Newborn health is one of the most important aspect in parenting and is one of the hot topics for new parents. In our previous blog, we talked about treating neonatal Jaundice with Phototherapy and Sunlight; there are many more common questions from new parents which includes massaging the baby. When we became parents, we had questions like – how soon can we start baby massage, when is the best time to start the massage, what are the benefits and so on. Hence, we felt this might well be a good topic to address which may help other new parents.
Baby Massage and Best Time to Start
Massage is a great way to bond with your newborn, express your love and care for your baby, it also helps stimulate growth and development through gentle touch. If you are wondering what is the best age to start the baby massage, it is absolutely fine to begin the massage right after birth or after the baby is home and as advised by the doctors. Ideally, the best time to start is anytime within the first three months, as babies begin to develop important physical and intellectual abilities, including motor skills.
All you need is set a 15-20 min time when you are relaxed, the baby is calm and in good mood when you give them massage. If you are giving a massage in a room, make sure to close the windows and turn off the fan, ensure the room is warm and quiet. And, if you are giving a massage in open area, utilize the early morning sunlight, but ensure baby is not facing the sun and the light is not too harsh. Remove any Jewellery or accessories that could get in the way. Take off baby’s clothes and lay them facing up on a soft towel or mat; you may use a soft pillow under the baby’s head. Then gently start massaging baby’s hands and palm with your thumbs and proceed with other body parts. Also, do not massage the baby right after feeding them. It is advisable to wait for at least 45 min after a feeding. Massaging them too soon after the feeding can cause vomiting.
Benefits of Massage
According to the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), baby massage helps to stimulate the circulatory and digestive systems. Massage can soothe your baby and help her to sleep, it also helps improving weight gain, aiding digestion, improving circulation, and easing teething pain. A good 15 minutes massage stimulates their central nervous system, which slows down the baby’s heart rate and breathing making them more relaxed.
Here are the top 7 benefits of infants massage:
1. Improves Sleep
Babies who are often massaged have been found to have higher levels of melatonin in their bodies which helps babies sleep deeper and more soundly. And you’ll sleep better if they’re sleeping better!
2. Improves Immunity
As the massage stimulates central nervous system and improves blood flow & circulation. This helps with baby’s health and immunity, especially during flu seasons.
3. Better Digestion and Gas Relief
Colic, constipation and gas can cause a lot of distress for both babies and parents. Few strokes on baby’s abdomen area helps to stimulate digestion, move the baby’s bowels and helps in gas relief. Belly massage helps relieve pain and discomfort in just a few minutes.
Massage encourages positive bonding between parent and baby at an early stage. Skin-to-skin contact or ‘Kangaroo Care’ is good for baby-parent bonding. According to multiple researches, babies who’d had skin-to-skin contact slept more, cried less and had good bonding with their parents.
5. Calming & Relaxing
Massaging increases the feel-good hormone ‘oxytocin’ in both you and your baby. With daily massage, baby’s muscles relax, breathing becomes deeper and calms the nervous system helping you both feel calmer and relaxed.
6. Relieves The Pain and Discomfort During Teething
Teething is one of the most stressful times for babies and parents. A gentle facial massage helps the brain release endorphin – body’s natural pain reliever which helps in teething pain and discomfort.
7. Improves Sense of Touch
For a newborn, touch is their first language. Gentle and loving touch helps babies feel less anxiety. Stroking the skin helps to stimulate baby’s tactile systems and a large part of brain as well. This ultimately helps babies to process the sense of touch.
In addition to the above benefits, a regular massage may also help with:
- Increased daily weight gain
- Relieve nasal congestion
- develop good muscle tone, coordination and strengthens the bones
- Boost your confidence in handling your baby
- Enhance body awareness
- Improve skin texture
- Tones the muscles and strengthens the bones
Types of Massage
Baby massage involves stroking your baby’s body in gentle and rhythmic strokes with your hands. After preparing your baby for the massage, you may use the following newborn baby massage for the chest, tummy, back, arms, legs and head of your baby.
1. Head and Face Massage
Apply some oil or lotion on the head with gentle strokes for spreading the oil over your baby’s head (do not apply pressure). While massaging the face, work your fingers from the forehead towards the chin. Stroke gently on the cheeks, chin and nose of your baby.
2. Chest and Tummy Massage
Place your hands on the center of your baby’s chest and stroke towards the shoulders. Continue the strokes and make downward movements, from the base of your baby’s rib cage, use your fingers to massage your baby’s tummy in circular motions, , repeat this few times. Avoid infant abdominal massage if the cord is not completely dried or healed.
3. Colic Relief Massage
After you give your baby a belly massage, bend his knees up to his tummy while applying gentle pressure, hold his legs for about 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat this a few times. Massage the tummy below belly button in downward motion – this helps release pent-up gas.
4. Arms and Legs Massage
Roll your baby’s arm between your hands, apply gentle pressure with your thumbs starting from shoulders moving down to wrist and palms. Repeat couple of times and switch arms.
