While touching and cuddling your baby and child comes naturally for most parents, many parents don’t know where to start when it comes to infant massage. But massage is one of the most important and natural things we can do for our children to help not only their long-term neural and cognitive development, but also alleviate some of the most common baby issues such as gas, teething and constipation.
Baby massage has been practiced for centuries in Eastern countries. Today, due to research and clinical studies, we know much more about the science-backed practice of baby massage. When a baby is massaged daily, their central nervous system is stimulated, forming vital neural connections that help to boost their social and physical development.
If you’ve never tried massage on your baby or child, don’t blame yourself. These tips will help you get started.
Massage for sleep
A soothing massage before putting your baby down for sleep has many benefits. Massage can help babies reduce stress and settle in for a good night’s sleep. In fact, doing massage with your baby increases both of your levels of oxytocin (feel-good hormones) and decreases cortisol (stress hormone).
Research also shows that babies who are massaged daily have more regular circadian rhythms and release more melatonin, which helps them discern nighttime from daytime sleep. Creating a consistent pre-sleep massage routine will communicate to your baby that it’s time to rest and will encourage them to sleep longer and deeper, giving you the chance to get some sleep as well.
Massage for teething
Babies often lose sleep and experience high fevers due to everyday teething pains. Since teething is so natural, we often forget that it is still a big stressor for our babies, not to mention the poor parents who are often kept up all night due to a fussy teething baby.
Baby massage is a natural and safe way to help relieve muscle discomfort and jaw tension. Massaging the jaw and gum line with your fingers is an easy and natural way to alleviate some of the pain associated with teething. Make little circles close to the ears and running down the cheeks. Next, massage the areas around the mouth. Babies will also feel calmed by a full-body massage, which can lessen pain receptors and distract them from the teething process.
Massage for gas, colic and constipation
Gas and constipation are some of the biggest culprits that lead to digestive discomfort for babies. These pains are especially common in the first few months of life when your baby’s digestive tract is still developing.
Use your hands to make clockwise circles on your baby’s belly. Go slow and alternate between hands to help relieve the gas bubbles and relieve blockages in the upper and lower abdomen. Foot reflexology is also a great way to calm gassy, colicky or constipated babies. To perform reflexology on your baby’s feet, use your thumbs to stroke their feet from heel to top of foot. Make gentle circles in the middle of the foot, using a clockwise motion for 3-5 minutes. Most parents report that babies will poop minutes to an hour afterward.
Massage for colds and immunity
With RSV, COVID and flu on the rise, massage can be a great way to boost your baby’s immunity and overall circulation. On average, babies will get six to eight colds by the time they are 7 months.
As a parent, we often feel helpless to help our babies when they are sick. Research has shown that massage can increase your baby’s white blood cell count, which helps improve their immunity. A facial massage also assists in their lymphatic flow, which can relieve stuffy noses and boost their immune response so they don’t get sick as often. If your baby is suffering from a cough, massaging their chest and back can often help relieve some of the mucus and fluid.
Elina Furman is a mom of two boys. As a certified infant massage instructor, she is passionate about bringing awareness to the scientific evidence-based practice of baby/child massage by developing Kahlmi, the first vibrating handheld massager for babies & children. Kahlmi.com @getkahlmi