Giving an oil massage to the baby before a bath is a long-established Indian practice that is passed down from generation to generation. But have you wondered what the benefits of baby massage are?
Most of us have heard that baby massage strengthens the bones and stimulates the baby. What does the science say about benefits of baby massage?
Other than strengthening the mother-baby bond, baby massage has many added benefits. Let’s discuss 9 scientifically proven benefits of baby massage.
Even though in India, baby massage is a tradition that has been continued down the ages, the popularity of infant massage in Western countries is a fairly recent trend.
It is due to the recognition of its scientifically proven health benefits.
What Is Meant By Baby Massage?
Massaging a baby with slow, gentle, and rhythmic strokes using oil or moisturizers is basically referred to as baby massage.
However, Indian style newborn baby massage involves massaging oils rather than creams and moisturizers.
Many brands of baby massage oils are available in the market. While massaging the baby, using the oil that suits the baby helps the hands to glide smoothly over the baby’s skin.
While proceeding with baby massage, you have to concentrate on the right body part.
Always avoid massaging the genital area.
Related Reading: 12 Benefits Of Massaging Baby With Almond Oil
Gently press baby’s joints like ankles, knees, wrists. Softly pull toes and fingers.
The tummy area should be massaged in gentle, circular, clockwise circular strokes.
After finishing the front body, you can turn the baby on the tummy and give a long, gentle, stroke from head to toe. However, it’s is always important to take the cue if the baby is enjoying the massage.
More often the baby loves being massaged. But someday they might not be in a mood to receive a massage. If the baby seems not enjoying, proceed to bath before the baby becomes fussy.
Points To Remember Before Starting A Baby Massage
Massaging is beneficial for the baby in several ways. However, there are certain guidelines to understand and follow while massaging the baby.
1. The ideal age to start massaging a baby
Even though there is no rule on when to start oil massage for babies, it is always wise to wait till the baby turns one month before starting the massage. This is because, according to studies, the newborn’s skin is underdeveloped and it will take at least two weeks to become water-resistant.
Also, it will take around 15 days for the naval base to dry fully after shedding the umbilical cord stub. Until then, there is an increased risk of infection, if any massage oil gets trapped in it.
Moreover, it is after one month the baby will be more responsive to touch.
2. Benefits of baby massage will happen if it is done in routine
Try to do the baby massage at the same time every day. This way, you will be building a routine, and eventually, the baby gets accustomed to this routine and expect to have it.
This will bring down the chances of the baby getting annoyed. Surprises annoy babies and babies are a sucker for routines. On the other hand, they usually react nicely to something they expected.
3. There is no “best time”
“When should I massage my baby?” is a common question asked by new mothers. Well, when it comes to time for a massage, anytime is the best time.
Choose a time that is convenient for you. Massage your baby when you’re free and relaxed. Also, make sure the baby isn’t hungry or too full.
If you are not free and have to rush, massaging the baby will not be productive. This is a procedure that needed to be enjoyed by both mother and child.
If the baby is hungry, he will turn fussy and will not co-operate with massaging.
Likewise, if the baby’s stomach is full, there is an increased chance the baby will spit up.
Therefore make sure the baby is neither too full or is hungry before starting massaging.
It is better to select a time right between two feeding sessions. Thus, the baby will not feel full or hungry. The baby’s last feeding session and timing of the massage should be spaced out 45 minutes.
Also, wait for 15 min after massaging to feed the baby. You can also massage right after a diaper change.
4. Baby massage – before or after the bath
This is another doubt asked by many mothers. Usually, a massage is given before a bath. But, you can also massage your baby after a bath. It depends on the purpose and what you are using to massage the baby.
The reason baby massages are done before bathing is because it is ideal to wash away the excess oil/lotion during the bath.
This prevents the building up of leftover oil/lotion on the baby’s sensitive skin which can trigger skin issues.
Massaging a baby after a bath is beneficial if the baby is having skin issues like dry skin. In this case, the doctor may ask you to massage the baby with some medicated oil or moisturizer after the bath.
If you use it before the bath, it will be washed off and therefore the issue of dryness will not be solved.
It is also beneficial to massage the baby before bedtime. Massaging is great addition to make a part of a regular bedtime routine. But in this case, you should be vigilant of the product you use for massage, as it lingers on the baby’s skin overnight.
Massaging the baby with her clothes on also can be made a part of your baby’s bedtime routine. This kind of massage helps to soothe the baby and to move the baby from playtime to bedtime.
Gradually, the baby tunes into a routine and understands that massage is going to be followed by bath or sleep time.
Likewise, some oils should be washed off after using it for massaging.
This is because, even though these oils are good for massaging, leaving their residues can damage the delicate skin of the baby.
5. Selecting the right massage oil for your baby
Always try to choose unscented, edible, and cold-pressed vegetable/ fruit oil. By selecting edible oil, you don’t have to worry even if the baby sucks on hands or fingers after applying oil.
