When we think about postnatal stress, discomfort, or sleep deprivation, we often relate it to the mother. Since infants are fed, dressed, and burped, we assume that their needs are not as complicated as their parents.
We are cued to their discomfort every time they cry, so we often forget that babies have needs they can't articulate. Luckily for new parents, there is a whole industry dedicated to walking them through those early months of raising their child. It can, however, feel daunting, sifting through all the advice, tips, and recommendations.
This is why we have decided to talk you through one infant tip that often gets overlooked. We shall explain why it is important to massage your baby and the do's and don'ts around this.
Benefits of Massaging Your Newborn Baby
Babies, like adults, need help to relieve stress, discomfort, and restlessness. These, however, are not the only reasons why it is recommended to massage them. Research also shows that regularly massaging your baby can help regulate and improve sleep patterns. It is also great for digestion like colic relief or relieving gas and stomach discomfort.
During the first few months, babies can be fussy and particularly sensitive to touch, and massaging is a great way to communicate with them while building a parent/child bond. This is especially important for any parent struggling with postnatal depression. It helps reduce anxiety in the parent and allows for non-verbal communication and affirmation through touch.
In fact, one of the techniques encouraged by midwives is the 'I love you' massage where parents massage their babies by drawing the I.L.U letter pattern on their child's belly while chanting I love you to their little ones. This is also an excellent approach for fathers to bond with and get involved in the early nurturing of their babies.
How to Safely Massage Your Newborn Baby
Use the right pressure
Given the benefits, many parents are still hesitant about infant massages and the risks of hurting their little ones. One of the concerns often mentioned is how fragile babies are and how easy it is to bruise them. You may be worried about hurting your baby, but it is essential to remember that while their skin and bones are fragile, infants are more resilient than we think.
A good and effective massage requires a slow but firm pressure. Anything too light can be ticklish and irritating, especially around the stomach area and the bottom of the feet. You could try massaging a part of your own body to get comfortable with doing it on the infant.
While baby skin is sensitive, you will notice that the skin will become either red or raised in case of too much pressure. If this happens, don't panic. Instead, stop the massage, and try it again in a day or two by applying a little less pressure.
Listen and look for cues
A natural but essential baby massage tip is listening to your child and reading the body language. A baby in distress will whimper or cry out. Other less obvious signs of discomfort to look out for could be flinching, twitching, or recoiling from your touch. This does not necessarily indicate pain but could imply an over sensitivity that the baby is not comfortable with.
It could also mean that your baby is too distracted for a massage. This is especially true for babies old enough to sit, crawl, or walk. If the baby wiggles around too much, you can distract him or her with a toy. Singing is also highly recommended for keeping babies still and focused.
Another good tip to ease your baby into the massage is to start with the limbs before making your way to the stomach. This will give the baby a chance to relax while also increasing your confidence with the technique. It is important to remember that the baby may find the massage disagreeable because of external factors.
Think about the timing
Some parents are under the impression that they should massage their babies as soon as they are distressed. It can be tempting to massage your baby when they start crying, but you should avoid this.
A massage is not a pacifier. Sometimes a baby is upset because of a particular need like hunger, heat, or the need to sleep, and this has to be dealt with explicitly. In fact, you should avoid massaging the baby immediately after feeding, which can cause unnecessary discomfort in the stomach. The baby must be calm and comfortable before and during the massage.
Just as important, make sure you are relaxed because any anxiety or stress you feel will be passed on to your baby through touch. Place the baby on your laps or on a blanket between your legs and rock them gently until you are confident they are relaxed enough to enjoy a massage.
No need to be fussy
A quick search for massage will bring up results like baby massage kits. At the end of the day, though, it is essential to remember that a massage should be simple and just as relaxing for the parent as it is for the baby.
While it can be tempting to shop for essential baby items like massage mats, oils, and music boxes, it is good to remember that less is always better. Focus on the atmosphere. Make sure the room is warm enough, although, even with this, you should avoid completely stripping down the baby.
You could also play soft music, sing or hum while looking at your baby for any emotional cues. Do not panic if the baby breaks eye contact; it could just mean that they are relaxing into the sensation. Your hands should be well lubricated because your fingertips may feel coarse and irritating on the baby's skin.
Some parents worry about which essential oils to use. Baby skin can be sensitive and easily irritable, especially with infants younger than five months. Olive oil or coconut oil is a safe bet. Chamomile oil is also popular with mothers, especially those whose babies have easily bruised skin.
A baby massage should be something simple enough for you to try whenever the chance presents itself but also detailed enough to offer relief and comfort to your baby. For arms and legs, it is advisable to knead your thumbs and fingertips in a milking motion.
Remember, you can be firm while still applying pressure without hurting your baby. If the touch is too light or soft, it can tickle and irritate instead. Over the stomach, it is best to massage from top to bottom in the direction of the intestinal flow. If you are still nervous about technique, there are numerous resources online with specific guidance.
We recommend the 'I love you' technique or the 'bicycle' technique. Hopefully, with the above baby massage tips, both you and your child can enjoy this bonding and relaxing experience.