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Massage and the Digestive System - A Personal Account

As we have mentioned in other blog posts and of course talk about during Tots Play classes, massaging your baby can have benefits for many of the systems of the body, and is an activity suitable to enjoy with your baby right from birth.

For babies who are premature or where there are special needs or circumstances following the birth these benefits can be even more crucial to baby’s wellbeing and development.

Michelle, who runs Tots Play classes in the Basingstoke area tells us about her experience of using massage with her sons.

“Within 24 hours of my second son, Charlie, being born we were told that he may have Hirschsprungs disease, and a week later a biopsy confirmed this diagnosis. Hirschsprungs is a rare condition that affects the bowel. It meant that the end section of his bowel did not have any nerve endings in it, which resulted in stools being stuck in that section of the bowel and a blockage being formed.

Charlie at less than an hour old.

In order for us to be discharged from the hospital my husband and I had to learn how to do washouts on my son, since he could not pass stools himself, and so we were sent home with lots of equipment for us to do a washout on him every evening. It was not known how much of the bowel was affected, but once he was operated on at 12 weeks old we found that luckily it had only been 10% and he had the last 20cm of his bowel removed in what is known as a “pull-through” operation.

After his operation, I naively assumed everything would be working perfectly and he would be able to empty his bowels himself – however this was not the case. He still seemed to have stomach aches and only had a sporadic soiled nappy. I had done a baby massage course with my first son, and remembered using tummy massage to help him when he was constipated, and at the time of Charlie’s operation I had just joined Tots Play as a franchisee, and so was learning all about massage again.

I decided to give it a go, and introduced it into our daily routine - focusing on stomach massage as this was where he needed the relief. I performed the colic routine on him and lo and behold it really worked!

Nothing happened straight away with regards to passing stools, although I could tell that he was getting some relief from the strokes and he even passed wind a few times when I pushed his knees in towards his tummy. I left it and got him dressed and within the hour he had opened his bowels! I never thought I would be so happy to see a dirty nappy, but as my child hadn’t been able to produce one for the first 3 months of his life, this was a huge relief for me! I knew there was still a long way to go but this gave me hope.

The Water Wheel massage stroke - Using the flat of your hand stroke downwards from beneath the rib cage to the top of the legs. One hand and then the other in a rhythmic motion.

Massage became a regular part of our routine and I would perform the strokes at least twice a day, sometimes more if I felt he was in pain or needed it. I felt that as well as helping with his constipation it also acted as a bonding experience between the two of us, and it became more relaxed as Charlie got used to the idea that mummy was massaging his tummy to help relieve his pain. However, it soon got to the point where he would only pass stools whilst I was pushing his knees in towards his tummy, after I had performed the water wheel or the clockwise circle and square massage strokes. I remember going to see his surgeon during this time and he couldn’t believe the effect that massage was having on Charlie’s bowels, he described it as “interesting”! (I however thought it was interesting that he didn’t recommend more patients to try it, since it had obviously worked so well for us!)

When Charlie was 8 months old he was put on medication which helped to stimulate his bowels and pass stools. After a few weeks he tended to not need the massage as regularly to help him with his constipation, as the medication would help with his bowel movements. However, to this day, I still continue to use massage on his stomach when I feel he needs it, for instance if he seems to have a stomach ache, or some trapped wind, and I find that the majority of times massage can help to alleviate these problems.

Although Charlie’s journey is very different to the majority of babies, as I mentioned earlier, I also have an older son - who doesn’t have Charlie’s condition - who I also used baby massage on.

I didn’t use it as often as I did on Charlie, and now that he’s nearly 3 he hardly sits still for long enough to have a massage! But, I used it effectively on him when he was smaller to relieve colicky symptoms, trapped wind and help when he had constipation. In fact, only the other day, I found that I was performing a stomach massage on him because he was constipated and hadn’t had a soiled nappy for 2 days. Lo and behold, within an hour of performing the routine he had done his business!!

My two boys today

I believe that baby massage, specifically stomach massage, can have great effects on the digestive system. I’m so glad that I have learned these techniques and that I am now able to teach other parents - on the Tots Play Baby Development Courses that I run - how to perform them so that they too can benefit from the great results I have experienced with both of my children.” Michelle xx

To learn more about the benefits of massage and a simple routine to use with your little one, come and join us at classes, or you can learn at home with our Online Baby Play and Development course HERE. The course also introduces you to baby yoga, calming techniques, tummy time play, sign language and sensory play, with video tutorials and music to download so you can follow along easily with all of the activities.

Please do share your experience of sharing massage with your children with us on our Facebook Page too.

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