Don’t you love that feeling when you’re all relaxed after a massage, and you feel like you could lie there and doze forever? Well with babies, not only is a massage relaxing, but all that extra stimulation, bonding and brain development is the perfect recipe for a nice long sleep.
There have been many studies conducted with both full-term and pre-term babies, which have found that babies who are massaged by their parents sleep for longer periods than babies who are not massaged. The studies show that both the parent’s perception of baby’s sleep, as well as actual sleep lengths improve with massage.
This is probably a result of both neurological (brain) and psychological (emotional) effects of massage.
There are several studies (eg. Ferber et al., 2002), showing that massage given by parents makes a big difference in the levels and timing of brain chemicals (melatonin), helping babies establish their day-night sleep rhythms.
The psychological effects of infant massage on sleep are less well understood. But a very famous study by Teti, et al. (2010), shows that when there was a high level of “emotional availability” from the parent prior to bed, their baby settled better, slept more soundly and for longer. This had more of an impact than any specific sleep technique used. Since one of the key elements of “emotional availability” is close touch, this may be another reason that massage helps to promote sleep.
So how do you get started? Follow these top tips for a good massage:
Massage when your baby is in the mood
Look for when your baby is calm, alert, and seems like they are ready to interact. If possible, wait at least 45 minutes after feeding.
Use unscented cold-pressed vegetable oil
A baby’s sense of smell is much more developed than many of its other senses. It is also stronger than ours, so fragranced oil may overwhelm your baby without you even realising it. Using an edible oil rather than mineral oil reduces concerns of your baby putting their oily hands (or toes!) in their mouth.
Make sure you’re relaxed
For your baby to relax, you have to be relaxed. Use visualisation, music, or whatever other technique works for you.
Ask your baby permission
It might sound strange to begin with (after all, shouldn’t your baby be asking you, not the other way around?), but it is important that we teach our babies that they are allowed to say “no” to a massage if they are not ready. Teaching your baby that they are in charge of their body allows them to build a positive self-image to use throughout their lives.
Of course, at first your baby won’t know what you are saying, but ask the same way each time and they will soon learn the word “massage”, see you swishing the oil between your hands, and know what is coming up.
Check in with your baby
Then, during the massage, you need to watch that you don’t overdo it (especially if your baby is very little or sensitive to touch). Look carefully for your baby’s individual cues so you can see if they are still enjoying the massage or if they’ve had enough. Don’t worry if you’re not sure of these cues at first. Spend the time getting to know your baby, and you will work out what they are trying to tell you.
Use firm strokes
Light strokes or poking may annoy or tickle your baby, which is not very relaxing!
Thank your baby
Remember to thank your baby at the end of the massage for allowing this special interaction, even if they’ve only let you massage half of one leg!
Of course, I know you’re a busy mum and it might be hard at first to find time to give your baby a massage. But remember that the focussed one-on-one time with all that eye-contact, skin-to-skin contact, verbal and non-verbal communication cannot be beaten for bonding and brain development. And if your baby is sleeping better as well, then isn’t it time well spent?
Article submitted by Krystyna Csatlos – mother of two and a Certified Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage. She runs group courses, private courses and loves coming to mothers groups.