Benefits of Baby Massage: Podcast Episode #140
Kristin chats with Helen Thompson about the benefits of baby massage and the bonding that it provides for parents and the newborn. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am joined today by Helen Thompson with My Baby Massage. Welcome, Helen!
Helen: Thank you! It’s lovely to be here, and I always love talking about baby massage and other things. So thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to the chat.
Kristin: So I would love for you to fill our listeners in on your rich history working with newborns as well as children. I know in our prior conversations, you have 30 years of working in the baby and, you know, the field of children and babies, as well as your time in the baby massage field since 2010. Am I correct in that?
Helen: Yes, you’re correct in that.
Kristin: So fill us in on why you became passionate about baby massage.
Helen: Well, I actually come from a childcare background. As you say, I’ve been the childcare industry since 1988, and I recently, sort of around 2010, came across so many moms who were asking about things like colic, constipation, and they were getting frustrated about it, and they asked if there was anything else they could do. So I dived into some bit of research and discovered the wonderful tips about baby massage. So I decided to train in baby massage in 2010, and haven’t looked back since. It’s been wonderful because I’ve actually been able to serve and support moms one on one with baby massage, which has been fantastic, and it’s great. It’s great. They have so many different benefits.
Kristin: And I know, not only do you do one on one support, but you also have a very strong presence online. Tell us about that, as well.
Helen: I have a website, and I have courses on there. I have a free introduction course that people can register on. I also have Zoom classes, which I do online as well, and I also have a colicky baby 101 course, which is a virtual course that anybody can do. I’m just – I’m present on video, but I’m not present in person as such. It’s completely virtual.
Kristin: That’s great. So anyone can join, no matter where they live in the world?
Helen: Exactly. And that’s including the introduction and also the Zoom courses, but if you want something more virtual where you can do it on your own in your own home without me sort of being there, well, the colicky baby 101 course is probably fit for you. Sorry. That didn’t make sense, did it?
Kristin: Oh, it’s perfect. So tell us a bit about how baby massage, for our listeners who aren’t familiar with it – I personally used it with my firstborn, and it was very helpful. She was a NICU baby and had a lot of issues with colic and digestion and feeding. So yeah, fill us in on how it can be helpful and at what point in the newborn phase a parent should begin that process.
Helen: Well, I’ll start with saying what phase the parent can begin baby massage. They can basically begin baby massage from newborn – well, I say newborn up to eight months. However, you can still massage your baby when they’re toddlers. But I like to mainly focus on until they’re crawling because that way, once they’re crawling, they’re more interested in stuff going on around them. They don’t really want baby massage at that stage. And I also – good for things like colic, as you mentioned. And it also helps with sleep, you know, helping with sleep. It helps with digestion. And it also helps with hand-eye coordination and body awareness, and it helps with their development. And it can also help with teething, as well, amongst many other things.
Kristin: It’s amazing. So any tips for our listeners about how to find, if they want an in-person practitioner, how to find a qualified baby massage practitioner?
Helen: That’s a very interesting question because different parts of the world, you may have different. But if you look under baby massage, you will find lots of different trainers that actually offer the course, as well. If you want virtual ones, just go to my website, and you would be able to get a qualified practitioner.
Kristin: Wonderful. And then as far as colic, that is a common concern with many of our doula clients, and you had mentioned that you have a course on helping colicky babies. Fill us in about understanding colic, how baby massage can help, and any other tips and tricks you have.
Helen: Okay. Well, colic, as you know, can be very disturbing for a mom, as well as for a baby, because they have a sort of witching – from my understanding of colic is they have a witching period, I think, where babies just cry constantly, uncontrollably, and they’re really congested, and they’re really stuck. You know, they can’t – they’re just – they’re blocked up in their tummy. So what baby massage does to help with the colic is by – there are certain – in the course that I run, I give moms some tips on how to ease their baby’s tummy in order to release the colic and to get rid of all the air bubbles inside their tummy so that it helps to release the colic and bring it out. In other words, pushing it out so that it, excuse the expression, goes out into poo so that they can relieve the colic. And one of the strokes that I love doing with colic is called the I love you stroke. That’s one of the ones that’s in the colicky baby course, amongst others, and it’s just a lovely stroke that you can do, and it’s actually helping your baby’s digestion and saying that you love them at the same time, and it helps release all those air bubbles in a baby’s tummy and helps with colic.
Kristin: I love that you mentioned the I love you technique because, I mean, touch is so important and a way to connect with baby, and it can also be a great way for partners or husbands who may not feel as involved and connected to baby because mom is – like, Mom is feeding the baby constantly and doing, you know – because of the feeding relationship, a lot of the daily connecting. And so tell us about how you involve partners in baby massage.
Helen: Well, it’s very good. I love that you say that because it’s really important for dads to be involved with massaging their baby because I think, as you said, a lot of the time, moms are the ones that are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and moms are the ones that get up in the night to sort of feed the baby because they’re breastfeeding. So baby massage is a great way for the partners to get involved more with the baby and have that feeling of touch, which you mentioned, because touch is so, so valuable for both the parent and the baby because it’s skin to skin, which is so, so valuable for both mother and father, but particularly more, as you mentioned, for the father. Because then they can feel involved, because a lot of the time, they may not feel involved. All they’re doing is maybe helping their wife or their partner, you know, changing the nappies and doing things like that. But actually being able to physically touch the baby and massage them, I think, is really, really beneficial for the dad.
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Kristin: Yeah, and then there are so many important times, whether it’s bath time or as you said, with sleep, getting baby to sleep, or even changing the clothes, that you can use some of the touch you learn with baby massage during some of those daily practices and create some – I don’t necessarily want to say rituals, but some patterns that baby associates that they’re going to, you know, have some massage during, say, bath time or bed time and so on. Do you talk about that?
