By Doula and Qualified Massage Therapist, Zuleikha Ismail
Did you know that baby gets his first massage as soon as he’s born? Doctors no longer smack a baby’s bottom to get them to take that first breath – instead, they rub their backs to increase circulation, warm them up, and encourage air intake, and that’s when we hear them cry. Babies are also placed on the mom’s chest, where they make their first vital skin-to-skin contact, which helps the baby calm down after an exhausting birth. Babies can feel a sense of detachment after birth.
Human contact is vital for their well-being. If the healthcare professionals attend to the mom after the birth, the dad steps in and is encouraged to do skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care with his newborn. Dad can gently stroke the baby’s legs or back to calm and soothe him.
Babies have benefitted from massage for many years, and people of all cultures have practised different ways of inculcating baby massage into their little one’s daily routines. Baby massage may help to stimulate the circulatory and digestive systems, which may in turn help with issues such as:
Massage also eases discomfort caused by teething, muscular tension, and growing pains and stimulates growth in preterm infants.
It’s best to massage the baby after a bath when his body is warm and relaxed. Always ensure the room is warm, and place the baby on a warm towel before commencing the massage. Remember, massage is always baby-led. Baby massage is no longer than 10 – 15 minutes. Don’t force the issue if the baby is too tired or hungry and indicates he’s not in the mood. Try again next time.
As a post-natal Doula, I’m very fortunate to be able to bathe and massage babies daily. Working with babies for almost 20 years has heightened my intuition about these little ones. Handle them with the utmost care and consideration. After being nestled in the warm and close confines of their mum’s uterus for many months, babies fear falling. We need to remember this when lowering them into their baths. They feel colder than we do, so ensuring their warm massage surface is also a priority. I highly recommend using massage oil for baby massage because we don’t want to upset the delicate balance of a baby’s skin.
While there are many online tutorials and videos teaching baby massage, it’s best to learn from a qualified baby massage instructor. When massaging a baby, it’s essential to know the massage sequence, how much pressure to use, and the recommended massage duration to make it a pleasurable experience for the baby and so that it is a satisfying experience for mom or dad. The ultimate aim, after all, is to encourage a baby who digests well, thrives and sleeps well too. Massage will aid in all of this.