Can baby massage improve colic or relieve gas? How about regulate your baby’s sleep cycles?? As it turns out, massage is one of the safest and most effective ways to support your baby’s overall health. And in some parts of the world, it’s a practice that has been around for thousands of years.
In the United States, “baby massage” is class you might find yourself in if you have the time and energy. But in other parts of the world and at other points in history – massage is seen as a critical first step for newborns that encourages strength, coordination, and robust health. For example in Senegal, researchers asked mothers about familiar baby milestones—like sitting, crawling, and walking. But mothers were quick to point out that they had missed massage, which was wasn’t included as a developmental “milestone.”
Even if your baby isn’t sick, massage strengthens the immune system, protecting your baby against common childhood infections and digestive troubles. Science tells us that massage helps your baby regulate stress and that it can boost the production of sleepy hormones. And as much as it supports your baby’s health, baby massage is also a way to connect and bond with your little. Studies even show that it can support mothers through postpartum blues.
There are several styles of baby massage. My training is in Chinese massage, also called tuina. It’s a style of massage that I learned while studying acupuncture – and the techniques used in this protocol are pulled directly from Chinese medicine.
Before we dive into the techniques, let’s cover a few basics.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT OIL
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a nourishing oil that improves the barrier function of skin, reducing newborn weight loss. And it can also soothe skin that irritated and inflamed, for example eczema (note: do not massage over patches of irritated skin).
2. Calendula Oil
Calendula is soothing for sensitive skin. Because of its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, it can help relieve diaper rash (although bentonite clay is a better canidate).
3. Mustard Seed Oil
Mustard seed oil is a warming oil. It’s used widely throughout India for baby massage and in Ayurvedic medicine, it helps to stimulate circulation and relieve chest congestion.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME
When first massaging your newborn, choose a time that is in sync with your baby. Generally this means when he’s awake and his needs are met:
- After a short feeding, although avoid massaging belly after a long feeding
- After a nap
- After a bath
As your baby grows older, massage can become part of your baby’s bedtime routine. Lay your baby down on the same blanket before beginning your massage, signaling this special time. Make sure the room is well ventilated in the summer months and warm during the winter months. Before massaging your baby, check that your nails are trimmed and your hands are warm.
Finally, avoid massaging over areas of skin that are bruised or irritated.
4-STEP MASSAGE FOR A HEALTHY, HAPPY BABY
To begin the massage, apply oil to warm hands. While speaking to your baby, smiling, and making eye contact – gently rub your baby’s entire hand with your thumb and fingers.
Step 1: Massage The Thumb
Using one hand to gently hold your baby’s thumb so that it has a slight bend, use the other to push along the outer edge of the thumb. Because your baby’s thumb is so tiny, you can use the edge of your own thumb or the pads of your forefinger and middle finger. Move from the tip of the thumb, to the base.
Repeat the movement 100 – 500 times. The older your baby is, the more repetitions you use.
Massaging your baby’s thumb from the tip to the base helps to support your baby’s digestion and the production of energy.
Step 2: Massage The Belly
Using your palm, rub around your baby’s belly button counterclockwise 100 – 200 times. Then use the same palm to rub around the belly button in a clockwise direction, 100 – 200 times.
The transit of stool moves clockwise through the colon, so it’s important to finish this massage going clockwise, as if you’re following the hour and minute hands of a clock.
Rubbing your baby’s belly supports healthy bowel movements and digestion.
Step 3: Massage The Legs
”Milk” your baby’s legs – beginning at your baby’s thighs – by gently grasping the muscles and releasing until you reach your baby’s ankles.
Afterwards, knead the point just below the knee and outside the shin bone, 50 – 100 times.
In Chinese medicine, this point strengthens digestion and fortifies the immune system.
Step 4: Massage The Back
Move your baby to his tummy, making sure he feels safe and comfortable. Using your warm hands, apply oil to your baby’s upper-back and gently push it down to the top of his thighs, 3 times. Next, move to the tailbone and place one hand on either side. Grasp and lift the skin with your thumbs, index, and middle fingers. Roll the skin upward, from the tailbone to the base of your baby’s neck. Be careful not to twist or end skin as you roll.
Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Gentle pinching and rolling up the spine strengthens your baby’s immune system and overall health.
If you’d like more information on baby massage, I have a few of free eBooks my website www.megangarcia.com (including one eBook that features this same 4-step protocol). Through Instagram, I occasionally post mini-tutorials on baby massage. If you have questions or would like to see more, email me firstname.lastname@example.org.