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Baby yoga and the infant body

Cardiovascular system 

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, blood and blood vessels. The heart pumps oxygenated blood around the body via arteries, and pumps deoxygenated blood carrying carbon dioxide via the veins. There are two types of circulation; pulmonary which transports blood to and from the lungs and systemic, which transports blood to and from the body. When the baby is in the womb it shares its blood with its mother via the placenta. Once the umbilical cord is cut, the baby has its own closed circulatory system for the first time. At birth, the number of red blood cells that a baby has is reduced. Vitamin K is needed to help the baby’s blood clot after birth and most babies are given an injection of Vitamin K to aid this process as there is an absence of normal flora needed to synthesise Vitamin. K. By 5 – 8 days after birth, the bacteria is formed and the blood normalises. Massage after birth helps to boost a baby’s circulation, remove waste products and bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Yoga and circulation When you move a baby’s body into various yoga poses, you help to stimulate the circulatory system and aid the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body. Yoga breathing aims to increase oxygen levels in the body and this oxygen is transported in the blood to the cells and tissues. 

Muscular system 

The muscular system is comprised of three types of muscles; Skeletal or voluntary muscles which can be controlled via the nervous system on a voluntary basis (e.g. if you want to bend your arm or kick your leg); Smooth muscle or involuntary muscle which can contract without conscious input via the nervous system (e.g the dilation and constriction of blood vessels) and; Cardiac muscle which is only found in the heart and which is responsible for the contraction of the heart muscle. Contraction of muscles is largely due to messages received via the nervous system although cardiac muscle can contract without input from the central nervous system. At birth, a baby’s muscle fibres are virtually all present and they strengthen and thicken over time. Babies have quite developed muscles at birth and are actually very strong despite their size. They tend to have greater muscular development around the chest area to aid the vital function of breathing. As a baby puts on weight and becomes more active the muscles begin to develop and strengthen. The focus of baby massage is on the voluntary muscles or skeletal muscles which enable conscious movement like walking. Yoga and the muscular system Yoga poses help to strengthen muscles by providing gentle exercise. We rely on our muscles to maintain our posture throughout our daily activities.  The body’s sense of balance (vestibular system) and sense of body awareness (proprioceptive system) holds it upright against the forces of gravity. If we repeated hold the body in one position or posture for repeated long periods, the posture of the body can change leading to over contracted muscles (e.g. rounded shoulders and protracted jaw if you work on a computer.) Muscles can begin to tighten continually and out of habit to hold a misaligned posture. This can have effects on the skeletal system and the spine as muscles pull the skeletal system out of alignment and symmetry. Yoga helps realign the spine, relax over contracted muscles and allows the body to return to its optimum posture and position. This can help to ease muscular pain. 

Skeletal system 

The skeletal system comprises of the bones and joints of the body. It provides the body with structure, shape, support and protection for vital organs. The muscles of the body connect to bones via tendons and bones are held together by stronger threads of fibrous tissue called ligaments. The bones are also the site of red and white blood cell production. They also store calcium which can be released into the bloodstream and which is important for muscular contraction. A baby has a fully formed skeleton at birth. The bone plates in the skull are not fused together at birth which enables the baby to safely travel along the birth canal without the skull being crushed or the brain being damaged. Where the bone plates are not yet fused, the baby has gaps between the plates of the skull which are present for around twelve to 24 months. The gaps are called fontanelles. The main fontanelle is positioned at the top of the head and is sometimes referred to as the “soft spot”. Due to the delicate nature of the skull, you should always remind parents to never put any pressure on the head or skull during massage. The bones of babies and children are relatively soft at birth as the skeleton consists mainly of cartilage which hardens through a process called ossification. Massage helps joint mobility, flexibility and strength and increases circulation to the bones supporting growth. Babies also have more bones at birth than adults, approximately 300 bones rather than 206. Many of these extra bones fuse together over time to reduce the number in adulthood. A good example of this is found in bones in the wrist which are initially a collection of smaller bones that fuse together over time. When massaging and stretching a baby it is important not to put excessive pressure on and over joints as they are more flexible. Strokes should glide over the skin and joints. There should also never be any pressure on the spine when massaging on the back and, as we mentioned above, the skull around should be avoided altogether as the plates of the skull are very malleable. All stretches should be gentle at first and smooth rather than forced. 

