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April, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 04 >> Pediatrics

Baby Massage Techniques

Early Childhood Education and/or Childcare Facility Application

By Linda Baskin Rush, LMT

An important part of integrated infant care is baby massage. In his book, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu wrote, "What the child requires if it is to prosper, it was found, is to be handled, and carried, and caressed, and cuddled, and cooed to, even if it isn't breastfed.

It is the handling, the carrying, the caressing, the care giving, and the cuddling that we would here emphasize, for it would seem that even in the absence of a great deal else, these are the reassuringly basic experiences the infant must enjoy if it is to survive in some semblance of health."

A licensed massage therapist can contribute to the well-being of a child with weekly massages. In this stressful world, we must give children the ability to achieve relaxation or we may set them up for stress conditions such as allergies, insomnia, indigestion, diabetes and migraines. The child learns to recognize the LMT and is aware that they are there for the massage therapy session.

Light, calming strokes and feather touch create physical and emotional patterns of deep relaxation. Deepening and slowing of the breath and relaxed blood flow to the hands and feet are greatly desired. Difficulties in mood, digestion and sleep decrease.

The techniques described here were used in a program at the YWCA of Greater Miami for children from 6 weeks to 24 months of age. Participants scored higher on motor skills and in both receptive and expressive language in testing by the University of Miami.

All LMTs must have the appropriate license and background check, and must be aware of contraindications for therapeutic massage. Handouts outlining the program's benefit should be available for family members. The session must be carried out in a warm, private environment. Colors are important. Pastels are soothing and don't induce aggression. Bold prints do not facilitate a calming experience. Red is particularly agitating.

Each massage requires linens, rubbing alcohol, plastic bottles of massage oil, and various toys. All objects used during baby massage must be kept clean, sterile and separate from those of the childcare center. The linens should include one yoga mat, a bath sheet, two medium towels, and a flannel blanket. Children are disease vectors, so the linens must be changed between treatments. Massage hygiene protocols must be followed.

The choice of massage oils is important. Grapeseed and jojoba are nice base oils. Lavender oil can be added for aromatherapy. However, allergies must be noted and bottles without aromatherapy oil should be available. Experts in infant massage indicate that it is unwise to use petroleum products on a baby. Lavender is widely used and is effective at calming and reducing nervousness, anger and fear, and will help renew and reenergize.

Use toys that can be easily cleaned with alcohol, including balls, teething rings, and baby dolls to distract the baby in the unfamiliar surroundings and people. The LMT should have several dolls available. It is important to have one resembling the child, so dolls of different races are needed. A chubby doll should also be on hand, and a small one for tiny babies. Dolls made of vinyl can be wiped down with alcohol and those with cloth bodies can go into the washer with the linens.

Music is an important element of baby massage, but the selection is critical. Getting the baby into a relaxed state is important. Beautiful, melodic music yields the best results. When the tempo is slower than the baby's heartbeat, it will slow slightly to mimic the music and the breath will deepen. This, and the feather touch on the baby's skin, induces a relaxed blood flow pattern, coaxing more blood to the fingers and toes. The music becomes associated with relaxation and pleasure. Classical music with crescendos may agitate the babies.

Every baby is a singular individual, whose welfare must be respected. The child must receive one-on-one attention, eye contact, and slow, relaxed breathing by the LMT for them to unconsciously mimic. The importance of the LMT being calm, happy, relaxed and engaged cannot be overstated. Small children love routines and dislike variations, and may react to changes with crying or tantrums. With the reduced stress of a consistent schedule, they become more likely to accept being massaged. If a baby declines the massage, his wishes should be respected. Cleaning and sanitizing of hands should be visible to the child. It should be told what is happening and why. Sentences such as, "We wash our hands before we touch others"; "Dirty hands are yucky!"; and "Clean hands feel nice!" teach the importance of hygiene.

The LMT should avoid the use of the word "no." A baby will put all objects into his mouth, including towels, baby dolls and blankets. This should be permitted, but the items within the child's reach must be clean. The baby will also bang things together, and appropriate items should be provided. Objects that lack feelings should be differentiated from living beings. If the child hits a doll or instructor, the phrases "Hitting is not nice" and "We massage the baby, we never hit the baby" can be used.

Assorted balls can be played with near the setup area. When an aggressive child kicks or throws a ball, the LMT should say "Good job. You threw the ball"; "I am proud of you"; and "You are so strong/fast." This activity increases their treatment time and gives them a way to vent frustration and aggression. Babies receiving this anti-aggression work may accept a massage they might have otherwise declined. They may also be given a slightly stronger blend of oil with lavender to encourage a calming reaction.

A flannel blanket can be integral to the massage. The softness is very calming. "Peek-a-boo" is a play/massage technique with gentle verbalizations which provides another way to contact the children's skin with a soft and soothing material. This type of play on a weekly basis can make inroads into the most aggressive alpha or super-alpha babies. They love peek-a-boo games even at eight weeks. At 12 weeks, they will smile, laugh and make happy, gurgling sounds.

The experience is full of training opportunities. Children should be engaged using everything in their environment. Start with lines such as "May I massage you," and "We are going to the massage room." A good technique is to sing the ABC song or other children's songs. A way to increase the baby's vocabulary is by pointing to and identifying objects such as lights, the floor, hands, fingers, thumbs, eyes, bottle, towel, baby doll, etc. During all interactions, accentuate the use of "please" and "thank you."

Linda Baskin Rush has been a licensed massage therapist in Florida since 1981. She has focused on infant and toddler massage since 1998.


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