Baby massage is a great way to feel more connected to your little one and to make you both that much calmer and relaxed. If you haven’t given it a try before, follow these steps from our ambassador, yogi Nikki Ralston.
Humans are hard wired for connection. It’s what feeds and nourishes us and brings us joy. Touch is the language that transcends all boundaries and provides an opportunity to strengthen bonds, especially between parent and child. If you’re a parent, you know how it goes – you soothe your baby, they are all ‘cooey’ and happy then the minute you put them down they start wailing, calling out for that connection they love and crave, so you pick them up and in a second they are all happy and smiley again!
If just holding your baby can be so soothing and nourishing, imagine how much both you and baby will benefit from a full body massage. In fact, studies have shown that massaging an infant can reduce crying and fussiness, help them sleep more peacefully and help alleviate constipation and colic. Research also suggests baby massage can boost their immune system and help produce more of the connecting hormone oxytocin in both of you.
Oxytocin is that wonderful hormone produced while breast feeding, that chemical responsible for the gooey eyed, loved up feeling. But as we know, not all mothers are able to breast feed and of course dads can’t! When you give your baby a massage you are actually stimulating their nervous system, which sets off a chain reaction and makes the brain produce more serotonin and less cortisol (much like what yoga or a massage does for adults.) As a result your baby’s heart rate and breathing slow down and they become more relaxed. So it’s a great way for you both to feel more connected, loved up and peaceful – and for baby to reap the health benefits as well as having calm happy parents.
Set the mood
Giving your baby a massage is as simple as it is enjoyable, so make sure that the room is warm, quiet and the light is not too bright. Pick a time when baby is relaxed but alert, because if you try to massage a fussy, tired baby you may over-stimulate them. Make sure baby has been fed and you’ve changed their nappy. A great time is after you’ve bathed them in Sleepytime Bath as the lavender and geranium oils also have a calming effect that helps to relieve stress.
Remove any jewellery that might catch or scratch. And you can use Baby Moisturiser that also has lavender and geranium oil, blended with olive, jojoba and coconut oils and shea butter. Strip baby down to just a diaper and lay them face up on a towel. Make sure your hands are warm, then take a moment and take a few deep breaths before you begin, tuning in to your breath and your heart energy.
Feet and legs
Start at the feet, which are a slightly less sensitive area for baby. Place the pad of your thumb on the sole of their foot and massage in small clockwise circles. Holding their foot, sweep your thumb upwards from the heel to the toes, then gently massage each toe lightly. Gently but firmly, wrap your hands around baby’s leg and glide your hands one at a time from the ankle to the thigh and back down. Do this a few times and then repeat on the other leg.
Massaging the tummy is a lovely way to help baby feel safe and secure, as well as helping with tummy troubles such as colic and constipation.
Place your hands at the level of your baby’s navel. In a clockwise motion, rub your fingertips firmly but gently over the tummy.
A popular technique is the ‘I LOVE U’ technique.
To do this:
– Start with your right hand on the left side of your baby’s tummy (your right) and make a single downward stroke (the I)
– Make a backward, sideways ‘L’, going from your baby’s right to left side.
– Make an upside down ‘U’, going from your baby’s lower right side, up, across and down the left side of the baby’s tummy.
Say the words ‘I love you’ as you go through the strokes. Repeat a few times as long as baby is still settled. To help relieve wind, bend both knees up to the tummy and hold for about 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat a few times.
If baby is sensitive on the chest just hold your hands over the heart and connect with each other’s energy. Massaging the chest can help relieve congestion, with both hands at the centre of the chest, stroke them out to the sides as if you were gently smoothing out sand, glide your hands down, then around, then they should meet in the centre again.
It can be surprising how much tension a baby can hold in their shoulders and arms. Gently roll your baby’s arm between your hands, starting at the shoulder and moving down to the wrist. Using the pads of your thumbs gently open their hand, roll each tiny finger between your index finger and thumb, then stroke the top of their hand from the wrist to the fingertips. Repeat on the other arm.
Massaging the face can help relax tension caused by sucking, crying and with the discomfort of teething. Babies love to mirror your movements and expressions. It is a lovely moment to make eye contact and have a happy time together, even making soft ‘ahhhhhh’ sounds together. Make small circles along the jaw with your fingertips. Join fingers or thumbs gently between the eyebrows and trace a ‘sweet heart’ over the forehead, down the sides of the face meeting at the chin. Repeat a few times.
Massage on the back can encourage strengthening of the neck, shoulders and arms, as baby lifts their head; as well as having a calming and relaxing effect. There are many ways to position your baby to encourage them to enjoy being on their front. This may be best on your lap or cradled in one arm if the baby is very young. With baby lying on their front, start at the top of the back, at a right angle to the spine. Move your hand back and forth, in opposite directions, going down the back to the buttocks, then up to the shoulders and back down again. Then swoop your hand from their neck all the way down to their feet.
Skin on skin
Finish with some skin to skin contact – this is great for all babies. Touch is so healing and nourishing for us all – for older babies it’s a great way to introduce what a gentle loving touch is and feels like, so we can remind them when they get a bit boisterous and grabby! Remember to stay connected to your breath throughout so that it’s an enjoyable ritual for you both, and always conclude the massage if baby is over-stimulated or upset. Remember you can always try again another time. Peace, love and snuggles!
Nikki Ralston has been working with the human body for over 15 years. She devised the Ralston Method, which blends together elements of hatha, vinyasa, precision alignment and mindfulness teachings. She is also the owner of Urban Ashram in Auckland.
Kim is the owner of SNUGBAGS - Merino for Kids. Together with her partner James and their little girl Neeva Rose, she lives in a little beach town called Piha on the West Coast in New Zealand. They love surfing, building sandcastles and all things natural and organic.