Infant Massage

It doesnít matter what you do, just that youíve done something

Babies are delicate and fragile creatures. There are many questions regarding the massage of infants around what to do, how to do it, what type of oil to use, what time is best, and others. To start, Iíll introduce the activity, and then answer the questions in more detail.

Massage is commonly known as the action of rubbing or kneading the skin or muscles to soothe aches and pains or to relieve stress and tension from the person. While there are many ways to reduce pain and relax the body and mind, there seems to be something strangely compelling about receiving a massage. A study done in Britain documented that while neither a relaxation tape nor a massage was more effective at providing relaxation, all participants indicated that they would have preferred the latter. (Click Here)

Infant Massage is simply that: massaging an infant. It can be an important and healthy part of developing the infantís sensory and neural network, and enjoyable for the baby among other documented benefits in both pre-term and full term infants.

One of the main concerns with a pre-term baby is that their organs are underdeveloped and possibly not functioning yet, which is usually represented by the low birth weight. There are also issues with fluid, electrolyte , and nutrient balances.( http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007302.htm) Because the infant is not protected and inside the motherís womb anymore, the goal is to aid development by creating conditions closest to the real thing. A steady rise in weight gain indicates that the baby is healthy and progressing normally.

Massage Therapy to pre-term babies has been correlated with a 21-48% increase in weight gain, enough to allow the baby to go home 3-6 days sooner than normal, as a cost savings of ~$10,000 USD per baby. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/?report=classic) Full term infants benefit from massages too. About half of all full term infants get Jaundice shortly after birth. (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tjem/223/2/223_2_97/_pdf) Jaundice is when the skin gets a yellow colour to it, caused by the liver not filtering the blood properly. In adults, this is a sign of a liver disorder, but in a new-born it means that the liver hasnít started working yet. If itís not dealt with, the baby could become poisoned. The Japanese study linked above documented that the full term infants that received massage twice daily had a stool frequency significantly higher for the first 2 days and slightly higher for days 3-5, and a reduction of the blood concentration of bilirubin.Bilirubin is a naturally forming chemical used in the lifecycle of red blood cells; it is yellow-brown in colour and can be toxic if concentrations become too high, giving the skin a yellowish hue. If the liver is working properly, bilirubin will be filtered out of the blood and the skin will have itís normal colour.

Once the baby is home with its parents, Massage is still an excellent activity to help aid development and bonding. Massage can help ease discomfort and stress in the baby, and also stress in the parents. A study done at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto surveyed fathers before and after a 4-week massage intervention, where an instructor taught the fathers a massage protocol, had documented that the fathers had reduced stress, increased perceived bonding, and increased confidence in dealing with their babies. (Click Here) Of course, if Dad is spending time with the little one, Mom can go soak in the tub, right?

One of the wonderful things about Massage is that you donít need to have special scientific knowledge to provide a good one. So when we consider Infant Massage, some people might be cautious about trying it because of ďI donít know what to do!Ē Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, developed a routine in 1986, that has been used in multiple studies in the US, Japan, and India. The routine consists of:

  • 5 minutes Ė stroking the neck, back, arms, and legs of the baby while it is on itís belly
  • 5 minutes Ė place the baby on itís back, and manually move itís arms and legs in a bicycle movement
  • 5 minutes Ė repeat the first step

A more detailed description can be found here, on page 3: (Click Here)

Repeating this routine across several studies is important as it provides consistency in the application of massage, which increases the accuracy of the results. For example, Field et al. used the routine to compare the difference between 5 days or 10 days of massage to neonates. They found that the baby was ready to go home at day 5, and that day 6-10 wasnít necessary. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/) Another study found the same weight gain effects when the massage was administered by the mother, indicating that it doesnít matter who gives the massage, just that the massage happens. This doesnít mean that every massage provided to an infant has to be performed using this same routine.What I learned in school was completely different, but still enjoyable and effective. Every baby and every parent is different, so find something that works for both of you.

The timing for your babyís massage should be during a time where thereís a low risk for messes, especially if youíre planning on removing the diaper. Aside from that, massage can be part of the babyís morning wake up, before nap, before/after bath, or bedtime routine to help create structure and habit. As mentioned before, Dad can massage the baby when Mom is in the bath tub, or vice versa. There are many options and again, whatever works best in your family is what you should do.

The final question is whether lotion/oil is used, and if so, which one is best. Look at the ingredients, if there is mineral oil in it, then itís not the best option. Mineral oil is a by-product of distilling crude oil into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and others. It is used in hundreds of products because itís cheap, created in large quantities, and has a low toxicity rating so it is relatively low risk for harming humans even though a risk exists. Tiffany Fieldís research found that the healthy Omega fatty acids that are present in plant oils are also present in the infantís blood after being massaged with those oils. Which oil is best? They are all healthy so other factors need to be considered. Different oils feel different in your hand, and also smell differently, so choose one that is pleasant to you and your baby. If price is an issue, some oils can be bought in bulk at grocery stores, health food stores, and spa supply stores. One 3-4L bottle of olive oil could be a 6-18 month supply depending on how much you use.

Lotions are generally a mix of plant oils with natural or synthetic products in them to make them thicker, and to emulsify the ingredients so they donít separate. Considering that, natural is usually better, so a single plant oil like olive, sesame, argon, safflower, sunflower, or rice bran might be best.

I hope this answers many of your questions. If you have any more, feel free to drop me a line or call the office.


Thanks for reading

Dan