Infant Massage: Tips, Techniques & Benefits for Mom and Baby

Infant massage may sound a little woo woo, but hey, who doesn't love a little pampering? And as the benefits of infant massage continue to grow, more and more moms are giving it a try. "Some of the benefits of infant massage include helping you to bond with your baby, as well as helping babies relax, improving their sleep, digestion, and bowel movements, and developing their body awareness, which is important for movement," explains Diane Bahr, a certified infant massage instructor and author of Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That! Some studies also suggest that it can enhance a baby's immune system, which is particularly important for premature babies.

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Infant massageWhen to do it: While infant massage can be done any time, before bath time and bedtime are great starting points. "Massage when the baby is in the quiet state when he is happy to lie still, and is not overtired or overactive," suggests Raechel Bull, a certified infant massage therapist and author of Ready or Not ... Out I Come! 

Gear to get: "Incorporating scented lotions and oils like lavender can be very relaxing and help baby sleep," adds Kathy Gruver, PhD, a licensed massage therapist at TheAlternativeMedicineCabinet.com who teaches infant massage to local mommy groups.

Here are some simple massage techniques that moms can try:

Get in a comfortable position. Sit with your baby on a clean blanket or towel on the floor with your legs in a circle with the bottoms of your feet touching. Place your baby’s head on the heels and insteps of your feet, and the baby’s body on the blanket inside your legs. "This allows you to reach the baby easily without hurting your back," says Bahr. "It places your baby’s head, neck, and shoulders in a good position, so the baby can get his or her hands to the mouth for calming and you can make wonderful eye contact while massaging your baby’s face and the front of your baby’s body.

Connect with your eyes and voice. Once you and your baby are in a comfortable position, begin the massage by talking to your baby and making eye contact. Tell your baby what you are doing -- i.e., "Meghan, now I'm going to touch your arms." "This is terrific for bonding and helps to develop a communication pattern that can be used throughout life between you and your baby," says Bahr. "You can also create a song to go along with the massage protocol. I teach parents to use the melody of the 'The Farmer in the Dell' to sing about each body part they are massaging: Massaging Meghan's arms, massaging Meghan's arms, hi-ho, the derry-o, massaging Meghan's arms."

Start your massage on baby's arms and legs. "I often teach parents to begin massage work using firm but gentle on-off squeezes/presses to the arms and legs to help baby become accustomed to the parent's touch," says Bahr. For the arms and legs, squeeze toward the hands and feet like you're milking a cow, suggests Gruver. From there, you can press your thumbs on their hands and feet in a slow paddling motion.

Rub the tummy. "Massage is also great for constipation and tummy trouble," says Gruver. Just be sure to rub in the right direction! "You ALWAYS want to do abdominal massage and adults and babies in a clockwise motion -- in other words starting at the right hip, going up and around by the navel, and then down to the left hip. That is the way the natural digestion flows." 

Massage the back. Spread your legs in a V shape and flip baby over. "The back is of course what we all think about when we have a massage as an adult," says Gruver. "Only because babies are so small there are only so many options. You can put your fingers on either side of the spine and go down/up in a straight line, taking care to never push directly on the spine."

Bottom line: "Remember every baby is different," says Gruver. "Try to see what their reaction is and gauge what you are doing to their preferences."

For more information: Check out the book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, or take a beginner's course by finding a certified infant massage instructor in your area at InfantMassageUSA.org.

Have you tried infant massage?

 

Images © Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library/Corbis; © iStock.com/naumoid      

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