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Baby massages – tips & why is it helpful?

February 8, 2021 • read

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Baby massages – tips & why is it helpful?

If you have a baby, chances are someone, somewhere has told you to massage them. Whether it’s for digestive issues, to help them sleep, or to promote bonding there are a number of benefits to baby massage. But it can be hard to distinguish between actual results and internet hoopla. And even more importantly, you want to make sure you’re doing it right. Read on for the low-down on baby massage and why you should consider it.

How to massage a baby

Wondering when to start baby massage? Evidence suggests massage is beneficial for preterm infants (more on this below). So as long as their doctor gives the ok, you can start massaging your baby the day they’re born. Even if they arrive early.

To start, make sure both your hands and the baby are clean — a nice way to do this is to begin the massage after their bath. Make sure the baby is on a comfortable and secure surface like your bed. Babies get cold easily so don’t forget to cover the parts of their body you’re not currently massaging. Place enough oil on your hands that you’re able to run them over your baby’s skin without friction or sticking. While we don’t recommend you use a specific massage technique, remember that babies are babies and digging in with full force isn’t going to knead out their knots, it’s going to hurt them, so stick with minimal pressure and gentle, circular motions. While there’s no specific length to aim for, most studies looking at the benefits of baby massage used increments of 10 to 15 minutes. Any longer than that can be overstimulating for your little one.

What oil should I use?

If you’ve ever had a massage, you know that one of the key components is a luxurious body oil. These often have a scent, which adds an aromatherapy component to the experience. While this might be transportive for you, doctors warn against using essential oils on babies. Peppermint oil, for example, can cause seizures, and Health Canada reports that it’s possible to poison children by exposing them to products containing camphor and/or eucalyptus oils.

Essential oils are often presented as natural, and therefore “safe.” But natural doesn’t mean harmless — both lions and lead are natural and neither belong around babies! If you are wondering what oil to use for baby massage, your best bet is to go with almond oil (which is both natural AND safe) or an unscented mineral oil (which is usually what baby oil is made of).

Benefits of baby massage

Some studies show that infants who receive massage are more likely to gain weight, which is especially helpful for preterm infants. According to the British Medical Journal, this may be because massaged babies slept more and expended less energy due to being calmer — meaning that massaging a baby for help with sleep may also work. But the benefits don’t end there. Studies have also shown that massaging hospitalized preterm infants cut down on their hospital stays. And baby massage may even help with digestion (more on that below) and improve maternal mental health.

Baby tummy massage

Newborns get gas, and a gassy baby is an unhappy baby. More research is needed, but preliminary studies show that massaging preterm infants increases their digestive motility (aka speeds up their digestion). This means that baby tummy massage may help to get rid of gas and help promote healthy digestion. There are a number of videos out there that walk you through the steps of how to massage your baby’s tummy for gas pain. Whichever one you choose, we recommend you wait at least half an hour after the baby’s last feed. Otherwise you risk a spit up.

Studies on baby massage haven’t been large and there are still big gaps in the data. We do know, however, that skin-to-skin contact and touch are reassuring and can even decrease feelings of pain in little ones. So as long as you’re gentle, baby massage won’t hurt your baby. It may even promote bonding and lower stress in both you and your little one. There might not be a slam dunk way to figure out how to massage a baby to sleep, but it’s a nice activity for you and your little one to do together anyway. Especially when they’re little and there’s not a ton of other activities for you to enjoy together. So go ahead and massage away! Just don’t expect it to cure their colic, or help them learn to walk more quickly.

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