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Your Questions About Infant Massage, Answered

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Nov 11, 2015

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The benefits of infant massage are well documented (I’ve written about them here). But just because we know something is good for our babies, doesn’t mean we don’t find it overwhelming. How to massage a baby might seem intuitive from the outside, but faced with doing it for the first time, most new parents feel only fear, along with countless questions.

I’m here to allay the former and answer the latter with these baby massage tips. So breathe deep: Massage is supposed to be relaxing, and infant massage is no exception.

Which oil is good for baby massage?

Short Answer:

Any oil that you would consume raw as part of, say, a salad dressing, is good massage oil for baby skin.

Longer Answer:

The skin is the largest organ of the human body, so if you’re not willing to eat the oil, it’s not a good massage oil for baby skin. Your baby will chew at her hands and feet, so she may well end up consuming some of the oil. If it is an oil that you would be happy for your baby to ingest, it can be used for infant massage.

There is no need to buy expensive ‘extra extra virgin’ oil, but do use a cold-pressed / natural oil. The most commonly used oils for massaging a baby include:

  • Sunflower
  • Grape seed
  • Fractioned coconut
  • Almond
  • Olive (Until recently, olive oil was the oil of choice for infant massage. However, recent research suggests that it can break down skin cells. This research has not been validated and remains controversial.)

Always do a patch test before applying any new substance on your baby’s skin. Rub a small amount of your chosen oil at the back of your baby’s ankle; if, after 24 hours, there is no reaction — that is, redness, bumps, spots, respiration difficulties — then it’s a safe massage oil for baby skin.

Do not use generic ‘baby oil,’ also known as mineral oil, as massage oil for baby skin. Baby oils, successfully marketed by big international baby brands, are generally made from petroleum with molecules that are too big to be absorbed by the skin. You can observe this by doing a simple test on yourself: rub a small quantity of mineral-based baby oil on your skin and leave it for 10 minutes; if the oil has left a clear coating on your skin, it is obviously not being absorbed by your skin — so don’t use it for massaging a baby.

Aromatherapy oils are also not recommended for babies under 6 months.

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How much pressure should I use when massaging a baby?

Short Answer:

Trust yourself!

Longer Answer:

As a parent, your will know how much pressure to use by instinct. Be gentle and begin with a lighter touch. With practice, and as your baby grows, you can and will increase the pressure to suit your child.

What time of day is the best for infant massage?

Short Answer:

There is no ‘right’ time of day for massaging a baby.

Longer Answer:

The best time for infant massage really depends on your and your baby’s schedule. Since infant massage promotes a state of relaxation and sleep, many parents incorporate it as part of a bedtime routine.

Above all, watch and listen to your baby. He will cry if he doesn’t want to be massaged or wants you to stop. You cannot force your baby to relax, so you may need to be flexible with your massage schedule and try again when he is more receptive.

Here are some general guidelines that will help you best fit a massage into your baby’s day:

  • Don’t wake your baby for massage
  • Don’t massage your baby if he is hungry or has just fed
  • Don’t massage your baby if he is unwell; he won’t enjoy it
  • Wait 24 hours after immunizations, and only massage your baby if he is well; avoid massaging the injection site for a week

Is it normal for my baby to have a bowel movement or pass urine during infant massage?

Short Answer:

Yes.

Longer Answer:

Massage aids digestion, so it is perfectly normal and common for your baby to have a bowel movement or urinate during a massage. Just clean up and carry on.

My baby has colic/reflux/constipation — can massage really help?

Short Answer:

A resounding yes.

Longer Answer:

When I asked my daughter’s paediatrician what colic was and how I could avoid it, he said, “If you look for colic, you’ll find it; don’t look for it.” Colic is a term to describe when babies cry for prolonged periods, usually at set times of the day and for no apparent reason. It’s associated with digestion, but it’s a condition defined by its symptoms — namely, crying — rather than a particularly cause. Infant massage absolutely helps colic and digestive issues like acidity and constipation in a number of ways:

  • It helps eliminate wind from your baby’s body
  • It produces ‘feel-good’ hormones in your baby to aid relaxation
  • It can help mature your baby’s digestive system through stimulating the digestive tract
  • It helps the baby feel secure and comfortable through skin-to-skin contact with a parent

Do use the correct techniques for tummy massage, though: Strokes should be in a clockwise direction to follow the digestive system (anti-clockwise stokes can actually lead to further discomfort).

Have more questions about infant massage? Email them to Keshinee at contact@theswaddle.com.

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Written By Keshinee Shah

Ms. Keshinee Shah is an international lawyer and management consultant, with 20 years of first aid experience. She is a first aid instructor and has been conducting training in first aid under Emergency First Response for parents, students, care-givers and professionals, both in India and the UK, since 2011. Keshinee also holds a Diploma in Infant Massage from the UK.

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