Baby massage is a great way to soothe your baby, regulate his sleep patterns and establish a bond. Here are some massage tips and techniques to try with your little one.
Benefits of baby massage
Touch is the most basic form of communication with your baby. “When you’re giving your baby a massage, you’re constantly watching for cues,” says Kyla Laxton, a registered massage therapist in Toronto. “You’re talking to your baby, making eye contact and looking for his response, so it’s a way for you to communicate with your baby and understand what he enjoys – and doesn’t enjoy.” And research shows that parents who are well bonded with their babies are more attuned to their behaviour, helping them respond much faster to their needs.
Baby massage 101
A great time to try baby massage is at night after your baby’s bath because he is already undressed and ready to be soothed.
1. Start the massage when both you and your baby are awake, relaxed and happy. You want the experience to be pleasant for both of you.
2. Maintain eye contact and a running dialogue as you massage your baby to encourage him to respond with positive cues, such as smiles, eye contact and cooing sounds. “Most babies have strong reflexes that keep their bodies curled up in the fetal position, so look for your baby to relax his legs down to the bed, which is a really good sign,” says Laxton. “Sometimes your baby will grunt and groan, but often that just means you’re helping him relieve gas, so keep doing what you’re doing.”
3. Don’t be afraid to apply pressure. “Most parents are quite surprised when I demonstrate the level of pressure they should be applying,” Laxton says. A soft touch with your fingertips can tickle, which babies don’t generally enjoy, while a gentle yet firm hand will make your baby feel comfortable and safe. “I find myself reminding parents that they already instinctively know how to touch their child,” she says. “You know your baby better than anyone else – you really can’t mess this up.”
Making repeated clockwise motions across the belly is very soothing for a newborn and can help relieve gas and constipation and encourage bowel movements.
The Leg Bend
Holding your baby’s calves in each palm, gently bend his legs so that his knees fold into his belly. Once his knees are there, slowly rotate them in a circular motion – one at a time or both at once – to put gentle pressure on his stomach, which will ease discomfort and help relieve gas. It will also massage his lower back and loosen his bum muscles, which newborns typically clench.
With your baby on his back, start with both hands at the centre of his torso and move up his chest, outlining the peaks of a heart shape, coming down along his sides and finishing the V of the heart where his pelvis ends. This helps stretch the chest open at the top of the movement and targets the digestive tract at the bottom.