What is Baby Massage?
Baby massage comprises a simple sequence of rhythmic strokes on your baby’s body using a variety of techniques. This wonderful bonding activity also allows for communication with your baby through speech and eye-to-eye contact, as well as a special opportunity to learn to understand and respond to your baby’s cues.
Over the last few years, baby massage has become extremely popular in many counties as research has found there to be profound benefits associated with touch and massage in the early years. However, baby massage is not a new concept. Anything but. It is an ancient art that has been practised by parents for centuries across the globe!
Baby massage is a special bonding activity for you and your baby – a time of peace, happiness and connection between you and your little one.
There is a growing body of research that evidences the therapeutic benefits of baby massage. Baby massage is already a fundamental and routine part of baby care in many parts of the world and is becoming increasingly prominent due to its benefits for both babies and parents.
Baby massage is extremely valuable for your baby as your loving touch provides many physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits. Baby massage helps:
Creating a strong attachment between you and your child is essential for your baby’s social and emotional development. The act of giving your baby that one-on-one time shows them how important they are to you. Bonding with your baby creates a secure and healthy attachment making your baby feel safe, loved and valued. In addition, by massaging your baby, you stimulate the release of oxytocin in your and your baby’s body. This facilitates attachment and bonding, promoting a deeper emotional connection between parent and child.
Find out more about: Bonding & Attachment
Massage can help your baby to relax. During the massage they will release Serotonin & Oxytocin. These hormones induce feelings of optimism; build self-esteem and trust, and relieve pain, leading to a happier and more content baby. Thus, less crying and fussing with longer and deeper sleeps and a happy parent too!
Regular massage can enhance the immune system. Massage stimulates circulation and also the lymphatic system, aiding lymphatic drainage. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and a vital part of the immune system, helping to rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. Massage has also been found to increase the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells) which play a large role in defending the body from disease. Improvements in the circulation of blood also help to nourish the whole body and vital organs.
Massage improves muscle tone by mechanically stimulating reflexes found within muscle fibres. Muscle tone is essential for your baby to develop their fine and gross motor skills. Low muscle tone delays their ability to reach key milestones such as sitting up, crawling and walking.
Massaging your baby across their whole body stimulates the nervous system, enhancing neurological development by promoting the growth of myelin. This substance surrounds nerve cells which increases the speed and efficiency of their function.
Body awareness is essential for children to learn how to motor plan (i.e. conceive, plan and use their muscles in the correct sequence to achieve their plan) and coordinate their body parts through space and around objects.
Baby massage stimulates their sensory receptors, allowing them to make important neural connections, relax their muscles and become more aware of their body. As a child gets older, the massage also brings their attention to each muscle as it is touched.
Research shows that massage is particularly beneficial for premature babies. Premature babies who are massaged regularly, and particularly when using oil, have shown to have improved rate of weight gain and a shorter time in hospital.
Touch, especially massage, stimulates a key nerve called the Vagus Nerve, which connects the brain with important parts of the body. Stimulation of this nerve increases the level of growth hormone and cellular enzymes that promote the growth of your child. This nerve is also responsible for keeping the digestive tract in working order, improving digestion and bowel movement and in turn aiding weight gain. This is also why babies tend to be hungry after a massage!
One of the most common massage techniques that parents are eager to learn is tummy massage to help with their baby’s digestive discomfort. Massaging the stomach can help to move the milk and any wind down the intestines. This eases the pain and improves constipation and cramping. It can also soothe the muscles and nerves in the area of the massage, and can bring comfort to the organs that are connected to the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
Massage is a great tool to help with pain in many ways. It can increase blood flow to painful joints and muscles, which are warmed by the extra circulation. Research has found that massage triggers the release of natural painkillers in the brain. Also, the release of the ‘feel good’ hormone Oxytocin helps to relax the muscles and encourage feelings of calmness and contentment.
Furthermore, the firm pressure of massage can help your baby to feel less pain due to the Gate Theory. This is where the pressure impulse reaches the brain faster than the pain impulse and shuts the nerve gate to the central nervous system so less pain is felt. For example, this is why we rub or hold our toe when we stub it – it helps us feel less pain.
Baby massage often incorporates signing nursery rhymes – we certainly do here at bambino&i! This helps with your baby’s cognitive, speech and language development. Click here to find the words to the nursery rhymes that you will use during your baby massage course.
It is not just baby that benefits from massage; you do too. Baby massage:
Taking the time to massage your baby provides a wonderful opportunity for uninterrupted one-on-one time. This gives you an opportunity to get to know and understand your baby and their body better. Having the opportunity to observe your baby’s behaviour, their cry and their body language, allows you to learn their cues and how to respond to them, ultimately leading to a more content baby. This in itself will make you feel more confident and empowered.
The loving gaze between a parent and baby, and the simple connection with your baby through touch, releases Oxytocin and Serotonin.
Both Oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’ and Serotonin, an important chemical neurotransmitter, help you to feel good, more relaxed and able to fight off the ‘baby blues’. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in bonding and social interaction. It can act as an antidote to depressive feelings. Research has shown that baby massage can help mums who suffer from Post Natal Depression and improve their interactions with baby. For mums, it also helps with milk release during breastfeeding and can even be passed through the mother’s milk to baby!
