Young Parents

Firm, gentle strokes keep your baby happy

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Massaging your baby has many benefits, but you could end up stressing her if you make these mistakes, as Eveline Gan finds out

Step-by-step YouTube instructions, check. Nicely-scented oil and room, check. Soothing music, check.

You have put together all the elements needed for a massage, which has been known to help babies relax and sleep better, enhance their brain development and bond with their parents.

So, why doesn't your little one enjoy your affectionate strokes?

Experts from the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) point out eight bad moves you may be making:

1. You schedule a massage on your terms.

Do not impose on your baby if she is not in the right mood. This can be stressful on the developing brain and nervous system, said Canada- based IAIM trainer Sylvie Hetu.

Your child may be receptive in the morning, after a bath or before bedtime. Always watch her cues before starting, said Ms Margo Kilborn, president of IAIM.

A "yes" is usually accompanied by good eye contact and a relaxed body posture, smiles and some babbling. Fussiness, lack of eye contact and crying indicate "no".

2 .Your strokes are too light.

Giving a gentle rubdown does not mean that you do not apply pressure. Research has shown that babies do not fancy light touches, which tend to be ticklish and rev up the nervous system, said Ms Hetu.

A gentle but firm touch is calming, so parents are taught to use the entire hand or palm when they massage their baby, she added.

Watch for signs of discomfort to see if you are applying too little or too much pressure on your baby, and adjust accordingly, said Ms Kilborn.

LOSING FOCUS

Distraction is one of the greatest problems... When concentration keeps getting cut off, it breaks some processes in your baby's brain. That can affect her capacity to learn to concentrate and focus later on.

MS SYLVIE HETU, a Canada-based trainer with the International Association of Infant Massage, on how notification alerts on the parent's mobile phone or video sounds can ruin the massage experience for baby.

3. You get someone else to massage your baby.

The parent-child connection is important for your baby's social, emotional and brain development, said Ms Kilborn.

At IAIM, parents are taught that every massage session is a "special time" for them to bond with their babies, not an activity to be undertaken by other adults, like the maid.

"The bonding between parent and child is as important as the massage technique," said Ms Hetu.

"You disturb that bond when you allow someone else, other than yourself or your spouse, to have this intimate activity with your baby."

Worse, you may also unwittingly teach your child that it is okay to be touched by strangers in an intimate way, she added.

4. You learn massage techniques from YouTube videos.

Infant massage is not something that you can perfect overnight by watching videos, said the experts.

Said Ms Kilborn: "Some babies like longer massages. Others like it short and sweet. Parents must observe the cues from their baby."

5. You give baby a rubdown while looking at your tablet.

"Distraction is one of the greatest problems," said Ms Hetu, adding that notification alerts on your mobile phone or video sounds can ruin the experience.

"When concentration keeps getting cut off, it breaks some processes in your baby's brain. That can affect her capacity to learn to concentrate and focus later on."

Ideally, you should massage your child in a quiet place where she has your undivided attention, said Ms Kilborn.

Dim the lights, undress baby down to her diaper and put her on a mat or towel on the floor. The room temperature should be kept at about 25 deg C. You can play soft, soothing music in the background.

6. You use essential oils.

Never use massage oils with a strong scent, especially if your baby is below six months old. Do not use essential oils as some studies suggest that they can be dangerous to a baby's nervous system, said Ms Hetu.

Use a cold-pressed, unscented vegetable oil such as grapeseed or sunflower oil instead, said Ms Kilborn.

7. You try to massage a fussy baby.

While studies show that babies who are massaged regularly cry less, sleep better and are generally less colicky, you should not do so when they are crying.

"When baby is crying, her body releases stress hormones. If you massage her, you will stress her even more," said Ms Hetu.

Instead, soothe your child by meeting her needs first: Is she hungry? Has she soiled her diaper or is it time for a nap?

For optimal benefits, massage her at least once a day or as frequently as she likes, but not when she is crying or cranky, said Ms Kilborn.

8. You stop massaging baby when she is four months old.

The IAIM experts said parents can continue to give their older kids massages - with adjustments at different stages - because a loving human touch helps them become emotionally and socially well- adjusted adults.

IAIM-certified instructor Betty Lee said newborns and premature babies can also benefit from a massage. Just make sure you get the green light from your doctor and learn the correct techniques from a certified infant-massage instructor.

•This article first appeared in Young Parents magazine. Young Parents, published by SPH Magazines, is available in both digital and print formats. Go to www.youngparents.com.sg to subscribe and for more parenting stories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Firm, gentle strokes keep your baby happy'. Print Edition | Subscribe