Massage Therapy: How can Massage Benefit Your Infant’s Sleep?

Getting a baby to sleep so they can get a good night’s rest is often a new parents’ greatest challenge. There has been a lot of research done on massage with hospitalised babies, who are generally small and vulnerable. Research has established that hospitalised babies grow faster if they are massaged correctly. This involves using oil and a firm yet gentle stroking (light, tickling touch isn’t recommended).

At first, the researchers thought that the massaged babies were gaining more weight because they were sleeping more. When they did video studies, they found that these tiny, massaged babies actually spent more time in quiet, unstressed, alert states, and their sleep time was deeper and more restful. This meant better, more organized sleep/wake patterns. This has been noticed in all babies, who are massaged.

This is great news for parents who are trying to get a nap in, or a good night of rest. If your baby has a routine fussy time in late afternoon doing the massage about an hour before the fuss-time usually starts can often avert it altogether. In fact, the baby can often get addicted to the massage and looks forward to the routine. Fussy babies will keep the fuss-time in abeyance, if they realise that a massage session awaits them. If you are a working parent, doing a massage right after getting home will help you to reconnect with your baby and you can all relax. Once you and the baby have developed a routine, you will have a skill that is very effective in quietening your upset child.

There will be times, when this is just what is needed; not food, not a fresh diaper, but soothing, relaxing touch for your child to be comfortable and fall asleep. Even if other circumstances are new and stimulating, or distressing, your regular, routine massage will be something your baby can count on. If you massage your baby every day, there will be a day, when massage will be the trick that “helps” your baby sleep.

Benefits to a Premature Baby

Infant Massage is a profound communication of love. Premature infants often associate touch with pain since, they have gone through a lot of medical pricks and treatment. Gentle, loving touch can help them feel that the world is safe after all.

If your baby is still tiny and fragile, touch gently while imagining your hearts being connected. As your infant grows and becomes more accustomed to your touch, add some firm stroking of the legs to get them used to more stimulation. Gradually, you will be able to do more.

Studies conducted at the University of Miami Medical School have shown that premature infants who received daily massages gained 47% more weight than other infants. Premature Infants who are regularly massaged are hospitalised an average of six fewer days than non-massaged babies. This is why massage is now used in many special care nurseries. If your child is hospitalised, work with the medical team to find the right level of massage. Tiny babies can be easily overwhelmed by stimulation.

Studies also found that babies tolerate firm strokes far better than a lighter touch, and preferred oil rather than dry massage because dry massage has more friction to it than the one done with oil. Just think about, what would feel good to you in this situation and apply it to them. Be observant and sensitive, these are the two basic ground rules to work on while massaging an infant. Observing your infant’s cues for over-stimulation and aversion will let you know, how much you can do at a time.

Enjoying the Session

Doing daily massages will become a routine that is enjoyable for both of you. Choose a time when your infant is most sociable. Have the room warm and quiet. They may prefer their arms to be swaddled or, to be placed in a pillow for security. Tell them that this is their special time and you will respect their wishes if they want to stop. Their body language will show how much you can do.

Let the baby get used to one part at a time. This will allow you to eventually do those spots that they are most protective of often their chests, arms and faces. They may have an emotional release, and cry when you stimulate areas that hold painful memories for them. This is perfectly OK. Crying is their way of “talking about it”. They often use the tools of communication like gurgling to show satisfaction, sighing, crying or, protesting with a violent kick. Learn to recognise the indications and communicate using your palms and strokes. Staying calm and relaxed yourself is important. Let them know that you understand, what they are saying to you. Your job now is to help them feel safe and loved. Eventually, they will enjoy the entire routine.

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