As these oils are easily absorbed into the baby’s skin, it is important to talk to the doctor before selecting massaging oil for your baby.
6. Follow your baby’s cues
When babies are not in the mood it is wise to postpone the massaging session to another time. Also, just because you start massaging, that doesn’t mean you have to complete massaging all body parts before stopping the same.
You have to follow your baby’s cues and her comfort is prime.
Therefore, if the baby sends “not-so-happy” cues, when you just finished massaging hands and legs, stop then and there. Bathe the baby as if it was an oil massage.
NB: Stroking away from the heart is a relaxation technique. So you can use it for a pre-bedtime massaging. Likewise, stroking towards the heart is stimulation so it suits when you are massaging the baby in his active hours. Combining both also will do.
9 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Baby Massage
So in theory, there are many benefits of massaging but we have put science to use. So let us now discuss the benefits of baby massage as backed by science.
1. Could help to boost blood circulation
Massaging the baby is known improve blood circulation. The blood flow to the extremities will be relatively less in newborns as they are not active.
Massaging increases the blood flow in the hands and legs.
Studies show that the mid-arm and mid-leg circumferences are more in infants who receive massage when compared to infants who didn’t get massage.
Another added benefit of baby massage would be development of strong bones.
2. Helps baby sleep better
Babies are found to sleep soundly after a good massage. Studies show massage improves post-massage sleep. New research says that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone are found to decrease markedly when babies under 6 months receive a massage.
As the cortisol level falls, melatonin production increases. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. That is why babies fall fast asleep after a good massage.
3. Benefits of baby massage include stimulation of nervous system
According to one study, massaged babies showed improved heart rate variability than non-massaged babies.
HRV is a variation in the time interval between heartbeats which is highly influenced by the Autonomic Nervous System. Improved HRV means an improved nervous system.
Massaging stimulates nerves and hence greatly improves the baby’s motor skills development.
According to NCBI, massage therapy is highly beneficial for premature babies as it helps with the maturation of preemies’ immature nervous systems.
4. Baby massage facilitates weight gain
Weight gain in babies is a concern of many parents. The good news is baby massage and baby growth are connected. Many studies connect massage with healthy weight gain.
According to one study, neonatal weight gain is markedly high in babies who receive oil massage when compared to babies not get any massage.
5. Baby massage lowers the chance of jaundice
New-born jaundice is quite common as we know.
One study shows massaging newborns helps to bring down the bilirubin (the compound in the blood that causes jaundice) levels.
Massaging also increases the frequency of bowel movement. This also helps to eliminate the bilirubin. All these contribute to bringing down the odds of jaundice in infants.
6. Baby massage reduces colic
Colic is generally defined as a prolonged period of crying, screaming and fussiness in babies. This can be particularly frustrating for the parents.
Parents often look for various ways to comfort colicky babies and baby massage is one of them.
How does baby massage help in relieving colic?
The sphincters in the esophagus are not fully developed in babies. Babies, therefore, are not able to burp on their own. This results in the accumulation of gas in the stomach. Baby massage helps to expel this gas and relieve the pressure.
According to Pediatrics, massaging can reduce crying in colicky babies. Holding below the baby’s knee and gently pushing it upward (towards the stomach) while massaging helps to expel the accumulated stomach gas. This reduces colic in babies.
7. Helps to prevent constipation and diarrhea
Studies show gastrointestinal issues like constipation and diarrhea in babies can be reduced by massage therapy.
The vagus nerve connects the brain with vital body parts. This includes the stomach as well.
Related Reading: How To Use Orange Juice For Baby Constipation
While massaging the baby, this nerve gets stimulated. This boosts digestion and bowel movement, thereby preventing constipation. Constipation and diarrhea are opposing conditions.
However, improved activity of the vagus nerve due to abdominal massage helps to relieve both issues in babies.
8. Baby massage improves certain conditions
Studies show, baby massage works as a therapy and helps to improve certain conditions in a baby.
Both hypertonicity (excessive stiff muscle tone) of cerebral palsy and hypotonicity (weak muscle tone) of down’s syndrome are found to improve markedly employing massage therapy.
Related Reading: 13 Health Problems That May Affect Premature Babies
Benefits of baby massage include helping babies with motor development delays.
Massaging a baby also helps to relieve pains and aches.
9. Baby massage strengthens bonds between mother and child
The most important benefit of baby massage is perhaps the way a baby and mother get some uninterrupted ‘we’ time.
And no, it is not just hearsay! Researches also prove that massaging a baby helps the mother and baby bond better.
Furthermore, studies also show that attending massage class and attempting baby massage helps the mothers with postpartum depression to bond with the baby.
Massaging is an important way to bond with the baby. But, now you know there are even more benefits of baby massage, scientifically proven.
The practice of baby massage is not a new practice. It is not even an old tradition. Actually, it is a part of nature.
You might have noticed all mammals from, cat to lion, massage their babies by licking them. This is not only a cleaning procedure but a method to normalize their body systems as well. So, do not hold yourself back and have some great moments with your little baby!