Baby massage is a great way to bond with your little newbie. Amanda Cassidy on what you need to know to get started.
Some of my favourite memories with my children are the moments that we shared after bathtime when I would stroke their little bodies to relax them or simply to relieve some gas (them, not me). Not only is it surprisingly easy to do (even after a sleepless night) but newborn massage is a great way to enhance communication through touch.
Research shows that even a few minutes of gentle daily touch can boost immunity in your baby and help digestion.
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It is also a great opportunity to flood their little minds with some peaceful mummy-baby time. And it's not just beneficial for baby - often, first-time mums use the opportunity to join a mother and baby massage classes or take the chance to slow down for 10 minutes to escape the chaos that inevitably ensues once you hit parenthood.
A magic touch
Of the five senses, touch is the one that is most developed at birth and feeling their parent's hands move across their little body can help your little one feel hugely secure and close to you. You can start baby massage as soon after the birth as possible. Although skin to skin contact is wonderful for premature babies, you should hold out on massaging your baby if he or she was born early as it could prove over-stimulating. Consider massaging your baby around the same time every day so that he comes to expect and enjoy it. I always did it around bedtime so we were both sleepy and relaxed after our mutual adoration session.
Some of the best massage materials are olive oil or avocado oil. I used coconut oil which I found very moisturising for my baby's dry skin and I know a mix of vegetable and olive oil is also popular among other parents. Choose an oil or lotion that is natural and unscented as it is absorbed into baby's skin and won't be nasty if they suck on their fingers afterwards. The cold-pressed oils also make an ideal lubricant for their gentle skin. Use about a teaspoon of oil per massage.
Set the scene
If you are doing your baby massage at home, make sure your therapy room (aka the bedroom) is warm enough. I did our mini pampering session on our bed with a towel thrown down to stop any oil stains but many parents prefer to attend baby massage classes which might also be a good opportunity to be around others going through the same parenting stages. At home, stick on some relaxing music and chat aloud to your baby so they can hear the familiar and soothing sound of your voice for additional comfort. It is recommended that you rub the oil into your hands for a bit first to warm the oil.
There is no right or wrong way to massage, but do take your cues from baby.
If baby is in bad form, keep it short and sweet and extend if they seem delighted with themselves - although many parents use this method to relieve a fussy or colicky baby.
Helen Plass runs baby massage and mum and baby yoga classes in Dublin. She says to wait at least 45 minutes after a feed to carry out certain stokes which can help with digestion. "Lie your baby on their back, rest your hand gently on their tummy to give baby a moment to get used to your touch. Then with hands facing horizontally (fingers pointing out to left and right sides), begin to rub down from the stomach to the base of the abdomen, one hand after the other. In a clockwise direction, begin to rub all around the abdomen in one big circle, from just under the ribcage, out to the side of the abdomen, to the base, and again back up towards the ribcage. It’s very important to ensure you are stroking in a clockwise circular direction as otherwise, you will work against the natural movements of the bowel."
The general rule in baby massage is that up strokes benefit your baby’s nervous system, while the downwards strokes are more calming for their little bodies.
Their legs are a great place to start as it is the least sensitive part of the body – and let’s face it, those velvety toes are completely irresistible.
Mix it up
For other stokes, you can hold your baby's heel in one hand and stroke all the way down from thigh to ankle, gently squeezing the leg as you go - then reverse the motion. For their little heads, my daughter used to love when I drew tiny circles with my fingers across her head. Next, fold your hands across your baby's chest and fan your hands outwards to their sides like you are smoothing laundry (albeit very precious laundry). Walk your fingertips across their belly and draw oval shapes around their bellybuttons. Finally, smooth your hands into every little crease and stroke their little toes and fingers. Keep newborns wrapped up except for the area you are massaging so they feel nice and secure throughout.
Helen says that the benefit of baby massage to parents is often understated. "It is exhausting having a baby - you are sleep deprived and it can often be frustrating if you are not sure what the baby is saying to you. This type of communication can help you get to know your baby and what they are trying to say - each baby has its own unique noises and ways of responding. Baby massage is a big bonding experience that can be enjoyed by dads too."
Now research has also shown that baby massage can help overcome post-natal depression. Having PND can make it harder to communicate with your baby - if you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you might feel more distant from your baby or feel 'out of tune' with their needs. Baby massage can help bridge that communication gap.
Massage stimulates the release of your body's feel-good chemical, oxytocin - allowing you to form a close bond. The eye contact associated with baby massage can also come more easily and that close physical contact can help you to have increased sensitivity to your baby's needs.
Helen says that she likes to finish off her baby massage classes with the I-love-you stroke. "Imagine your baby's tummy is a clock. Put your fingers under the ribcage of baby's right side (at 2 o'clock) and rub down to the base of their tummy at 5 o'clock as if you are drawing the letter 'I'. Next, draw an upside-down 'L' shape; starting at 10 o'clock, press down while you massage over to 2 0'clock and down again to 5 o'clock. Say the word 'love' aloud to your baby. Finally, make a 'U' shape by starting at 7 o'clock, massage up to 10, across to 2 and down to 5 saying 'you' to your baby. Repeat it again, saying the words 'I love you' aloud."
That's a wrap
You can end your baby massage the same way each time so your newborn gets used to her routine. I usually wrap them up tightly for a hug afterwards, wipe off any excess oil, changed them and snuggle them up for the night with a feed. You will soon feel the benefits of this relaxing time yourself.
So find your inner zen, and let dad jump in too. After all, it will be a welcome relief from all those weeks of massaging your tired and swollen feet.
Image via Unsplash.com
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