Down Syndrome & Baby Massage

Purple Ampersand

When I found out it was Down syndrome awareness month in October I decided to write a blog about it and, also about how baby massage can help.

However, I failed to do this, mostly because I found it quite hard to write as I kept worrying in case I inadvertently said something that may offend or in case I didn’t get something quite right, so I kept putting it off. After the month whizzed by, I was annoyed with myself for not getting it done.  I realised that it’s our often our fear of offending that makes us stick our head in the sand which is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing! So here goes…

After reading lots of blogs and information about Down syndrome, I have decided not to write too much as it has already been so beautifully written about by a mum I have collaborated with on Instagram (@baileyandthebabies). One who has first-hand experience. I have included a link to her blog below😊

What I am going to write about is the most important message that I took from my research and how baby massage can be used as a complementary therapy for Early Intervention programs for young children with Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome are individuals with an extra chromosome. I say individuals as they are exactly that, unique individuals with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, hopes and dreams just like everyone else regardless of how many chromosomes we have.

Yes, children with Down syndrome will experience cognitive delays, but they are just that. Delays. They will get there, but in their own time, and with a little more support. 

Certain health conditions are also more common in people with Down syndrome. Although not every person with Down syndrome will experience these. Such conditions can include:

  • heart problems which effect around 50% of baby’s;
  • hearing impairments;
  • poor visual acuity;
  • delays in immune system development making them more susceptible to infections;
  • gastrointestinal conditions; and
  • poor muscle tone which effects gross & fine motor skills and can impact upon speech and physical development.

So how can baby massage help?

It is well known that massage helps muscle tone, can increase motor functioning and can help to relieve gastrointestinal issues such as reflux and constipation. Conditions that baby’s with Down syndrome can often suffer from.

Promisingly, research was conducted to determine the effects of massage therapy on motor functioning and muscle tone in young children (mean age of 2 years) with Down syndrome1. A study of 21 young children receiving early intervention (physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy) were chosen for two-month study. The study looked at two groups receiving (1) a half-hour reading activity and (2) half-hour of massage therapy per week. The children were assessed for development and muscle tone on the first and last day of the study. At the end of the two-month study, children in the massage group revealed “larger gains in fine and gross motor functioning and less severe limb hypotonicity” as compared to the children in the reading group.

In other research carried out over a 5-month period2, it was found that “significant, lasting improvement in motor skills” were found in groups of children with Down Syndrome who were massaged by therapists and parents. Additionally, “an unanticipated consequence” was an unexpected jump in language skill for children affected by Down syndrome.

This suggests that when added to an Early Intervention program, massage therapy can provide lots of benefits for young children with Down syndrome. Enhancing motor functioning and limb muscle tone is essential for achieving postural, manipulative and locomotor milestones. Reducing these delays are also likely to increase self-esteem for school aged children 😊

I just love that baby massage brings so many benefits! And not just for baby but for everyone involved in the massage. All the same benefits apply whether your baby has Down syndrome or not. But it is great that it can be even more beneficial when they are in need of that little bit of extra support.


Some important things to remember

As with all baby’s, parents must carefully watch for their baby cues. This is particularly important for baby’s with Down syndrome as their response to discomfort/pain may be delayed due to higher sensory threshold.

It is important that caution is practiced where there are any pre-existing cardiac conditions, hypotonicity and atlanto-axial instability. Always speak to your health care provider before starting massage as the techniques and positioning may have to be adapted. Always ensure that you are aware of all known contraindications and precautions before starting.


As promised, here’s a link to tell you more about Down syndrome from a mum who is fully embracing her baby’s extra chromosome:


And here’s a couple more links if you would like to find out more:

Down’s syndrome: Your Questions Answered

Down’s syndrome: A Leaflet for Friends and Family


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1 Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Largie, S., Mora, D., Bornstein, J. and Waldman, R. (2006) Children with Down syndrome improved in motor functioning and muscle tone following massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 176, Nos 3&4, 395-410

2 Allen, T. (2015) Massage Today, Vol. 15, Issue 08

Down’s Syndrome Association 

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