Massage can bring relief to a number of conditions suffered by babies which can cause them to be uncomfortable during the first months of life and beyond. Relief from colic and wind is an important benefit of baby massage.
Massage helps to tone the digestive tract, expel wind from the body, break down large air bubbles and speed myelination between the nerve cells in the stomach and the brain thus making the digestion of food and elimination of waste more efficient. Infant massage can also bring relief of teething pain by massaging the mouth and gums and ease colds and congestion by helping to drain the nasal passages of mucus. Ashley Montagu (Touching 1984) talks about the importance of touch for babies explaining that holding and rocking a baby both has physiological and emotional benefits. Touching increases a baby’s cardiac output and promotes respiration which encourages deeper breathing and helps the baby’s gastrointestinal function. In addition, the movement of rocking often helps in the digestion and absorption of food.
Babies who suffer from colic often cry persistently and are more difficult to calm and soothe. There is no known cause of colic. Many colicky babies suffer from the pain of trapped wind caused by having an immature digestive system and not being able to deal effectively with wind.
Colic often occurs in the early afternoon/evening often when parents are feeling at their most tired and therefore the crying can seem more difficult to cope with. Baby massage is excellent for dealing with wind and colic because it helps to expel trapped wind from the baby’s tummy offering relief. It can be empowering for parents to massage a colicky baby’s tummy because as trapped wind is released the parent knows that he/she is doing something to help the baby. Skin to skin contact also helps to comfort the baby and massage helps to release pain-relieving hormones to deal with the pain.
The sensation of the parent holding the baby’s stomach gives the baby the reassure that the parent is there for her/him and helps to bring warmth to the area. If you think of how you may have felt if you have experienced pain. Often placing a hand over the area or a loving touch of someone else can help to ease the pain and anxiety. Placing a baby on its front over your legs and gently bouncing the baby on your knees whilst pat the baby on the back can also help to soothe an overestimated/ colicky baby by putting slight pressure on the stomach and creating a rhythmical sensation for the baby similar to the womb. It is important to reinforce that when a baby cries it is not the parent’s fault and that a parent is the best person to respond to their babies needs and provide comfort. Crying is an important way for parents to get to know their babies. The baby is simply trying to communicate.
How and why baby massage works?
Massage helps in a number of ways. It helps to eliminate wind from the baby’s body. It can help to produce “feel-good hormones” helping the baby to relax and reducing levels of stress hormones. It can help to mature the digestive and nervous systems by helping to tone the digestive tract and aid the process of myelination of nerve cells for better brain-body communication.
Most importantly baby massage gives you the opportunity to listen, observe and communicate with your baby. Your baby ultimately needs your trust, love and respect to make him feel secure and comfortable outside the womb. By communicating this through massage and offering your baby the skin to skin contact he craves, you will be able to soothe and reassure him.
The stomach can be quite a sensitive area to massage. Massaging the stomach can aid the passage of any trapped air bubbles in your baby’s tummy and intestines towards the bowel. Stomach massage can have huge benefits for babies that suffer from excessive wind or constipation. Massage supports the movement of the digestive system. Some babies may find the sensation of air moving around the stomach uncomfortable and can become tense. If this happens it is up to you as the parent to know whether to continue the massage. The effect of releasing air trapped in your baby’s tummy will help relieve the pain associated with trapped wind. You may feel that this outweighs any minor discomfort your baby feels moving the air around his stomach. As your baby becomes more familiar with sensations of stomach massage he will not be as sensitive to the strokes. Normally if a baby starts to cry during a massage then this could be a sign that the baby has had enough massage, however, in the case of massage for colic it may be appropriate to continue the massage as the effect of massaging may be to release the trapped wind causing the pain. You are the best judge of what your baby needs.
Ideally to get the most effective results you should try to practice the colic massage routine twice a day, preferably in the morning and late afternoon. You should try to make this part of the baby’s daily care routine. Results will not be instant in every case and you should aim to repeat the massage for at least two weeks to see progress.
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