My aim is to create Happy Babies through massage but of course not all babies lie there cooing as you lovingly perform infant massage techniques on them. From running classes and teaching hundreds of parents and babies it is not uncommon at all for babies to howl indignantly at the first sign of massage, and the worst thing you can do is grit your teeth and carry on – you run the risk of creating a negative association in their minds. So I have written this short article to help those mums with babies who don’t like being massaged.
So why bother? Surely if the baby doesn’t like it, just don’t do it? Well of course that is an option but when you consider all the fantastic benefits of infant massage it is worth trying some of the ideas discussed here.
Tip #1 Set the Scene
Think about the environment and your baby. Is it warm, calm, quiet? A sensitive baby being undressed in a draughty church hall with six other babies when they are used to quiet, peaceful days at home just the two of you, is likely to protest. Some babies love the social interaction of being with other babies, and being in a new, simulating environment, and some don’t. Think about which you baby is and set the scene accordingly. Choose a smaller class, in a warmer environment, or get a DVD or download and practice at home.
Tip #2 Dress (and undress) Wisely
If you are going to a class, or doing the routine at home, dress your baby in loose, comfortable clothes. Sleep suits are ideal. Tugging and pulling clothes off a baby can be a bit stressful for them so make things as easy as possible for both of you. Undress them slowly and gently, with lots of positive encouragement to make them feel happy and comfortable. A major problem with small babies is that they feel insecure when naked (don’t we all?!) so bear this in mind. Place a muslin or blanket over the parts of the body that aren’t being massaged. This prevents them getting cold and increases their feelings of security, so unless your baby is one that loves to be naked at any opportunity (mine were, and frankly still are) this is a good strategy.
Think about your own massages (you do remember them right? A long, long time ago…) and how you are draped with towels and only the section you are having massaged is exposed. For newborns, temperature regulation is very important so I would recommend massaging in the home for the first few weeks. For the baby who point blank refuses to be undressed happily, or the parent who want to massage without getting involved with oil (whilst out and about for example) it is lovely to massage through the clothes. Single layer is best and gentle effleurage to the back and legs whilst being help upright to the shoulder is very calming and soothing – I imagine you do this naturally anyway so you are already practicing baby massage every day! If they are not happy lying flat on the floor sit with your back supported and let them lie on your knees, that way they can see you better too.
Tip #3 Timing is everything
The time of day you massage is important, but I can’t tell you the best time for you. This is one of the most common questions I get asked but it is so individual to each baby’s routine but my advice is always this: Massage at your baby’s happiest time. Every baby has a good period of the day – some its mid morning, some mid afternoon and some around bedtime. The common consensus has often been to make massage part of the bedtime routine and I would support that, but not if by the time the bath is done, your baby is screaming hungry and exhausted. That is not the time to start massage.
Evenings can also often be a manic time, with partners arriving home and whipping baby up into a frenzy, or older siblings wanting their share of your attention, or people to feed (sometimes even yourself) and so on. So in some cases it seems madness to try and fit ‘massage the baby for 20 mins’ into this time when you have spent all morning sat just the two of you watching Jeremy Kyle and eating hobnobs (just me then?). I have found from the feedback from my mums at classes that massage in the morning leads to better quality daytime naps that day and improved sleep that evening. Also if you are massaging for colic, mid morning is a calm, quiet time and massaging then seems to have a positive knock on effect on that evenings’ colicky time. So make positive associations and massage when you are both at your best.
Tip #4 Fit it into your schedule, not the other way round
Another point I should make here is that you shouldn’t feel that you must sit and perform a full 20 minute routine every day – I am sure you have enough to worry about without feeling guilty that you haven’t done massage too! Try to fit in a full massage a couple of times a week, yes, that is great, but also be creative, and fit it into your routine not the other way round. I’m passionate about massaging the feet (since I am a trained reflexologist) so I would recommend massaging the feet every day, and a good time to do this is during a nappy change (and there are enough of those in the day) and when they are having a little kick about.
Tip #5 Be Happy
If you have a baby who isn’t so keen on being massaged, it can be easy to feel tense prior to starting, especially in a group situation. Your baby will pick up on this through your body language and their own sixth sense! Stretch, get comfy and relax yourself before starting. Make sure you have everything to hand (oil, wipes, towel). maintain eye contact and smile! If you are concentrating hard and looking at your hands rather then at them, then they can get a little concerned. Eye contact, smiling and singing silly songs all help!
I hope the above helps if you have a baby that isn’t so keen on being massaged. You may also find that as time goes on different moves are preferred and disliked so it is important to try again in a few weeks and see if things have changed. Enjoy your baby!