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Published on May 7th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Brain-Boosting Baby Massage

Baby massage has become popular in recent years as moms and dads look for ways to bond with their babies.  This tradition, which has been part of the Asian culture for generations, does so much more than simply support a loving parent-baby relationship.

Nurturing through massage has been shown to have many positive benefits for babies and young children, including growth and brain development, sensory integration, neurological development, colic relief, sleep regulation, and enhanced verbal and nonverbal communication.

Massage Boosts Baby's Neurological Development

In South Asia, babies are massaged almost as soon as they are born.  This is often done by a grandmother or midwife in the first few days of life, and the mother soon takes over this daily ritual as soon as she feels fit.

Although massaging your baby has significant effects on various body processes, including digestion, immunity, and musculo-skeletal support, its positive effects on the nervous system can be seen almost immediately.

  • Babies who are massaged regularly calm down more easily after even a fairly short massage—irritability, frustration, and persistent crying are significantly reduced.
  • If oil is massaged gently over the head and spine, it helps lull babies to sleep.
  • Massage helps to speed the developmental process of the brain and the nervous system, which in turn improves the communication between the brain and the body.

Baby massage is as much about using oil as it is about the touch process.
Fats are essential to help develop baby’s brain cells and although some of this comes from diet, head massage is a great way to help oil penetrate to the baby’s brain and spinal cord while the anterior fontanel (soft spot on baby’s head) is still open.  Beyond this, oil massage supports joints and muscle flexibility and coordination.

The most common oil used for baby massage is called “Bala Taila,” which is usually sesame oil herbalized with an Ayurvedic botanical called bala.  Known for its ability to strengthen the nervous and muscular tissue, bala has been the herb of choice for generations.  However, plain sesame oil is also quite popular for baby massage.

How to Massage Your Baby

  • Choose a plain vegetable oil. Sesame is ideal but you can also use almond.  The oil should be just slightly warmed but not heated.Resist the temptation to add essential oils for newborns and infants, as their immature body systems can be sensitive to even a very small amount of essential oil. For older babies, add 1-2 drops of lavender or roman chamomile essential oil to about ½ cup of vegetable oil.
  • Pick a warm time of the day. Late morning or early afternoon is ideal.  Make sure that the room is also warm.
  • Aim for skin-to-skin contact as you massage, as this helps to create security for baby.  Asian mothers typically seat themselves on a rug or on the bed and stretch their legs out so that baby can lie on their thighs through the massage process.
  • Start by placing oil on baby’s head. Pay particular attention to the anterior fontanel but be careful not to apply any pressure in this area.  Massage along the lines of musculature—straight lines down the limbs, circular movements on the joints, clockwise on the belly (in the direction of the colon).
  • Resist the temptation to apply pressure, as babies are too young for it.  This is about bonding and strengthening only.
  • Give baby’s limbs a slight stretch (but be careful not to pull) towards the end of the massage.  It will help support muscular growth.

A baby’s early days and years are crucial to their well-being as adults.  A nurturing massage practice will do wonders to support neurological development and who knows, you might even discover that you’re caring for a Little Einstein!

Article Contributors: Reenita Malhotra Hora

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