5 Benefits of Baby Massage for Baby & Parent

Developmental Baby Massage

“Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Frederick Leboyer, author of Loving Hands. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”

Infants communicate through their bodies. When you engage an infant in a massage, you begin to listen to the infant; you listen to sounds, you watch movements, you listen with your eyes, your ears and your heart. Infant massage, or touch communication, nurtures the most important relationship the child will ever have: the relationship between the parent and infant. By using infant massage, a parent grasps the art of listening, asking permission, communicating, interpreting and responding to cues. The infant displays engagement/disengagement cues, furthers body awareness, self-esteem, listening and communication. Both infant and parent benefit from eye contact, relaxation, bonding, synchrony, love and trust.

What does the research say about baby massage?

1) Relieves symptoms of colic

Sheidaei, Abadi, Zayeri, Nahidi, Gazerani, Mansouri.The effectiveness of massage therapy in the treatment of infantile colic symptoms: a randomized controlled trial 2016.

For the study, colicky babies were randomly assigned to a massage group or a rocking control group. Mothers whose babies were assigned to the massage group were trained to perform massage on their infants by an infant massage expert. For the intervention, babies in the massage group received massage from their mothers for 15 to 20 minutes during the day and also at night before sleeping. In the control group, the babies were gently rocked by their mothers for five to 25 minutes when colic symptoms occurred. Both the massage and the rocking took place for one week.

The main outcome measures in this study were the symptoms of infantile colic and the severity of those symptoms. The researchers focused on the duration and frequency of crying among the babies, as well as sleep duration. Parents were instructed to record the details of their babies’ colic symptoms in a diary each day. Results of the research revealed massage therapy was significantly more effective than rocking in the reduction of infantile colic symptoms. The mean number of daily cries decreased significantly in the massage group as compared to the rocking group, and the mean severity score for overall colic symptoms was significantly lower in the massage group as well. In addition, the mean duration of crying among babies in the massage group was significantly shorter, and the mean duration of sleep among the babies who received massage was significantly longer. “Massaging significantly improved colic symptoms during a one-week intervention for all outcomes,” concluded the study’s authors. “In addition, significant differences were found between the intervention and control groups in favour of massaging.”

2) Help babies to relax and sleep longer

Field T, Hernandez Reif M, Sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy, Early Child development 1988.

This study concluded that massage helps babies and toddlers settle down to sleep. After one month of fifteen minutes of massage a day, children fell asleep faster. The sleep problem rate in the group fell from 100% to 33%. Research supporting weight gain through positive touch. Many studies have shown that infants who are massaged put on weight. Massage increases the activity of the vagus nerve and increased vagal activity during massage leads to an increase in the production of sugar absorption hormones such as insulin which could account for the weight gain of infants who are massaged. (Tiffany Field. Interview 1998).

3) Proven to help mothers with postnatal depression

Tiffany Field,Scanfidi F, Abrams S and Richardson S (1996) Massage therapy for infants of depressed mothers Infant Behaviour and Development 19 p109-114.

Adolescent mothers with post natal depression were asked to massage their babies for fifteen minutes a day for two days a week for 6 weeks. The results showed that the infants’ sleep increased after massage and they had increased vocalisation, decreased restlessness and there was more mother/baby interaction. The mothers all felt their babies had benefited from baby massage and the infants were more settled after two weeks having longer quiet alert states, and exhibiting less crying. They also did the experiment with mothers rocking their babies for the same period instead of massage which illustrated that massage had greater benefits for inducing sleep and prolonging quiet alert periods than simple rocking.

4) Helps to promote the growth and development of premature and low birth-weight infants

T.Field, F.Scafidi , S.Schanberg 1986.

Studied effects of stroking and passively manipulating premature newborns for 15 minutes, three times daily for a 10-day period.
Massaged infants gained 47 percent more weight than average, scored better on the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, were more alert and active, stayed six fewer days in the hospital, continued into their first year with higher scores on testing.

5) Improved mental and physical health in infants

“Massage Intervention for promoting mental and physical health in infants under six months (Review)” University of Warwick 2006.

Research by a team at the University of Warwick says that massage may help infants aged under six months sleep better, cry less and be less stressed. The research showed a range of significant results including indications that infants who were massaged cried less, slept better, and had lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol compared to infants who did not receive massage. One of the studies examined also claimed that massage could affect the release of the hormone melatonin, “which is important in aiding infants’ sleeping patterns,” (Underdown 2006).

“Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Frederick Leboyer, author of Loving Hands. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”