath time. That way you can really boost the relaxing effects of the warm bath water and sleepy-time routine you already have. Some people like to massage their baby before the bath (so the sticky oil residue can get washed off) or afterwards to help seal in that moisture and counter the higher skin water loss that babies suffer from). Either way will help them settle for bed.
You can try setting up a warm towel on the floor next to the running bath and choosing a perfume-free oil which is specially formulated for baby skin. Or you could try a vegetable oil such as coconut or sesame, though do be careful of allergies here, especially if there’s a family history.
There are lots of specific massage techniques you can find out about, but the most important thing is to follow your baby’s cues – don’t perform any massage technique that appears to make your baby uncomfortable.
2. When they are cranky or in discomfort.
Baby massage can help stimulate a baby’s bodily systems, including their digestive system. Some parents swear that massage helps with colic, gas or even constipation. Try to avoid the period after a feed as this can be uncomfortable for them and lead to vomiting.
Baby massage can also help stimulate blood circulation - this mighthelp with teething or any other pains, although really the jury is out on whether massage really is effective for this.
Either way, you can give it a go and see if it does help your little one through their minor discomforts (although if there are any health issues, do speak to your doctor first). And if the baby shows any sign that they are not enjoying their massage (such as stiffening their limbs or turning their head away), then try a different massage technique or stop altogether.
3. When YOU are feeling the need to connect
Touch is fundamental to communicating with your baby particularly when they are not yet speaking. Baby massage also allows you to practice eye-to-eye connection and them hearing your calming voice. Over time, it can help you observe and learn to recognise your baby’s subtle cues. Regular baby massage, whatever time of day, is a great way to make time for building all these different ways of connecting with your baby.
But what about for those particular times when YOU are feeling disconnected or ratty?Baby massage can help here too by making you feel better about how you are doing as a parent and giving you confidence in your own abilities to care for them. There are even studies that show that baby massages can help counter post-natal depression.