Unfortunately, babies don’t come with an instruction manual, but everyone agrees they require tender, loving care.
Relief for parents and baby
Therapists trained in infant massage can offer a solution for parents whose babies are experiencing gastrointestinal distress, sleep issues, fussiness or other common challenges newborns face when they enter the world. Teaching your clients techniques for massaging their babies can resolve these issues, resulting in a happier, more relaxed infant and mom.
Sheryl White, owner of Baby Kneads in Southborough, Massachusetts, is certified in infant massage and shares her expertise with parents at many local libraries. At the same time, she incorporates sign language with touch therapy, which engages both sides of the brain.
A variety of techniques
Babies become defensive when it comes to the chest and face, White explains, so she advises avoiding these areas. For the optimal experience, she suggests beginning with the legs and feet.
“These are the least vulnerable parts of the body,” she says. “The abdomen is also a very popular spot. Massage in a clockwise circle around the belly button, making sure your hands are flat. Don’t use your fingertips. Give some pressure, enough to see the skin indent. You don’t want to do light feathering. Babies don’t want to be tickled. Use the pressure you would instinctively use, plus a little more.” Massage in the abdominal area helps relieve gas and prevent constipation.
Back massage can be comforting to an infant, as well, and White suggests using a swooping stroke that moves from the neck to the baby’s bottom.
“Never use your fingertips and don’t massage directly on the spine,” she cautions. Massage on baby’s arms should move down from the shoulder to the wrist; similarly, on the legs, it’s best to use a milking stroke that travels downward from the hip to the ankle. “Strokes should all be away from the heart,” White notes.
Spatial awareness in infants is not yet fully developed. To help build body awareness, White recommends massaging each finger and toe individually. Therapists who are trained in reflexology might want to teach parents some basic techniques in this modality.
“Pay some attention to pressure points that correspond to the colon and lung,” she advises, pointing out that foot massage typically starts at the heel and moves toward the toes.
While daily massage will help alleviate gas and constipation, it also has other benefits. Parents who massage their babies regularly offer stimulation, which improves sleep patterns. “They baby will be more comfortable,” she says.
The power of touch
White credits her interest in infant massage to her father-in-law Burton White, a renowned psychologist who specialized in child development. He spent 40 years studying children and was an expert in early childhood education and new parent education, and he was a strong proponent of early intervention to detect learning disabilities. She has taken his lessons on the importance of parent-baby interaction as key to building skills in cognition and language to heart.
“A baby’s first language is touch. If everyone did just a little bit of massage there would be much less sensory integration issues later in life,” White says.