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Should You Massage Your Baby?

By Tanya Meyers, Registered Massage Therapist

As a short answer, YES! As adults, many of us know how relaxing, enjoyable and therapeutic it can be to get a massage. We can all benefit physically, mentally and emotionally from this form of nurturing touch — this includes babies!! 

Learning to massage your infant can be fun and is a great way to enhance communication — watching babies’ cues while you apply the techniques and responding accordingly can build on the trust and connection in the relationship. What a wonderful, nurturing way to communicate while also delivering some amazing physical benefits. 

How Can Massage Help Your Baby?

  • Helps relieve discomfort from gas, bloating, and constipation: many babies show signs of discomfort linked to digestive difficulty. You can learn specific techniques to help mechanically move gas, stool, and liquid through the digestive tract. This is a wonderful tool that you can continue to use as your child ages. The area you’re massaging is larger in an older baby or child and therefore you may apply strokes with a larger part of your hand (palm vs finger tips) but the routine and direction of pressure are the same. Relieving digestive discomfort can, in turn, avoid and/or decrease the duration of fussy periods. 

  • Abdominal massage, which increases circulation to the digestive organs, can also assist in digestion and absorption of nutrients.

  • Improves blood circulation and lymphatic drainage: massage increases blood flow to the soft tissue where the strokes are being applied and any time you increase circulation, you also increase lymphatic flow (the fluid channels that surround blood vessels and assist in cellular drainage). This assists in the health of not only muscle tissue but also skin, connective tissue, and even vital organs.

  • Enhances development of the nervous system: when you give your baby a massage, you’re actually stimulating their central nervous system. That sets off a chain reaction where their brain produces more serotonin (a feel-good chemical), and less cortisol (a hormone secreted in response to stress). As a result, your baby’s heart rate and breathing slow down, and they become more relaxed. Reducing the secretion of stress hormones and increasing relaxation can also aid in promoting sleep and improving sleep quality.

  • Increases the secretion of melatonin — a brain chemical associated with inducing sleep and enhancing sleep quality.

  • Improves immune function through the effects on the circulatory system and decreased cortisol levels.

  • Promotes bonding through strengthening non-verbal communication. As we respond to our baby’s cues, they learn that we are aware of and responsive to their wants and needs.

Why take an Infant Massage class?

There is no “wrong” way to massage your baby. Many parents naturally apply massage techniques without any instructional guidance and it’s still just as beneficial. Some simple tools and tips from a Registered Massage Therapist trained in infant massage, however, can  help you build on and get more creative with these techniques. A professional can also instruct you on the specifics of abdominal massage that will help it to be more effective, as the depth and direction of pressure used make a significant difference in this area. 

The main benefit of learning the techniques in a group setting (aside from being surrounded by adorable babies and their loving parents) is that if your baby is needing to sleep, eat, or be soothed vs. having a massage at that time, you will still learn the techniques by observing them being applied to other babies in the class. You will also get a lot of useful tips about what oils to use, suggestions for when to use massage at home, and have the opportunity to ask specific questions about your baby’s particular needs. 

Sometimes parents will attend the class and then also book a private RMT session for their baby if they’d like additional tips and guidance or if baby has specific needs (muscle imbalances such as torticollis or “wry neck” which some babies are born with, specific medical conditions that create challenges or delay in development, or digestive difficulties and colic).

PRO TIP 

Using a hypo-allergenic oil (I use olive oil) to massage your baby, as opposed to a lotion is recommended. Oil has more glide on the skin and is perfect for applying rhythmic massage techniques.

Infant Massage group classes are available at all of our West End Mamas locations.  All of the details are available on our website. You can also book a private infant massage appointment with an RMT, which would likely be covered on your baby’s extended health care or benefits plan (plans vary, so please check with your provider).

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