Stroke your baby’s legs downward starting from thigh to the ankle. You can hold the leg and slide down both your hands by rotating in opposite directions. Repeat this a few times.
5. Back Massage
Make your baby lie on tummy, apply gentle pressure with your both hands and massage from the base of baby’s neck to the buttocks. Make back and forth movement, massage the baby’s spine with your fingers or thumbs.
It is recommended to follow a routine and do the massage in the similar order every day. Babies love predictability, and developing a routine helps your baby to know, what is going to happen next. Initially you may find it difficult to set a routine for the newborn, but as the baby grows, you will be able to set a routine which the baby enjoys. You can also play some music or sing to your baby while massaging.
With so much importance given to the massage for the baby’s health and growth, it is incomplete without a good massage oil or lotion. You may take any good baby oil or lotion for the massage, this will help your hands to glide smoothly on your baby’s skin. Have you ever wondered how these oils help or which oils are suitable to your Baby’s skin?
There are many varieties and types of massage oils available in market, however, season-specific oils are always recommended as they suit the skin in specific seasons and keep them relaxed & happy. Here we have listed few oils which are good in Summer and Winter seasons.
Which Oils to Use in Summer?
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil, especially cold pressed virgin coconut oil, is safe to use on babies and children during summer. It is light in texture, has a cooling effect and can easily be absorbed in the skin. Coconut oil also has an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial property which prevents skin infections and is great for your baby’s sensitive skin. Coconut oil is widely used in Southern parts of India.
2. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil is easily absorbed, has a smooth texture and is high in vitamins (A, B, E) and minerals. Sesame oil is light and recommended for sensitive skin. It helps in developing strong bones. It’s noninflammatory and antioxidant properties makes the skin soft and glow.
Which Oils to Use in Winter?
1. Mustard Oil
Mustard Oil is widely used in Northern parts of India and very beneficial in Winter. It helps to retain body heat and acts as an insulator. It acts as decongestant when heated with small amount of garlic. A regular head massage using mustard oil promotes hair growth as well.
2. Almond Oil
Almond oil is rich in Vitamin E and can be used in any season. It is easily absorbed, has silky texture and is rich in emollients which prevents the skin from becoming dry. Almond oil also smells great and makes the skin soft and supple.
3. Olive Oil
Olive oil is widely used in Western countries. Most natural oils are a safe for your baby’s sensitive skin. However, avoid using the olive oil if your baby has sensitive skin or other skin problem.
Can you use Essential Oils for Baby Massage?
Essential oils are derived from herbs, flowers, and other plants. Some of the essential oils are Lavender Oil, Chamomile Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Cedar-wood Oil and Eucalyptus Oil. These essential oils are mostly used in aromatherapy massages, however there is very little research and evidences on how these oils affect the babies.
As per ‘American Association of Naturopathic Physicians‘, people should not use essential oils for massaging the babies younger than 3 months. People should never apply undiluted essential oils to the skin of babies and infants. You may dilute the oil with an appropriate carrier oil – Sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and coconut oil are examples of suitable carrier oils. You can also use essential oils in bath water or in a diffuser at bedtime.
Wrapping the Baby After Massage [How to Swaddle a Baby]
Post a warm massage, it is good to wrap the babies to help them sleep better and stretch their bodies to a normal straight position. Newborns tend to sleep in fetal position and it is essential to stretch their bodies for their growth and strength.
It is advisable to wrap the babies up to the age of six to eight months in a soft cotton cloth post their daily massage. This helps their bodies to stretch and come to natural straight position, and also helps them sleep better.
Below image shows the most common way to swaddle a baby safely.
Baby massage and its benefits is a wide area of discussion and as I have always stressed – there is no black and white right and wrong way of parenting, same way any massage technique which is comfortable and relaxing for the babies is the good way of doing it.
Always make sure the babies are comfortable, avoid any oil or massage which results in discomfort or rashes [remember, babies’ bones and muscles are delicate and their skin is extremely sensitive]. Our daughter, Vritima, was allergic to one of the world’s most popular brand’s baby oil and we switched to local cold pressed virgin coconut oil. Every baby’s body/skin reacts differently to various oils and lotions. Consult your doctor if baby is suffering with any medical condition or skin dryness/infection etc.
After Vritima was born, we were in dilemma how will we handle her and whether we will be able to massage her properly. We did not have any midwife or maid/masseur so we had to do it ourselves. But thanks to the experience of our moms, we were able to learn the massage and swaddle techniques easily. Vritima always used to enjoy her massage time and slept like an angel post everyday massage. It was of course the much needed break, and couple of hours of relaxing time of the day for Megha as well. The massage routine also helped us as parents to bond greatly with our daughter.
Finally, in my personal opinion, this is a phase every parent should experience [instead of hiring a midwife or masseur], it does wonders to the baby’s growth and bond with their parents.