Surprising Mind & Body Benefits of Baby Massage
It does more than just help relieve gas!
Baby massage might just be one of the most adorable sounding activities ever. And a quick search on social media is sure to fill your screen with a plethora of heartwarming pics. Although today, the art of infant massage may be considered an “alternative” therapy, it has been done in cultures around the world for millennia. Baby massage has strong roots in Ayurvedic medicine, dating back to around 1800 B.C. in India. It was also described in ancient Egypt and China. Likewise, as a key part of regular infant bathing rituals, such as for the Maoris and Hawaiians.
Baby massage was introduced to the U.S. in the 1970’s and ‘80s. Since then, it’s popularity has only grown, as parents and researchers alike witnessed the positive impacts of baby massage. Keep reading to learn more about some of the many benefits of baby massage, and why you may want to make it a regular part of your baby’s routine.
What Are The Benefits of a Massage For Babies?
You may have heard that infant abdominal massage can help with a variety of digestive issues. But did you know that each massage you give your little one can also benefit their emotional, biological, and behavioral development? Ahead, we’re giving you the details on some of the many benefits of massaging your baby. (Hint: They may not all be what you think.)
Can massages help a baby with digestion?
The most common question about infant massage is if it can help digestion. And in relation: Does baby massage for gas work? The answer on both counts is yes. Massaging your baby’s belly can help get trapped gas moving, as well as support their digestion. And interestingly, massaging any part of your baby’s body can help calm your baby, which in turn can help their little digestive system move food with less gas and constipation.
(Pro parenting tip: Another way to immediately start relieving your baby’s gas is to keep Infants’ Mylicon Dye-Free Gas Drops or Infants’ Mylicon Original Gas Drops on hand. And if you want to help promote good overall digestive health, try adding Infants’ Mylicon Daily Probiotic Drops to your baby’s digestive health arsenal, too.)
Massage can help with weight gain:
Better digestion can help your baby nutritionally. Plus, it stands to reason that you’re more likely to have a healthy appetite when you’re relaxed; the same may apply to your baby. For example, the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute conducted a study which found that preterm newborns who received three, 15-minute massages every day for five to 10 days gained 47% more weight than preterm newborns who were not massaged.
Just don’t massage them right after they eat, or you may end up with a messy baby on your hands—give it at least 45 minutes instead. Of course, if you’re concerned about your baby’s weight and size (preemie or not), be sure to speak to your pediatrician.
Can massages help with colic?
Parents of babies with colic are perhaps the most common adopters of infant massage. Despite the fact that most babies grow out of it after their first few months of life, that time period can seem like an eternity for both you and your baby.
The exact cause of colic is unknown. However, massage is known to help reduce crying. In a recent clinical study, parents were tasked with massaging their infants for 15 to 20 minutes once during the day and once before their baby’s bedtime at night for one week. By the end of the seventh day, crying time was reduced significantly among the infants who were massaged as compared to the infants who were not.
Infant massage can help relieve stress:
When they’re born, babies are only operating at 25% of what will become their full-sized brains. They’re processing their internal and external worlds on a somewhat primitive level, which is why they depend on you so much to help them regulate their emotions. Older children and adults rely on rational thinking in order to solve problems and cope with stress. But how our little humans begin learning to manage stress is in large part in direct relation to their caregivers’ responsiveness. We communicate with our babies naturally in a variety of ways (think cooing, singing, rocking, etc.). Touch, however, has its own powerful impact.
Levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone) have been shown to subside in infants following massage. As they do, so have stress-induced behaviors, such as crying and fussiness. Massage also helps your baby start laying down the neural networks that allow them to regulate their behavioral states on their own—a first step to learning how to calm themselves down (and a prospect every parent can get excited about).
Massage can help improve sleep:
Less stress often equals better sleep. Falling asleep easier, staying asleep longer, and having a better quality of sleep are some of the best (and most welcomed!) benefits of baby massage. Research shows that babies around 18 months of age who usually suffer from problems drifting off to sleep fell asleep faster after a pre-bedtime 15-minute massage.
Another study showed that massage helps as a bedtime cue to babies’ brains. Sleep-wake cycles in newborns who were massaged improved by the time they were eight weeks old. The same babies also produced more melatonin, a sleep hormone, by 12 weeks of age, than babies who weren’t massaged.
Better sleep improves awake time, too. Your baby’s brain development goes into overdrive as they snooze. Babies that get more sleep at night than in their daytime naps have better mental flexibility, memory, and ability to control their thoughts, emotions, and actions by the time they are two years old. You likely already know that a groggy baby is often a cranky baby. Anything that can help your little one catch some Zzzs is a win-win.
It helps boost your baby’s self-awareness and motor development:
The loving touch and attention your baby feels when you massage them helps them become more aware of themselves and their environment. In doing so, it helps their motor development and coordination, as well as their ability to process their surroundings through their senses.
Baby massage promotes brain development and learning:
It’s not just about priming your little human to one day be a great dancer or athlete. Research has shown that children who had more mature motor skills than their peers when they were five months old performed better academically by the time they were 14. Many aspects of massage help increase your baby’s alertness, which also helps them cognitively in both the short- and long-term. For your baby, your soothing touch is a pleasant stimulation. It enables your infant to take in and process more information, leading to improved learning, behavior, and communication.
Massaging your baby can improve your bond:
Touch is one of the first things infants understand, which is why skin-to-skin contact is so important. Massages are intimate moments that can help strengthen your bond with your baby. One study found that babies who received regular, repetitive touch from a loving caregiver may make eye contact with their parents up to 50% more often, smile and vocalize more, and are three times more likely to be expressive in positive ways. It can help them feel secure, loved, and valued by you. Who wouldn’t want that?
Massaging Your Baby Can Have Benefits For You, Too!
Of course, there’s nothing better than seeing your baby happy and stress-free. But massaging your tiny one can have direct benefits for you, too. Especially if this is your first baby; your life has changed dramatically since their arrival. Your first year together is a learning process for you both.
Parenthood isn’t easy. Yet, no matter how much you prepare, it can still be a shock to your system. No one becomes a great parent overnight. And sometimes it can be far too easy to beat yourself up about mistakes, even ones that are common for new parents to make. Studies have shown that moms and dads who gave their babies massages adapted to their new caregiver roles better, had more confidence in their abilities, and felt they had a stronger relationship with their infant. The same feelings of wellbeing you’re providing your baby may bolster your feelings of wellbeing as well.
Next: Now that you know some of the benefits of infant massage (yes, we said some—trust us, we could keep going), you can learn about different massage techniques in our article How to Give Your Baby a Massage. Just be sure to get the go-ahead from your pediatrician before you start.