Out of our five senses, touch can be the most primal and intense. While all the other senses rely on smaller bodily systems to work, our entire bodies are covered in touch-sensitive skin. According to experts, touch is also the first sense that develops in humans, starting before the baby is actually born.
This is why, in the first few months of being alive, babies rely more on touch than any other sense in order to learn about the world as well as to develop relationships with other people. Although your baby can’t understand what you’re saying, he or she does understand that frequent cuddling and massages mean both comfort and affection.
While as adults, most of us rely more on sight to gain new information, as babies, we mostly use the biggest organ on the human body: our skin. That’s why babies are especially sensitive to activities that involve their sense of touch, including massages.
In fact, baby massage is not just a great way for parents to bond with their child, it can also provide both psychological and physiological benefits for your baby, like better digestion, strength development, stretching, and relaxation.
Just like tired, overworked adults, developing babies appreciate a good massage before bedtime. When it’s done right, it could even prevent late night tantrums and allow you and your baby a peaceful night of sleep.
So how do you massage your baby?
Prepare Your Baby and Yourself
As we mentioned before, babies are highly sensitive to touch, so the first time they’re massaged should not interfere with their other functions and activities. This means massaging at the appropriate time. Don’t do it right after or even right before meals. Don’t even try to do it when it’s her or his scheduled afternoon naptime. A good time to start would be an hour or 45 minutes before bedtime – just in time for a good night’s sleep.
During the massage, you will be touching every bit of your baby’s soft skin, so wash your hands of any substances that can cause harm and irritation. It’s also a good idea to remove any and all jewelry that may interfere with the massage.
Prepare the Massage Environment
On a flat, soft, and clean surface (like your bed), lay down a soft towel for your baby to lie on. To maximize the relaxing benefits of the massage, you can also dim the lights and play your baby’s favorite calming music.
If you always dim the lights and play the same music during a pre-bedtime massage, they can become mental cues for the baby to relax and sleep, which means that in the future, they can help your baby understand when it’s time for bedtime.
You can also try aromatherapy to help you and your baby relax. The scent of essential lavender oil is scientifically-proven by several peer-reviewed studies to be highly relaxing to the human nervous system. You just need to inhale it in order to enjoy its effects.
Don’t apply essential lavender oil directly on your baby’s skin; this might cause irritation and skin damage. Essential oils can be highly concentrated, so they’re best deployed in an open container nearby, where the scent can reach the baby but not make contact with the baby’s skin.
You can also just avail of the many baby-safe lavender scented oils available via both online and offline organic product retailers. These usually feature a diluted version of essential lavender oil that delivers both aromatherapeutic benefits as well as a soothing sensation to the baby’s skin.
How to Massage Your Baby for Relaxation
Put the baby oil on your hands and rub them together to make them warmer to the touch. Cold hands and oils are more likely to rustle the baby awake than put it to sleep. At any point during the massage, closely observe how your baby reacts to different touches; this allows you to pinpoint what kind of massages your baby prefers.
And remember: you’re not massaging an adult, so you need to be extra, extra gentler. A good way to do this is by imagining your hands as a soft towel that’s draping across your baby while applying light pressure.
Start by going from top to bottom and then center going sideways. Softly rub your baby’s head and slowly go down until you reach the tiny toes. Then, start from your baby’s chest and massage until you reach the hands. Repeat this to familiarize your baby’s entire body with the sensation of being massaged. After that, gently rub your baby’s tummy in a circular and consistent motion.
Lift your baby to your chest and support the head with your body and shoulder. Gently tap your fingers on your baby’s head, back, legs, and feet. You can also apply a bit of pressure in certain areas.
Apply the ‘tiger-in-the-tree’ hold: lie your baby down over your arm face-down, with your hand supporting the body while the baby’s head rests near your elbow. Use your other hand to massage your baby again from top to bottom, head to toe.
Repeat any of the different massages and positions as necessary until your baby starts nodding off to sleep. This can be a great alternative to just gently swaying your baby until it gets sleepy. It’s more interactive and you get to cuddle your baby more, which is always good for bonding.
Also, there’s nothing quite as relaxing and calming as massaging a baby to sleep, so doing this might actually help you out if you’re having problems with insomnia.