Baby massage provides all of the elements essential for parent-baby bonding and attachment. In addition to the release of that all-important oxytocin hormone, it provides an opportunity for eye-to-eye contact, for them to feel your touch, your voice, your smell and also gives you time to understand your baby. This will allow you to respond to their needs more quickly, making them feel secure and loved. With touch being your newborns first language, it plays an essential role in forming early parent-child relationships. Furthermore, the act of giving your baby that one-on-one time shows them how important they are to you and they are loved, valued and respected.
Baby massage is a great way for dads to bond with baby. In the early days, dads can often feel side-lined, particularly if they are out at work all day, or baby is breast-feeding. Dads tend to enjoy baby massage as it provides a structured activity for them to follow, giving them an opportunity to interact and bond with baby. Dads also tend to be very good at baby massage as they have a firmer grip!
Research has shown that regular baby massage has a positive impact on dads and their interactions with baby, and helps them to develop a more positive view of their children. This can result in dads feeling more self-confident and competent in fathering. It has also been seen that shortly after dad’s involvement in baby massage, baby’s mood and behaviour is more positive and baby’s attachment to dad increases.
"Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant; food as necessary as minerals, vitamins, and proteins"
~ Frederick Leboyer
(A French Obstetrician who revolutionized prenatal care and the way babies are introduced to the world. He also pioneered introducing infant massage to the Western world.)
Nurturing touch should begin from the moment your baby enters the world. Unless your health visitor or midwife indicate otherwise, there is no reason not to start practising baby massage straight away. After all, massage is often used on pre-term babies to help with their weight gain! By following Bambinio&i’s online course you can do this from the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you and your baby. Before starting, please ensure you have read our section on When should I avoid baby massage.
If you plan on attending a class, it is normally recommended that you wait until around 6 weeks (this tends to be the time that both you and your baby settle into a routine and by then, leaving the house will hopefully have become less of a challenge!) In the very early weeks, babies can find a structured class and new surroundings over-stimulating, and the last thing you want is to stress for both you and your baby.
But remember - always listen to your baby’s cues. In the early days, baby can easily become over-stimulated. So remember to look out for signs that they have had enough. Such signs may be, fussing, crying, yawning sneezing or even hiccupping.
In learning baby massage, please remember that not only is it a new skill that you are learning, it is also something that baby is learning to receive. Therefore, it is important to choose a good time for both you and your baby.
So, when is a good time? Ideally when your baby is happy, and not when they are hungry, tired or have just been fed. When babies are tired, they just want to sleep. If they are hungry, they just want to be fed! Just after feeding, they need to digest their food – so you really do not want to massage their tummy or they will just bring their food back up. You could however, try massaging their legs or feet after a feed.
Also, for babies experiencing reflux, massage is always best before a feed. Sometimes, babies with reflux can find it difficult lie flat on their back. Try lying them down on an incline with a cushion under the top half of the back.
Remember that massage should always be a pleasurable experience for both parent and baby. Therefore, it is best to avoid massage:
- If baby is tired.
- If baby is hungry.
- If baby is fussing/crying – perhaps they are feeling unwell, teething, about to get a cold, or just not in the mood.
- On their gut/tummy area if they have just been fed. For breast fed babies you should wait for about 15-20 minutes and for bottle fed babies, about 20-30 minutes, to allow for the milk to digest.
- If baby has a fever or any sudden unexplained rash (nappy rash is okay).
- On any bruised area. Wait until it is yellow/brown in colour before massaging.
- On an injection site for a week. You do not want to get oil in the small hole, and the area can be slightly bruised. After about a week, you can massage the injection site to help break down any small lumps (scar tissue) that might have formed. You can massage the rest of your baby 24 hours after their injections if they are happy.
- When using a new oil, always do a patch test to ensure it does not irritate baby’s skin.
- If baby has any underlying medical issues, please check with your medical professional before starting the massage.
If your baby has mild atopic eczema and you have been given cream to use, you can use this cream for the massage and in fact it can make putting on the cream a much more pleasurable experience.
Always remember to listen to your baby’s cues and attend to their other needs first. If you begin massaging them and they become unsettled or upset, pick them up, cuddle them and check if they are thirsty or hungry. Some babies simply require a burp and then they are happy to lie back down. Other times it may be because they are feeling unwell, teething or about to get a cold.
Some babies initially manage only a few minutes of massage to start – others are content to lie for 5/10 minutes or more! With baby massage, it is really important to take it at your baby’s pace and that way, you are both much more likely to get the full benefits of learning massage.
If you are ever concerned about how your baby is, please get in touch with your health visitor or doctor.
For a simple massage, all you need is you and your baby! You can give them a foot or hand massage any time anywhere!
If you are following a Bambino&i massage routine, make sure you have everything you need to hand so you don’t have to interrupt the massage. Things you will need include:
- Massage guide/video
- Massage oil or an emollient or cream
- Nappy changing kit
- Baby Massage Mat or a changing mat and towel
- Pillow/cushion to sit on
- Relaxed parent
- Happy baby!
