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How to massage your baby

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A few weeks ago little A and I had a baby massage how-to session with the wonderful Caroline Barber. As a doula and baby massage expert, she has the magic touch; just being in her presence makes mamas and babies feel calm. She is full of wonderful tips and advice: from calming crying babies to dealing with common issues (wind, teething…) with massage. She also runs baby yoga classes from her home. Both my friend and I found the class super-helpful for wind and tummy-related issues – and I’ve made a daily massage part of the bath and bed ritual (sometimes the three-year-old ‘helps’ or accompanies me on a teddy). So I asked Caroline to share some of her top tips with us here…

Tell us about yourself…

Well, I have 2 children of my own – a boy and a girl. I have been working with children and families for 15 years, but most recently teaching baby massage, baby yoga and now being able to provide postnatal doula support. I started down this path when my daughter was a baby, some six and a half years ago. I wanted to massage her, but didn’t know what to do, and all the classes were either too far away, too cold, at the wrong times, or just too expensive. So, I decided to study baby massage. I ended up inviting friends over, and we would massage our babies together – and then, someone said, “You should run classes”. And that was like a bolt of lightening! It made sense, we had the space, and I could do it with my baby!

I quickly fell pregnant with my son, so everything was put on hold. Once he was six months old, I started running classes, from home in Chiswick – and it has snowballed! I also studied baby yoga, as I loved the idea of yoga with babies, stretching their bodies, improving their flexibility and co-ordination.

Apart from teaching at home, I also taught baby massage and yoga for a year in a children’s centre in Ealing, and I found that I was really passionate about massage, and working with new mothers and their infants.

I also started running classes for dads to bring their babies along to: this was something that was not routinely on offer, so was very well received. I still run baby massage classes for fathers each month, and I am the Specialist Certified Infant Massage Instructor for working with fathers for the International Association of Infant Massage, UK.

Since beginning this work, I have also done the training to become a doula, and am working with new families in the 4th trimester now, and thoroughly enjoying it.

My other passions includes reflexology, professional relaxation therapy, and I am working on becoming a breastfeeding buddy to further support new mothers and babies.

I really love the work I do, it fits beautifully around my own children, and has been such a positive influence on our family life. My own children know all about breastfeeding, about massage and yoga and the benefits, and are really aware of their own bodies, their breathing and how they feel when their bodies are relaxed. We still massage, and often they will ask for a back massage or foot massage, knowing how lovely it feels, and how we have focused time together.

What are the benefits of baby massage?

There are so many benefits of Baby Massage. It is a traditional practice to:
– Increase bonding and attachment between parents and their babies,
– Stimulate the babies bodies, body awareness and language development,
– Provide relief of things like growing pains, sore tummies, teething and poor circulation,
– And of course, to relax together, getting all the wonderful hormones flowing (oxytocin and prolactin)

Massage is used with many babies. Lots of studies show that preterm babies gain weight, develop more and bond better with their parents if they are massaged, compared to babies who are not massaged.

Massage makes babies hungry and tired, so this is good to keep in mind, especially if you are feeling that feeding or sleeping are of concern.

Massage is derived from Indian practices, Swedish practices, yoga and reflexology, so when a baby is massaged they are getting the best from many worlds!

When is the best time to massage my baby?

Every baby is different, so parents will have to take cues from the baby, and see what they are doing. To massage, we are looking for a time when the baby is awake, not crying or eating, and is not too active. Try to find a time when the baby is quiet and alert, bright eyed, gently looking about, making some gurgles or coos, relaxed breathing, with calm movements.  Massaging after a big feed is not advisable, and leave 48 hours after immunisations before massaging.

Also, while you might have the timing right for the baby, is the timing right for you? If you have a lot going on, you won’t be relaxed. Turn off your phone, forget about everything else for 15 minutes, and just be with your baby.

What equipment do I need?

All you really need is your baby, and a warm cosy place to massage. Massage oil is also an essential. The recommended oil is a cold pressed organic sunflower oil, and I like to have vitamin E added for extra nourishment for their lovely skin, especially in cooler weather.

How should I massage my baby?

A firm, warm stroke, with well-oiled hands is the best way to massage your baby. That combined with a loving voice, lots of good eye contact, and maybe some gentle singing and chatting, ending with lots of kisses and cuddles.

Can you talk us through a very simple step-by-step massage routine we could follow?

The safest place to massage is on the floor. Find a warm place, not too bright, and somewhere comfortable for you.

Begin by warming up some massage oil in your hands, swish the oil in front of the babys face so they can see your hands, hear the oil swishing, and know what is coming next. Offer the baby the massage, this is a good time to check in with them, have some lovely eye contact.

It is always good to begin massaging a baby’s legs and feet, as these are the least vulnerable parts of the body.

Start on one leg and foot, and then move onto the other. Begin with working from the hip down to the foot, to boost circulation.

Then, try to work across the muscles, again from the hip towards the foot, really warming up the muscles.

Moving onto the foot, work on the base of the foot, some nice firm thumbs being pressed all over the bottom of the foot will feel wonderful, and stimulate the while body.

Count out each of the toes, starting with the biggest, this is fun and interactive with your baby.

You can then make little circles around their ankle joints, then working back up towards the hip from the ankle.

Its also really lovely to massage their beautiful, busy bottoms, so some big circles on their buttocks. (This might stimulate some wind, so don’t be surprised!)

Now do the same on the other leg and foot, and repeat the strokes for the bottom.

Then, working from the hips down to the toes, do a lovely long massage stroke, linking everything together, telling them each body part and showing them how it all connects

Can you recommend the best massage moves for new parents’ most common worries: constipation, wind, colic, to calm baby down before bed and induce sleep? (Every parent’s dream)

Most new parents come to me with concerns that their baby is experiencing tummy pain, so this can be constipation, wind or even colic. With this kind of tummy pain, a few handy strokes are to work on the tummy, moving in a clockwise direction, as this follows the path of digestion. It is also beneficial to bring the baby’s knees up and into their tummy, and hold this position, as it puts some pressure on their tummy with their knees and things. It can also be of benefit to bicycle their legs, so long as their thighs are meeting their tummy.

Teething is also a common issue that parents raise with me, and some big circles on their jawline can provide a lot of relief.

All massage will help to induce sleep, so long as the timing is right, environment is warm and loving, and baby is receptive.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    On Site Plus
    August 24, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Massaging your baby can provide some brilliant benefits. You’ve written a really insightful article on this topic.

    Good work! We will share this via our social media channels for you.

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