Yoga and the Spine  

The spinal column provides the basis of support for the body as well as protecting the central nervous system with the main nerves to and from the brain running within its protective channel. When a baby is born, its spine is one long outward curve. As a baby becomes more physically active, lifts its head, rolls, crawls and walks, the inward curve of the spine develops so that by the time a baby is an adult it will have the characteristic four opposing curves of the spine helping to create balance in the body. The pelvis and sacrum provide strength and protect internal organs. The vertebrae of the spine have “discs” of cartilage Which help absorb shock and enable the spine to move. The Vertebrae are different sizes and have different roles; some allowing more movement than others. The seat the top of the neck and ribs allow more flexibility than the thick and strong vertebrae in the lumbar spine. Yoga helps to align the spine, helping it to be strong and flexible so that movement is efficient, and tension can be released. Breathing exercises often focus on taking the breath deep into the belly and down the spine. 

Digestive system 

The role of the digestive system is to break down food into simple molecules which can be used by the body. The smaller molecules can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut and can be transported around the body to where they are needed for metabolism. The baby’s digestive system is immature at birth and a baby will be fed on milk until its digestive system is mature enough to cope with solid foods. In some cases, the digestive tract may not be fully toned at birth which can lead to babies suffering from wind because the muscles in the bowel are not strong enough to expel wind effectively. Massage on the abdomen can be particularly useful for babies with colic. Babies can often suffer from reflux if the muscular valve at the end of their oesophagus, which acts to keep food in the stomach, hasn’t developed properly yet. Massage is effective at stimulating the colon thus aiding digestion and excretion of waste products. Peristalsis (the movement of food through the bowel) can be increased by massage over the abdomen. Massing the liver also stimulates cell activity and helps increase the baby’s metabolism and the expulsion of waste products.

Babies only have a very small stomach, around the size of their fist and therefore tend to prefer to eat little and often. 

When massaging a baby, the strokes always occur in a CLOCKWISE direction and work DOWN towards the bowel. This is because peristalsis occurs through the colon in this direction. It is also very important to massage below the lower ribs on the intestines themselves. In a baby, the liver acts as a storage site for sugar (glycogen) and iron. When the baby is born, 

The baby’s liver has various functions: 

  • It produces substances that help the blood to clot. 
  • It begins breaking down waste products such as excess red blood cells. 
  • It produces a protein that helps break down bilirubin. 

If the baby’s body does not properly break down bilirubin, it can lead to newborn jaundice. 

Nervous system 

  • The nervous system consists of the brain and the nerves of the body. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is concerned with all the other nerves in the body and consists of two types of nerves; motor and sensory. The voluntary nervous system controls and communicates with motor and sensory nerves and the involuntary nervous system regulates the involuntary organs, glands and muscles. The nervous system is also divided into the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system causes the body to relax (e.g. through the widening of blood vessels) and the sympathetic nervous system enables the body to prepare to react and respond quickly. Massage has a soothing effect on the nervous system and supports the responses of the parasympathetic nervous system. At birth a baby’s nervous system is immature. The connections between the body and the brain have not yet fully developed. The result is that newborn babies exhibit reflex reactions to stimuli. The most common reflexes are; 
  • MORO- This is a startle reflex. Baby throws out his arms and then back again. 
  • ROOTING-Baby turns its head to stimulus. Caused by touching baby’s cheek. 
  • GRASP-Baby’s toes and fingers curl. Caused by touching the bottom of the foot or the hand. 
  • SUCK, SWALLOWING, GAG-Baby will respond to stimulus in the mouth by sucking.
  • DIVE-Enables baby to hold their breath if underwater. 
  • STEPPING, CREEPING, STANDING-Occurs when the baby experiences movement. 
  • TONIC REFLEX-If baby turns its head to one side he will respond with increased muscle tone and extension of the arm and leg on the opposite side. 
  • SNEEZING, BLINKING, GAG- These are all protective reflexes.

Blossom & Berry’s mission is to grow babies with love, touch, responsive care and positive interaction. We create nurturing experiences for parents and babies to deepen connection and confidence. We focus on touch as a way to support infant and maternal mental health as we believe this is the foundation for health and happiness. Blossom & Berry was born out of love!

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About Blossom & Berry

Blossom & Berry offers expert training, support & resources on baby massage, yoga and parent and baby wellness for professionals & parents across the world.

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Gayle Berry – Master trainer and international expert on baby massage and yoga, founder of Blossom & Berry.

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