How to massage your babies

Babies love massage!

Incorporating infant massage into your daily routine is one of the most splendid forms of child care you can provide–not only for your little one, but for you, too, as a new parent. The babies benefit from the same stress relief that big people get from massage. Wouldn’t you feel stressed after hours of crying, or appreciate massage after doing a thousand or so push-ups in a day?

In return for spending these few minutes with their infants, the parents get to experience more delight in child care. This is time not spent diapering, bathing, dressing, or cleaning up; it’s done purely for the joy of it, and to learn more about who this new person is inside those tiny little bodies.

This new knowledge increases confidence in handling and caring for infants, especially important for very young parents and for fathers, who sometimes are a bit afraid of or bewildered by this new presence in their lives.

Since the earliest of times, parents and grandparents have been instinctively rubbing backs and patting shoulders while rocking their babies to sleep, and modern science is proving with all sorts of tests and studies that it works!

Today’s technology (video taping, formal analysis of behavior and responses, sound equipment, electronic monitors) demonstrates what parents have known instinctively since time immemorial: human touch is good for us, from the earliest moments possible.

Infant massage is beneficial to the baby for relaxation and for stimulation, for pain and colic relief, and for increasing the interaction (bonding) between the baby and parents. It increases circulation and stimulates the immune system for better functioning, relieves muscle tension from doing all those exercises, and getting acquainted with their ever-changing bodies.

Being massaged also helps instill an awareness of healthy, loving touch that continues through their lives.

Here is a brief outline for a basic infant massage, which can serve as a beginning place for you to begin to massage your own infant.

CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT

• Make sure that the room is warm enough. Infants aren’t adept yet at regulating their own body temperature, and they will be undressed. If they shiver, or their skin mottles, warm the room or cover the part of their body you’re not working on.

• Try to reduce distraction. Make the space as quiet as possible, and away from busy traffic. You may want to choose a piece of mellow music to play; this can help cue to baby to what’s coming!

GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES

• A waterproof pad under the massage surface is a good thing, for obvious reasons.
• Use a soft surface to lay the baby on; a washable quilt, or a thick towel works.
• An oil for lubrication. Make sure that it is of food quality; your baby sucks her hands, and you don’t want her taking in anything made in a petroleum base, like many baby oils are. Grapeseed oil has a nice texture, or any light cooking oil. Avoid scented oils–one part of the bonding process of infant massage is the baby’s identification with your unique smell; don’t pollute that.
• A wet washcloth for cleaning up accidents.
• Clean diaper and clothing for after the massage.

CENTER YOURSELF

• Take a deep breath, exhale, repeat. Your touch will transmit your mood, so calm yourself as much as possible before you begin.
• Make yourself and your baby comfortable.
• Put a little bit of oil, about the size of a quarter in the palm of your hand and warm it (and your hands) by rubbing your palms together.

ASK PERMISSION TO BEGIN

This is extremely important. Of course, the first time, your baby won’t know what is coming but do set the pattern for asking permission to touch with that first massage. Watch her eye movement and body language as she begins to respond to this new way of touching. There may be a surprise, there may be a delight, there may be a slight uneasiness.

After the first massage, honor her wishes if she says no by pulling away, turning her head, or withdrawing. If she shows any of those signs during the massage time, take a cuddle break, then resume if she again seems willing.

LEGS

Massage one leg completely before you begin the other.
• Gently rub the oil on one leg. (See, isn’t this easy?)
• Make circles with your thumb and fingers. Gently squeeze, alternating hands, from hip to ankle. Squeeze, release, repeat all the way down the leg.
• Using the pads of your thumbs, press gently against the sole of her foot, covering the entire surface.
• Massage her toes, giving each a very slight tug as you finish it.
• Make several (three is good) long strokes from her ankle to her hip.
• Cup her heel in the palm of your hand and gently shake.
• Repeat for another leg.

TUMMY

Use gentle pressure here; infant massage is never deep or gouging. Babies with gas or colic may tighten up if this is uncomfortable to them; however, if they will accept it with gentle encouragement from you, it is helpful for those conditions.
Apply oil in a downward motion from ribcage to diaper line.
• Using the flat of your fingers, make clockwise circles. Begin with small ones around the navel, and enlarge them to cover her whole tummy.
• Hand over hand, using the little finger edge of your hand, make smooth movements from the rib cage down.
• Softly, with your thumbs, outline the bottom of her rib cage.

  • With your fingers, both hands together, reach around to the back of her waist and pull forward.

CHEST AND ARMS

This area around the heart can hold a lot of anguish, even in the littlest ones, and massaging here may stimulate crying. Let her “tell her story,” but if the crying becomes intense, cuddle her a minute, soothe her with your voice, and resume the massage. Also, some babies hold their arms quite tightly for several months; do not force them to open, but gently encourage, to the point of resistance but not beyond.
• Apply oil across the chest, then down both arms at the same time.
• With the pads of your fingers of one hand, cover her chest with little, firm, but not gouging circles.
• Make circles with your fingers and squeeze from shoulder to wrist, as you did with her legs.
• Use your thumbs to massage her palms and open her fingers.
• Rub each little finger with a soft, twisting move as if you were removing the cap from a small container.
• Repeat for another arm.
• Finish with long strokes across the chest and down both arms at the same time.

HEAD AND FACE

Massage oil onto her scalp as though you were giving her a shampoo.
• Tap with the fingertips of both hands, covering the top of her head like gentle raindrops
• With your thumbs, make long smooth strokes across her forehead. Use both hands at the same time, working from the center out.
• Do the same thing on the upper lip.
• With one thumb or finger, stroke down her nose from her forehead to the tip.
• Gently, with both hands, stroke her jawline from her ear to the center.
• Massage her ears.

BACK

This can be done with her lying on her blanket or across your lap, or you can do this while holding her over your shoulder, whatever is most comfortable for both of you.

• Cover her back gently with oil.
• Using fingers, make little circles down one side of her spine, then the other. Do not put any pressure directly on the spinal bones.
• Using the flat of your fingers, make long smooth strokes from her waist to her neck, then back down again.

In our current culture of high-speed living, we may have forgotten how to calm ourselves, to get to a quiet state where living on “baby time” allows us to make the deep connections with our infants that develop in tranquil times.

To remind us, people who recognize the importance of making space in our lives to honor the needs and the spirit of infants have generated a movement to teach new parents (and other caregivers) the age old art of massaging babies.

At the forefront is Vimala McClure, who wrote the book “Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents” and founded the International Association for Infant Massage. This organization trains instructors to teach parents to use gentle massage techniques to connect in this loving way with their babies. Another exquisite book is “Loving Hands,” by Frederick LeBoyer, illustrating the art of infant massage as practiced by Indian mothers.

The books are available in most bookstores on-line and off, and are excellent references for those who wish to study on their own.

Classes are offered all over the world; in addition to learning a basic routine, parents can connect with others and share experiences. The classes also cover special circumstances such as colic relief, premature babies, high needs infants, and families who have difficulty bonding with their newborns.

Classes are offered

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