Infant massage is a tradition in many cultures around the world. Touch is the first sense to develop in an infant and massage provides an important source of loving touch.
There are specific methods and techniques for infant massage that have shown good results. Each massage stroke has a different effect. Some strokes enhance blood flow, some have a calming effect, and others have a stimulating effect. Infant massage is taught in a sequence including strokes for the legs and feet, tummy, chest, arms and hands, face, and back. Infant massage instruction also includes gentle stretching exercises and baby yoga.
It is recommended to begin infant massage right after birth and it is most effective, with longer lasting benefits, when done consistently for the first 6 months. You can take infant massage classes before your baby is born so the technique can be incorporated into your routine once your baby is here.
It is best to start infant massage when your baby is in a quiet, alert state (calm, attentive, eyes open and following a moving object). Examples of baby's cues when it is good timing to do infant massage are smiling, laughing, cooing, making eye contact and smooth body movements. Examples of baby's cues when it is not good timing for infant massage are looking away, grimacing, fussing, crying, stiff body movements, whimpering, spitting up or gagging, moving away from you, closing arms tightly over chest, or flailing arms.
Infant massage is something you do with your baby, not to your baby. Only continue as long as the baby is interested in the interaction.
Infant massage can be done any time of the day but it is better to do between feedings.
Using oil helps avoid friction during massage. Natural cold-pressed or organic oils are recommended, such as almond, apricot, sesame or grapeseed oil.
Choosing the right position for infant massage is important. Sit on the floor with legs straddled, put the soles of your feet together and spread a blanket over your legs. Place your baby in the center of the blanket facing you. A warm, naturally lit room is an ideal space to do the infant massage. You can use the blanket to swaddle your infant so that he does not get cold. Soothing music can also be played during the massage. The average length of time for an infant massage session is 20 to 30 minutes, but this varies depending on the baby's tolerance and mood.
Benefits of infant massage for babies include improving sleep, relaxation, strengthening and regulating the baby's systems, improving blood flow, promoting social, emotional and cognitive development, and reducing colic, gas and constipation. Benefits for parents include helping the parents have a better understanding of their infant's cues, increasing confidence and handling skills, enhancing communication, and providing essential components of parent-infant attachment and bonding, such as eye-to-eye contact, touch, voice, smell, movement and mutual interaction.
Infant massage classes taught by certified instructors are designed for parents and primary caregivers and are usually customized to meet the needs of each family. Classes are taught in multiple sessions that last from 60 to 90 minutes.
Kara Book is an occupational therapist in the neonatal intensive care unit and a certified infant massage instructor at Community Medical Center.