For both physical and emotional well-being, touch is vital to babies. In many tropical countries, baby massage has always been an integral part of child-rearing —oiling protects the skin from the hot climate, while stroking and stretching the body are commonly believed to help babies grow stronger. (This may well be true, for paediatric research has shown that premature babies progress far more rapidly when regularly massaged.)
Infant massage will strengthen the bonding and communication between parent and child and help you to develop your own special way of touching, to calm or comfort your baby. Parents who practise it regularly have found that massage helps babies to sleep and feed better, and relieves colic in the first few months.
You can start rubbing your baby lightly with oil from the first week after birth, working up to the full sequence at one month. Try to do the sequence everyday, choosing a time when the baby is happy, not tired or hungry —about half an hour after a feed is best. And, ideally, give the baby a warm relaxing bath when you have finished. Don’t worry if it takes a little time to get used to the massage— your baby will relax and begin to enjoy it as your touch becomes more confident and assured.
As massage receivers, babies are a challenge, though a rewarding one, for most of them like to take an active part in the proceedings. As your baby wriggles in response to your touch, the massage becomes like a dance, a game between the two of you.
Beginning the Baby Massage
For a baby massage, you need the room to be very warm. It is best to work sitting on the floor, with your legs outstretched. If you need extra support for your back, lean against the wall. You start the massage with your baby lying on your knees, face up and feet pointing toward you. Leave your legs bare so the baby can enjoy more skin contact and lay a towel under you on the floor in case of”accidents”.
Use a good vegetable oil that is easily absorbed, such as almond or coconut, and make sure the oil is warm by standing the bottle in a bowl of hot water. Your hands too should naturally be warm when you come to undress the baby, and any jewelry removed. The strokes in the massage sequence work outward from the centre of the body as this is easier and avoids pulling the skin. Try to repeat each stroke at least three times, keeping the rhythm continuous.
Massage Techniques for Baby Health and Well-being
Front of the Baby’s Body : The massage begins on the front of the body, as the baby will feel more relaxed if he or she can see your face, and you can judge from your baby’s expressions if you are pressing too firmly or gently— too light a touch will make the baby feel unsafe. In this sequence you are basically working down the body from top to bottom—massaging the chest, arms and hands, then the tummy, legs and feet. When massaging the arms and legs, complete one whole limb before starting on the other side.
1. Oiling the Front : Slowly and gently rub a little oil all over the baby’s body, shoulders to feet, avoiding the face. Use the whole of your hands or your forearms to spread the oil.
2. Opening Chest : Rest your hands gently on the centre of the chest and begin to circle up and out toward the shoulders, then down the sides of the ribs and back to the centre again. Repeat.
3. Hip and Shoulder Stroking : Start with your hands on either side of the baby’s hips. Slide both hands up to meet at the top of the left shoulder, then down again to the sides. Now slide them up to meet on the right shoulder and then back again to the sides. Repeat.
4. Squeezing and Wringing Arm : Holding the baby’s hand in one hand, squeeze gently down the arm with the other hand from the shoulder to the wrist, as shown. Repeat three times with one hand, and then change hands. Now clasp the baby’s arm in both hands and wring from shoulder to wrist.
5. Opening” and Spreading Hand : Use both your thumbs to squeeze the palm open to the sides, as shown right. Now hold the baby’s wrist in one hand and slide yourfree hand slowly across the palm and out over the fingers, unfurling them as you go. Repeat 4 and 5 on the other arm .
6. Massaging Tummy : Starting on the right side, draw your hands toward you alternately in a continuous stroking movement. Gradually move across the tummy from right to left and back again. Repeat.
7. Stroking Tummy and Legs : Hold the baby’s legs up by the ankles in one hand. Draw your otherforearm toward you in a slow sweeping strokefrom navel to knees, and back again. Repeat three times, then change hands.
8. Squeezing and Wringing the Leg (right) : Holding the foot in one hand, squeeze the leg from thigh to ankle with the other. Repeat three times, then change hands. Now wring up to the foot..
9. “Opening” and Spreading Foot : Use both your thumbs to squeeze the sole open to the sides. Now hold the baby’s ankle or lower leg and slide your palm across the sole from heel to toes, pressing the toes down gently to stretch them. Repeat 8 and 9 on the other leg.
Back of Baby’s Body : For this sequence, you lie the baby across your legs on his or her tummy. A back massage is very relaxing for a baby as it soothes the spinal nerves. You begin by massaging up and down the back, and end with some long strokes from top to bottom to “connect” the back and legs. Keep your strokes smooth and flowing.
10. Oiling the Back and Legs : Starting at the shoulders, slowly rub a little oil into the back, buttocks, legs and feet. Let your hands enfold the contours of your baby’s body as you spread the oil.
11. Wringing Back : Start at the baby’s bottom with one hand on each side. Now work your way up the back to the shoulders, then down again, crossing your hands repeatedly from one side to the other. Repeat, keeping your rhythm steady and continuous. .
12. Stroking Back : Cup one hand round the baby’s bottom and place the other hand on the upper back. Now glide the upper hand firmly down the back to meet the other hand. Squeeze the buttocks gently before lifting your hands off. Repeat.
13. Connecting Back and Legs Hold your baby’s ankles in one hand and lift, stretching them a little. Now glide your other hand all the way down the back and legs in a continuous sweep. Lift your hand off and repeat. Now place your baby in the original position, to work on the face.
The Baby’s Face : The face sequence is in three parts A — first you stroke across the forehead, then across the cheeks, and finish by circling around the B mouth. Working around the mouth is good for the sucking muscles. Don’t apply any oil to the face and work more lightly here, avoiding the eyes.
14. Face : a) Place your fingers on the centre of the forehead and slowly draw them out to the side. Repeat.
b) Place your fingers on either side of the nose and draw them out to the side, across the cheeks. Repeat.
c) Place your thumbs above the upper lip and circle them around the mouth in opposite directions to meet at the chin. Repeat.