How do I prepare for baby massage?
- For any type of massage, it is important to have a warm room (around 24 degrees). This is particularly important for young babies as they cannot yet regulate their own body temperature meaning that they can lose heat very quickly. Ensure that there are no drafts. If you feel a draft, try placing a wrapped up towel at the foot of the door.
- Create a relaxing environment – you may wish to put some relaxing background music on, dim the lights and make sure you remove any distractions like phones, pets etc
- Remove any jewellery from your wrists and hands and be careful if you have long fingernails.
- Wash your hands. (TIP: if you have cold hands, use hot water to warm them up!)
- Lay your massage mat on the floor for your baby to lie on. It is best to do baby massage on the floor, as when babies are oily they become very slippery! This is particularly important once they become more mobile and learn to roll!
However, it is important that you are also comfortable, not only to relax, but also to look after your back. If you are comfortable sitting on the floor, sit yourself on a pillow or cushion and make a nest for your baby - with baby lying between your legs and their head nestled between the arches of your feet. If not, just bring your baby in close to you and make sure that your own lower back is comfortable. To make this easier, you can place your back against the couch, or lean against the wall. If you have a problem sitting on the floor, you can do the massage whilst kneeling or you could try it with baby lying on a double bed.
If you do find it necessary to place baby on a table/changing table, make sure the table is against the wall with a number of pillows down each side on the table top to create a nest for your baby and to keep them safe. Please remember to always stay next to your baby.
When massaging baby, unless massaging on top of their clothes, we strongly recommend that you use massage oil. Using an oil makes massage easier for you and more relaxing for your baby. Without oil, massage may cause friction and irritate your baby’s skin.
Research has also shown that premature babies gain more weight when using oil during their massage.
There are many oils to choose from. We recommend using a plain vegetable oil – something that won’t cause a problem if baby puts their hands or feet in their mouths!
Grapeseed, sunflower and coconut oils are good to use. Where possible, use cold pressed oils as this process allows the oil to retain its vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. If you have any reason to suspect that your child is allergic to anything that might be in the oils, ie immediate family members having a nut allergy, then please consider your choice of oil very carefully.
Your decision about what oil to use also depends on your baby’s skin. If your baby has eczema, you may wish to use their medical emollient cream or ointment.
We offer Sunflower Seed Oil and Kokoso’s Coconut Oil. Bambino&i’s Sunflower Seed Oil is 100% cold pressed oil which means there is nothing added (such as parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, petrochemicals, colourants or alcohol SLS/SLESs). The oil is also rich in Vitamins A, B and E. These nourish, soften, moisturise and cleanse the skin. Sweet Almond Oil is non greasy and does not leave a sticky residue, making it ideal for baby massage.Kokoso’s coconut oil is the highest quality organic coconut oil, and is extremely nourishing for the skin, easily absorbed, and smells great!
There are also many blended baby massage oils available. These oils tend to be more expensive and comprise a mix of vegetable oil with some essential oils like lavender for example. Based on the most recent research, up until baby is 4 weeks old, we would recommend that you limit the use of oil on baby’s skin to 3 times per week.
Oils to Avoid
We recommend that you do not use olive oil. Recent research shows that olive oil may be contributing to a rise in cases of atopic dermatitis in young babies. The research showed that the oil’s high levels of oleic acid (a natural fatty acid), can weaken the delicate top layer of skin and increase the risk of dryness, eczema and skin irritation in babies under three months.
It is also recommended that parents avoid products containing harsh detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), as these can also weaken the skin barrier.
Check out our blog to learn more about the latest research carried out on olive oil and sunflower seed oil
If you suspect that your child may be allergic to nuts, make sure you use an oil that you know to be free of nuts (avoid peanut oil /sweet almond oil).
Before using any new oils on your baby’s skin, particularly if they are blended oils, always try a small patch on their skin and leave for 24 hours to see if they have a reaction.
Baby Massage is a wonderful skill that is easy to learn. We would love to help you on your journey. There are lots of ways that you can learn. You can:
- Follow Bambino&i’s online baby massage course – start now from just £25
- Attend a baby massage class (click here to find out where)
- Buy a book about baby massage
Or you could do all three!
While baby massage can help to relieve many common ailments, please be aware that it takes time to learn the skill. In fact, you never stop learning! Don’t expect it to work miracles instantly! It requires patience, perseverance and practice.
Our online course includes guided massage routines to help with common ailments:
- Massage to help Prevent Digestion Issues: Gas, Colic & Constipation
- Massage to help Relieve Digestion Issues: Gas, Colic & Constipation
- Evening Massage Routine to help Digestion
- Massage to Relieve Teething Pains
- Massage to Relieve Sticky Eye
It is important that both you and your baby are comfortable with and are used to the massage before using massage techniques to help these common ailments. ‘Diving’ straight into massage whenever your baby has a sore tummy, sticky eye, sore gums etc could give baby a bad association with touch or massage. If you are not doing it effectively or baby is not used to this type of touch, it can also lead to more irritation rather than relief.