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Baby Massage: Benefits and Techniques Backed by Science

Baby massage is an intrinsic part of an infant’s growth and overall development. The mothers who are managing this therapeutic task are fond of using different baby-friendly oils. They don’t even use any baby oil. In fact, they use the ones that provide maximum benefits.

But if it really were that important for the growth of a baby, then who would be better prepared than the parents of the new-born child? Of course, preparedness comes naturally. However, have you ever wondered, what’s more to baby massage than its usage as therapy and the parent-child relationship?

For all the curious parents out there who want to understand the importance of baby massage. How does it actually work? What are its benefits? What does science say about baby massage? This write-up is for you. Read on to find out everything science says about baby massage.

Here are The Benefits of Baby Massage Backed by Science

  • Baby Massage Reduces the Possibilities of Jaundice
  • Baby Massage Reduces Stress
  • Baby Massage May Help Improve Learning Skills
  • Baby Massage Strengthens Infant-Mother Relationship
  • Baby Massage Helps Improve Sleep
  • Baby Massage Promotes Good Digestion

Baby massages have been a part of human life since time immemorial. You must have heard your grandmother talking about it, medical health professionals giving advice on baby massage, and advertisements showcasing mothers massaging their babies as a way to market baby oils.

So, pretty much everyone is familiar with the concept of baby massage. But there are various other nuances associated with a baby massage that we often miss out on. For instance, baby massage can help stimulate weight gain. In a study published in 2001, the authors revealed that massage therapy facilitates weight gain in infants.

The study was a compilation of several lab studies that documented a 31 to 47% increased weight gain in newborns compared to the other medical treatment available. Furthermore, the authors of the study explained that a 15-minute therapy session for over ten days can work wonders in the case of new-born babies.

Although the study failed to explain the underlying relationship between baby massage and weight gain, the results of the study established that baby massage is therapeutic in nature. The results also exclaimed that baby massage is directly related to:

  • Increased hormone production
  • Increases absorption power
  • Increased protein synthesis
  • Improves gastric motility
  • Decreases cortisol levels

Overall, the study proves baby massage to be quite effective. The only exception, in this case, is that further in-depth research is required to understand the behavioral and genetic effects of this baby massage therapy on newly born infants. That said, let us look in detail at other reasons that make baby massage so important.

Baby Massage Reduces the Possibilities of Jaundice

In a 2015 study conducted on 56 enrolled patients, where 29 neonates were examined under a controlled environment and 27 in the experimental group, It was found that early
infant massage can help reduce bilirubin levels. The study also concluded that baby massage can help increase defecation frequency in newborns receiving phototherapy for jaundice.

During the study, the neonates received a massage for three days. On the third day, the massage group showed increased defecation frequency and lowers levels of bilirubin. In contrast, the controlled group did not show any signs of improvement. Thus, stating that baby massage may help with lower jaundice levels in newborn babies than those who do not receive a massage at all.

Baby Massage Reduces Stress

This one’s a given. For ages, people have used massage as a way to reduce headaches and stress. Not only do we use massage to alleviate stress but people often use it as a way to release harmful toxins out of the body.

Newborns are no different. Studies show that baby massage can actually help alleviate stress in neonates. According to a research paper published in the Journal of Perinatology, baby massage improved HRV (heart rate variability) and ANS (autonomic nervous system) function in infants.

This study was again conducted between two groups – the controlled group and the group that received body massage twice a day for three weeks. The group of 27-32 weeks neonates showed significant improvement and responded well to exogenous stressors.

As a result, the study speculated that it’s quite possible that infants that receive massage most likely will develop a strengthened ANS function over time compared to the babies who receive no massage during the initial weeks.

Baby Massage May Help Improve Learning Skills

Learning skills, too, have a connection with learning skills. Here’s a study that will help you learn how massages will improve the learning abilities of your infant. This study was published in the late ’90s and the subject was given a 15-minute massage before giving the WPPSI subtest. These tests are ideally conducted to understand the learning abilities of a child.

So in the test, the child performed better on the Block Design and Mazes after receiving a 15 minutes massage. The results revealed thatperformance, accuracy, and concentration enhances when a test is followed by a massage.

To put things into perspective here’s another study published in the Infant Behavior and Development journal. Where four-month-old-infants received body massages for a consistent period. And, the results of the study revealed that infants who received an 8-minute massage responded well to audiovisual habituation tasks.

In contrast, other infants did not show any response of recovery from habituation during the test. So, looking at both the studies mentioned above, it is perhaps safe to say that baby massage helps improve cognitive skills in neonates.

Baby Massage Strengthens Infant-Mother Relationship

Not so long ago traditions such as mother and child separation after birth were practiced extensively. And to fully understand this concept, the authors conducted a study on the tradition to understand how it helps improve the relationship between mother and child.

According to the findings of the study, skin-to-skin contact through breastfeeding for 20 to 120 minutes right after birth positively influenced the bond between mother and child one year later as compared to the routines that involve infant and mother separation.

This means that baby massage can actually help improve the bond between mother and infant. Not only this, but several studies associate baby massage with mother and new-born relationships.

