Massage on any of us affects the body inside and out; it is more than just a pleasurable experience. A few simple massage strokes shared with your baby can, in fact, stimulate the digestive, circulatory, respiratory and immune systems and all your baby’s senses, as well as having many other benefits. One that can sometimes be overlooked though is the beneficial effect of massage on the skin. Here's a bit more about how and why this is the case and how to get the most out of massage for both you and your little one.
The Body's Largest Organ
The skin is not just another organ; it is the body’s largest. The skin is made up of 5 layers and each has a purpose. The skin actually plays a vital role in detoxing the body as a third of the toxins otherwise trapped inside the body are eliminated through the skin. This cleansing occurs when we sweat, so even though we associate perspiration with odour or lack of hygiene, it is an essential part of the body’s processes to stay healthy.
Regulating Body Temperature
Sweat is also a way that we regulate our body temperature. When your baby is newly-born, their sweat glands will still be developing, which is one of the reasons young babies can’t regulate their own temperature. Within a few weeks, your baby will show signs of sweating, firstly on the trunk and then usually on their arms and legs before the rest of their body. Baby massage actually increases the activity of the sweat glands in your baby which helps as they develop appropriately.
We suggest using oil when massaging your baby to act as a lubricant, helping your hands glide smoothly over the skin. A small amount spread over the hands helps them to glide over the skin and work with a rhythm that babies enjoy and benefit from. It is important to be aware of the different types of oil available though, and to choose one appropriate for massage.
The best choice for massage is an unscented, natural vegetable oil. Sunflower, olive or coconut oil all work well. If possible, choose one that is cold pressed and designed specifically for massage. Vegetable oils are a good choice because they are easy to use, absorb readily in to the skin and many having therapeutic properties. They are unlikely to cause allergies and are safe if put in the mouth. Many commercially produced baby oils and gels use mineral oils, which are petroleum based. These do not absorb into the skin, but sit on its surface acting as a barrier to moisture, and can not only make for a very slippery baby but some can actually block the eccrine glands (sweat glands). Even before your baby is able to sweat, this could be detrimental as they will begin to block before they are even fully develop. They are therefore generally not a great choice to use for massage.
At Tots Play, we use a pure, organic, sunflower oil at our classes, which is safe, soft and gentle on you and your baby. We invite you to perform a skin patch test in the first session of our Baby Development Course; this is a simple process of applying a small portion of oil to a small area of your baby’s skin before you use it as part of the massage routine. This ensures that your baby doesn’t suffer any adverse allergic reactions and you can proceed with confidence.
Circulation and Skin Condition
Baby massage also improves the circulation to the skin which allows nutrients to flow, improving its appearance and helping to reduce any dry patches. If your baby does have a skin condition, such as eczema, massage with a suitable oil can be of benefit. However, if the skin is at all cracked or weeping as a result of this or any other skin condition, avoid massage in those areas, and seek advice from your doctor or health visitor on the best ways to treat or care for your baby's skin.
Getting the Pressure Right
If you have had a massage yourself, you will know that to provide the most benefit, you want to be able to feel those strokes and for them to get into those muscles! When massaging your baby, the same principle applies, but it is natural to be unsure about how much pressure to apply, especially with very young babies. It is not uncommon to worry that too much might cause pain but actually being too light with the strokes can be uncomfortable for your baby because it feels too much like a tickle on their over-sensitive nerve endings. At Tots Play, we suggest a gentle and firm hand, experimenting with the pressure you use until it feels right for both of you. Your baby will be quick to make it known if the pressure is too much! They may not be able to speak, but you know them more than anyone else and they will be able to communicate with you through a variety of different cues if you pay attention to their reactions.
Learn Massage with Tots Play
With all these benefits, plus many more (see more great reasons to massage your baby HERE), why not give it a try with your little one?
Attending classes, such as our Baby Development Course, allows you to learn some simple massage skills (plus a range of other developmental activities) in a warm, welcoming environment where you can spend some quality time together. While baby massage may be great for your baby’s skin, it is even better as an activity for the two of you to share, increasing the bond and sense of well-being for you both.
To find out where the nearest Tots Play class is to you, click HERE.
If there are no classes near you yet, we also have an online version of the course so you can learn at home. See HERE for details, or why not consider setting up your own classes through our franchise programme.
Wherever and however you share massage with your baby, enjoy the special experience that it is, and I know you will see some wonderful benefits too. Happy Playing!
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