A Guide to Baby Massage

A hands-on approach to calming and connecting with your baby

A Guide to Baby MassageAt one time, infant massage was regarded as an alternative practice — despite being favoured by Asian and African cultures for untold years. Now it’s become a regular part of the day for many Canadian parents, who have tuned into the benefits of giving their baby a blissful massage.

“It was absolutely my favourite outing when my babies were small,” says Sheryl Matthew of Bowen Island, B.C. She took infant massage classes at Neo Mama in Vancouver with her twins, Oliver and Jemima, starting when they were three months old. “It was a very calming experience, and the twins were really engaged and content. Outside of the class, I would use massage to settle them down, and to help with gas and digestion.”

“Parents often come to our classes to look for relief from colic, and sometimes sinus congestion too,” says Erin Dolan, a registered massage therapist (RMT) at Thrive Massage Therapy in Cobourg, Ont., who teaches infant massage classes. “We also hear from first-time dads that massage is a hugely helpful way to bond with their babies.

Does it Really Work?

“Our research found that infants younger than 16 weeks who had a combination of massage and being carried cried less compared to just massage or just carrying,” says Dr. Ruth Elliott, professor emeritus in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Plus, findings from the Touch Research Institute, at the University of Miami School of Medicine, indicate that massage is highly beneficial for premature babies — helping them to gain weight, become more alert and develop healthier bones.

As well, a team of researchers from Warwick Medical School and the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick in England found indications that infants under six months who were massaged cried less, slept better and had lower levels of stress hormones compared to infants who did not receive massage.

Choosing a Class

Ask about your instructor’s qualifications. Look for someone who is an RMT or certified infant massage instructor (CIMI) trained by the International Association of Infant Massage (iaim.net). A health care professional, such as a physiotherapist or registered nurse, is also acceptable, adds Dolan. One instructor to three couples is a good ratio for group classes, and private classes may also be available. Consider your baby’s schedule when you’re signing up for a class, as Dolan notes that many babies are most receptive to getting massaged when they are quiet and alert — before or after a nap — depending on your little one. Most classes promote skin-to-skin contact with a nurturing touch using a mild, vegetable-based oil. Finally, your instructor should provide a baby-sized doll to practice on first, or to use if your little one is just not into the massage thing at the moment.

Healing Touch at Home

Follow these steps to create a calm and relaxing environment for your baby’s massage.

  • Choose a quiet place to perform the massage. Turn off the TV, silence the ringer on the phone and dim any harsh lights. Remove any rings from your fingers.
  • Massage should always be done with an infant, not to an infant. If the child is not in the mood for a massage, don’t force it.
  • If you are using a lubricant, ensure that it is fruit- or vegetable-based (not nut-infused) and if it is scented, pure essential oils are recommended and should not be overly strong. Use a dime-sized amount and rub your hands together to warm the oil.
  • Strokes should be soft and gentle. As the baby grows stronger, so should your touch. Movements should be slow and rhythmic.

Writer Bonnie Schiedel lives in Ignace, Ont., where, sadly, there are no massage therapists.

Keep reading to learn some massage moves.

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