These studies have been published in the past few years and most of them reveal that baby massage has a positive effect on the overall development of a new-born. 

Baby Massage Helps Improve Sleep

According to a study published by Warwick University, baby massage not only helps improve sleep but also lowers stress levels. This study looked at a total of nine studies covering 598 newborns. And the results clearly indicated that infants who received massage slept better and cried less.
In addition to this, the authors of the study revealed that regular massage increases melatonin production. In other words, massage helps improve sleep in infants because melatonin helps infants sleep properly. 

Baby Massage Promotes Good Digestion

Because babies have an underdeveloped internal system, new-born babies can’t burn on their own. This causes belly discomfort and gas build-up inside the stomach. However, baby massage under the baby ribs in a clockwise direction helps babies relieve that pressure.

Simply put, if you gently knead on your baby’s back, the same activity will promote proper digestion along with a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Eventually, baby massage will also help with the problem of constipation, which is one of the major problems that parents face in the first two months.

In fact, a study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics proves the efficiency of baby massage. In this study of 27 subjects’ frequency of defecation, Frequency of vomiting, and gastric volume were analyzed. The difference in the first and last day of the study was quite impactful in the massage group when compared to the controlled group.

Although the study consisted of a small sample, the results were in favour of the massage group. The results showed that abdominal massage twice a day can help reduce gastric residual volume excess in infants.

All in all, baby massage is a very old concept but it has been used by doctors, nurses, and parents to promote the overall well-being of an infant. The only thing that you have to keep in mind is that baby massage involves techniques and pressure points. And as a parent, it’s your responsibility to understand how to go about those techniques.

What Is the Correct Way to Do a Baby Massage?

Let’s face it, just like you hire professionals to conduct a proper head massage so that nothing goes wrong, baby massage, too, comes with its own sets of technicalities. So, make sure you follow the step mentioned below:

  • First and foremost, place the baby in a comfortable place. It can be a smooth surface, your bed, or a special massage table.
  • Next, ensure that you use soft and gentle strokes.
  • Then go ahead and target the right parts. In particular, parts that will help improve digestion, sleep cycle, and overall well-being.
  • For the same, you can start massaging the feet using soft strokes.
  • Once you finish massaging the feet, the next step is to gently massage the shins, things, arms, and hands. Just move your hands in the forward and backward direction gently.
  • Slowly move towards the stomach and gently move your hand in the clockwise direction similar to the movement of your baby’s digestive system. But make sure you don’t massage delicate areas such as the neck and face.
  • For the final step, flip the baby over and massage the back in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

All these steps will enable you to carry out the process of baby massage in an effective manner. You can use baby oils or other products that are fit for massage.

However, using these products is optional. The only difference is that with massage oil, you can make the process more enjoyable and smooth. After all, massage oil will reduce the friction between your hands and the baby’s skin.

Should I Use Baby Massage Oil?

There is a wide collection of massage oils on the market. You must have a favorite one too. But choosing a baby oil is crucial for the overall development of the infant. According to a study published in 2005, oils have a significant impact on the infant’s development.

This study was undertaken to compare the effects of coconut oil and placebo and mineral oils on the growth velocity and neuro-behavior of infants.

The study concluded that coconut oil massage helps improve the weight gain velocity when compared to mineral oil. The study also revealed that preterm babies showed much greater length gain using coconut oil.

However, the authors of the study went on to say that coconut oil did not have any significant impact on the neuro-behavioural patterns.

This shows that it is vital to choose a good oil for baby massage. If you are not sure which oil works best for your baby, below is a list that might actually help you.

Which Baby Massage Oil Is Best for My New-Born?

Before we begin, as a parent of a newborn, you need to keep in mind that not every oil is good for baby massage. For instance, studies have shown that oils such as Sunflower and Olive oil break down the skin protection function. And these babies are more prone to skin conditions like eczema. So, make sure that you choose the right oil.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. You can use a few drops to massage because babies do not require anything fancy. Their skin is sensitive, and it requires care more than anything else. So, go for organic coconut oil. You will be able to find one easily in the market or at online stores.

Palmer Cocoa Butter Oil

Palmer Cocoa Butter Massage Oil is well-known for its hydrating and soothing properties. If you want something that heals eczema and dry skin, you can use this oil for its therapeutic benefits. 

Burt’s Bee Baby 100% Natural Nourishing Oil

Rich in antioxidants and 100% natural, the Burt’s Bee Baby Oil is excellent for healthy and smooth skin. It consists of grape seed and apricot oil and helps relieve skin discomfort without leaving a slippery residual.

You can use these baby oils to massage your infant. In addition to this, if you think that your baby is allergic to any type of oil, consult a doctor immediately and seek medical supervision. Moreover, make sure that you do what’s best for your baby.

Final Thoughts

From the studies that we have discussed so far, it is fair to say that baby massage is an important aspect of an infant’s overall development. So, enjoy massaging your baby and strengthen the bond that you will share with your little one in the near future. For more detailed information, read this guide on baby massage.

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