By Cheryl MacDonald BA Hons E-RPYT CYT
Founder of YogaBellies and Director Yoga Teacher and Baby Massage Instructor Trainer
Baby massage has becoming increasingly popular in the west with parents and health care practitioner alike, with numerous studies continuing to hail the benefits of taking time to massage and bond with your baby. New born and infant massage is of particular interest to midwives in their primary role, helping families to bond and heal the pain of traumatic births, but now many midwives are offering baby massage sessions privately in their spare time also. Here’s the low down…
What is Baby Massage?
Infant massage is massage given to newborns and young infants involving tactile and kinesthetic stroke and rubbing as a therapy which has been proven to enhance their cognitive and physical development. Massage for infants helps to promote a sense of wellbeing for mother and baby among its numerous other benefits…
Baby Massage has its roots in Ayurvedic massage in India dating as far back as 1800BC. The widespread use of massage as a therapeutic medium has only resurfaced to be an accepted alternative practise during the last two decades and is now commonly practiced due to the many benefits. Today there is a general trend toward a natural healthy lifestyle, with more and more parents seeking ways they can improve their family’s way of life, with baby massage playing a major part in newborn-parent bonding. Massage can begin as early as 37 weeks for medically stable preterm infants.
So what are the benefits of baby massage?
Everyone knows that infant massage is good for babies, but how exactly does it help? There have been several clinic trials around these benefits in the past twenty years, citing benefits not just for baby but also for post-partum mum.
Studies have confirmed that infant massage can improved weight gain in newborns; babies massaged regularly have shown better performance on assessment scales as well as better sleeping patterns, greater soothability and improved general growth and development. Field, T Dieter, J (2003), Field, T (2002), Additional benefits for babies include improvements in skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema when massaged with oils. (Field, T 2005)
Preterm infants are a group which show considerable benefits from newborn massage. Benefits for preterm infants have been cited in studies also with infants being massaged averaging a 21% greater weight gain per day , were discharged 5 days earlier, and performed better on the habituation cluster items of the Brazelton scale (Scafidi, F.A. et al 1990, Scafidi, F.A. et al 1993, Field, T. et al 2006) A study by Hernandez-Reif, M. et al (2007) showed that the preterm infants in a massage therapy group received three 15-min massages each day for 5 consecutive days, with the massages consisting of moderate pressure stroking to the head, shoulders, back, arms and legs and kinesthetic exercises consisting of flexion and extension of the limbs. The preterm infants receiving massage therapy showed fewer stress behaviors and less activity from the first to the last day of the study.
Benefits of Infant Massage for mums
And it’s not only babies who benefit from infant massage. Studies have also shown that massaging your baby can be therapeutic for mum too. Emotional benefits have been cited with baby massage aiding the post birth bonding process by spending exclusive focused time with baby getting to know them. Massaging your infant can also help mum overcome intrusive medical intervention or a difficult birth which may have caused problems with the bonding process.
Baby massage also helps baby adapt to their new environment and to become less sensitive to new stimuli. For this reason, baby massage is often popularly used to ease the symptoms of colic.
During baby massage sessions, mums begin to understand their baby’s cries and signals and to communicate with them through touch. Other advantages for mums are helping to ease sibling rivalry by encouraging older children to become involved in the massage of the newest addition to the family.
Symptoms of Post Natal Depression can also be eased by baby massage (Pelaez-Nogueras, M., et al 1996.) by helping mother learn to communicate with and soothe their babies, further aiding the bonding process.
Where can I learn more about infant massage and undertake training?
Infant massage is a skill which requires professional training and accreditation in order to advised parents correctly. Baby massage should always be carried out by the primary care giver or in their presence with their permission.
There are many training courses available in the UK with the main accrediting bodies being the IPTI (Independent Professional Therapists Ltd) and IAMS (International Association of Infant Massage.) A good training course will include pre course reading on the subject, a live training session, post course work and possibly an exam. Different courses offer different levels of home or online study as part of their course which can be useful if you have a full time job or a busy family life to work around.
Some sample infant massage strokes you can use to get started…
If you’d like to try your hand at baby massage before committing to a training course then the legs are a good place to start as they are the least sensitive part of baby’s body and often the part of massage that baby most enjoys.
The UP THE LEG STRETCH helps to increase baby’s body awareness, soothes the sensory nerve endings and aids relaxation. To carry out this stroke hold baby’s ankle, and using palm stroke up the leg ankle to thigh and back and then back down, swapping hands. This should be repeated 3 times on either side.
The ROLY POLY is another favourite stroke which increases suppleness, ‘rolls out’ any tension and is lots of fun to do. Hold baby’s thigh between both hands, roll the thigh then down roll to knee then to the ankle. This should be repeated 3 times on either side. With older infants, the use of nursery rhymes helps to keep them engaged and focused on the massage. ‘Jelly on a plate’ is great for this stroke.
Field, T Dieter, J (2003) Preterm infants gained more weight following as few as 5 days of massage therapy. Journal of Pediatric Psychology
Field, T (2001) Massage therapy facilitates weight gain in preterm infants. Current Directions in Psychological Science
Field, T (2005) Massage therapy for skin conditions in young children. Dermatologic Clinics
Field, T., Grizzle, N., Scafidi, F. Abrams, S., Richardson, S., Kuhn, C., & Schanberg, S. (1996). Massage therapy for infants of depressed mothers. Infant Behavior and Development, 19, 107-112.
Field, T., Schanberg, S., Davalos, M., & Malphurs, J. (1996). Massage with oil has more positive effects on normal infants. Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 11, 75-80.
Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Deeds, O., Figueiredo, B. & Ascencio, A. (2006). Moderate Versus Light Pressure Massage Therapy Leads to Greater Weight Gain in Preterm Infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 29, 574-578.
Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Dieter, J., Kumar, A., Schanberg, S. & Kuhn, C. (2008). Preterm infant massage therapy research. Infant Behavior & Development, 33, 115-124.
Field, T., Schanberg, S. M., Scafidi, F., Bauer, C. R., Vega Lahr, N., Garcia, R., Nystrom, J., & Kuhn, C. M. (1986). Tactile/kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics, 77, 654 658.
Field, T., Scafidi, F., & Schanberg, S. (1987). Massage of preterm newborns to improve growth and development. Pediatric Nursing, 13, 385-387.
Field, T. (1994). Infant Massage. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 3, 7-14.
Pelaez-Nogueras, M., Field, T., Hossain, Z., & Pickens, J. (1996) Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions Child Development
Scafidi, F.A., Field, T.M., Schanberg, S.M., Bauer, C.R., Tucci, K., Roberts, J., Morrow, C., & Kuhn, C.M. (1990). Massage stimulates growth in preterm infants: A replication. Infant Behavior and Development, 13, 167-188.