Benefits of Baby Massage and Infant Massage

Why massage the newborn?

Massaging the newborn has been a tradition in India and other Asian countries since time immemorial. Various oil-based preparations have been used depending on the regional availability. Evidence exists supporting the benefits of touch and massage therapy. A quick review of literature suggests that massage has several positive effects in terms of weight gain, better sleep-wake pattern, enhanced neuromotor development, better emotional bonding, and reduced rates of infections. Massage was found to be more useful when some kind of lubricant oil was used.

Massage has been found to be of great use, especially in preterm infants.  A review of literature on this topic reveals that massage therapy led to weight gain in preterm infants when moderate pressure massage was provided. In studies on passive movement of the limbs, preterm infants also gained significantly more weight, and their bone density also increased. The use of mothers as therapists was effective in at least one study. The use of oils including sesame oil (til oil), coconut oil, olive oil & safflower oil enhanced the average weight gain, and the transcutaneous absorption of oil also increased triglycerides. In addition, the use of oil increased vagal activity, which may indirectly contribute to weight gain. In a wonderful study on the effect of Infant Massage on preterm babies, Dieter et al. found that the “massage group” averaged 53% greater daily weight gain than the “control group”. The massage group spent less time sleeping at the end of 5 treatment days than the control group and more time in the drowsy. They concluded that healthy, low-risk preterm infants gained more weight and slept less with just 5 days of massage, in contrast to 10 days in previous studies!

Advantages of Infant & Baby Massage:

• Most of the time, massages are given with oil. Oil application has been shown to keep skin supple and soft and thus prevent breaking of skin. Oil massage removes the dead cells of skin and improves the texture of skin by preventing the dryness and cracking of the skin.

• Oil massage also keeps the baby warm.

• Oil can be absorbed from the skin especially in premature babies and this can result in improved growth.

• Massage with sesame oil (til oil) has shown to improve the circulation to the massaged area. Sesame oil is nurturing, warming and Ayurvedically recommended.

• Massage by itself due to gentle touch of the skin is known to stimulate the stomach and improve digestion. It also stimulates release of insulin, which stimulates growth enhancing factors in the body and can thus improve the weight gain in the babies.

• Regular baby massage has been found to improve the bone density and make the bones stronger in various studies globally.

• Infants who receive massage therapy appear more alert and spend less time in sleep. They also sleep without disturbances with improved quality of sleep with less awakening during sleep.

• Babies who receive massage are less fussy, cry less and show less stress behavior.

Are there emotional benefits to Infant Massage?

In addition to the physical benefits of massage, there are such wonderful emotional benefits of Infant Massage. On the psychological and emotional levels, massage is an excellent experience for developing communication and an important bonding experience between infant and caregiver. Touch is an important sense for helping us to feel safe and in the world. Especially for infants, touch is necessary to feed the skin, the tissues and the developing nervous system. New mothers who practice massage with their infants report that when they do, their babies have less gas, are more settled at night and are healthier overall.

In Conclusion…

While learning the proper techniques of infant massage from a Certified Infant Massage Instructor is, of course, a helpful experience, try using touch with your infant on your own. Use organic oil warmed to body temperature (test it first). Sesame oil is nurturing and warming and Ayurvedically recommended, but other vegetable oils can be used. Oil can make the baby slippery, so set out a towel (one that you don’t mind getting oily) on a firm surface, even a clean floor. Use very light strokes: circular on the joints and belly, long strokes on the limbs. Babies enjoy having their hands and feet massaged. You can also gently rub the belly clockwise to encourage digestion.

Both parents (and grandparents) can experience the bonding and nurturing of infant massage and this is one of the great benefits of the practice. Massage can be incorporated into morning and night routines, to start out the day and then to encourage sweet and deep sleep. When one parent is engaged in massage with the infant, the other can take the opportunity for a few minutes of personal time. Regular infant massages are one of the most precious gifts every new parent can give their new baby. It’s like a little life-insurance – making sure that a new life gets off to the right start.

References:

1)    Massage & Touch Therapy in Noeonates: The Current Evidence http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21048258
2)    Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: A review http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20137814
3)    Stable Preterm Infants Gain More Weight & Sleep Less After Five Days of Massage Therapy http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12904452
4)    Lee HK. The effects of infant massage on weight, height, and mother-infant interaction. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi 2006; 36: 1331-1339.
5)    Agarwal KN, Gupta A, Pushkarna R, Bhargava SK, Faridi MMA, Prabhu MK. Effects of massage and use of oil on growth, blood flow and sleep pattern in infants. Indian J Med Res 2000; 112: 212-217.