Helen: Yes, I do. Bedtime is a good time to massage your baby because it helps them to relax, and it helps you to relax, as well. And it also – I don’t know if you’re aware of the hormone oxytocin, which I like to call the cuddle hormone. It’s actually – and because that way, it increases oxytocin, which is the love hormone, which helps your baby to relax. Helps you to relax so that therefore it can help with sleep, as well, with that one. And there’s also a hormone called – I think you pronounce it melatonin, which is the hormone that regulates a person’s body clock. So that, when you’re massaging your baby, you’re releasing that melatonin, which helps the baby’s body clock, so you’re helping the baby to sleep more effectively, as well.
Kristin: Yes. Makes sense.
Helen: And I would just say also, if you’re going to massage your baby before sleep, just make sure you do it after a bath and not before a bath, particularly if you’re using oils, because you don’t want to put your baby in the bath when he’s covered in oil because they can be very slippery. I always say that because I just – you know, I just envision moms massaging their baby and trying to hold onto them and they slip in the bath. So it’s always a good idea to do it after a bath, or even, if you’re not going to give them the bath, that’s fine. Just give them the massage. And one of the things I want to mention always is to ask permission. That’s a big thing because baby massage is always baby led. If the baby doesn’t want to be massaged, that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that you can’t massage your baby. You just have to choose a time when they are open to being massaged, and there are different – well, you’ll get to know your own baby, when they’re ready to be massaged or not, but basically, they’ve got an open body position. Well, then, that’s okay to massage. But if they’ve got their hands against their chest, that may be saying, no, I don’t want you to massage my chest, but you can just gently massage their legs whilst changing the nappy, because that way, you’re still asking permission, but you’re just doing it gradually.
Kristin: Now, Helen, you mentioned oils. Are there particular – well, obviously, we have to take any sort of allergies into account, but almond oil or coconut oil, or what are some of the common baby massage oils?
Helen: Well, you’ve mentioned two, which is almond and coconut oil. Sesame oil is good, but not the sesame oil you get from the supermarket. It’s got to be pure. It’s got to be organic and mineral-free because you don’t want to put the sesame oil that you get from the supermarket, which has got lots of additives in it. So it’s probably better to be pure and organic. Also, I wouldn’t recommend olive oil because olive oil can be very slippery, and it doesn’t absorb on the baby’s skin. The point of putting the oils on is that you want to let it absorb on the baby’s skin. And I wouldn’t recommend essential oils for babies because they’re too strong, unless, of course, you speak to an aromatherapist and they give you the right quantities and do it that way. But I personally don’t recommend essential oils because I think they’re too strong for babies. You want your baby to smell you rather than the oil, because that’s another benefit is letting the baby smell your own and have your own scent, your own smell. And if you’re putting essential oils in, that’s not helping the baby’s scent, if that makes sense.
Kristin: It does. So what do you recommend with students who have twins or triplets in finding time to connect with schedules, and how do you handle if only one parent is available, massage with multiple babies?
Helen: That’s a good question. I actually trained in the UK – I did a training in the UK with a company called To Baby and Beyond, and the lady I trained with actually has a course, which I haven’t personally done, but she has a course for introduction to actually train with mothers who have twins because she’s had twins herself. So she does a routine where she actually teaches you to massage both babies at the same time. But if I was doing it myself, to answer your question, if I was to be doing it myself, I would either suggest to the mom that they have somebody who can come in and do the massage – another person to come and do the massage, if not dad, a grandmother or aunt.
Kristin: Maybe a doula.
Helen: Or a doula or somebody else so that they can both be massaged at the same time, and they can both learn how to do it. And also, one of the twins or triplets might be asleep at the time, so mom can sort of focus on one of them. And then once the other one wakes up, the other one wants to go sleep, she can possibly massage the other one at a different time. Does that make sense?
Kristin: Yeah. You had also mentioned, and I’m curious about this because it wasn’t anything I learned in the baby massage class I took, teething and how massage can be helpful. Fill us in a bit about that.
Helen: Well, teething is good because when you’re massaging the outside of the baby’s cheeks, you’re actually massaging the gums, and that can really, really help to soothe those teeth that are coming through. And it also, if you massage the baby’s toes, as well – this is part of reflexology, which I’m not qualified in, but I’ve learned certain tips for baby massage. If you massage the big toe all the way down to the little toe, that also connects to their teeth, as well, so that can actually also help with teething. It can sort of relax the gums and help with teething.
Kristin: Wonderful. So any other tips for our listeners about, you know, getting themselves prepared to begin the baby massage journey? And then I would also love to hear how we can all connect with you.
Helen: Okay. Well, first of all, if you want to start massaging your baby, start in a very quiet – have a very quiet space with just you and your baby. And always massage your baby on the floor on a soft blanket, or even you can do it on one of the nappy change mats, as long as it’s on the floor, just for safety reasons. Just put on some nice, relaxing music, and if you’re using oils, just rub your hands with a bit of oil and just look at your baby and ask them if they want a massage and watch their reaction. Watch their body language and see if they want it or not. And the other tips I want to say is it’s very good for your senses. I haven’t actually mentioned that, but it’s actually very good for the baby’s senses because you’re teaching them all about communication. You’re teaching the baby with hearing because they’re hearing your voice while you’re talking to them, and they’re hearing the tones, the different tones of your voice, and you can be singing to them while you’re massaging them, as well. And it’s also good for their smell because it’s helping with all the oils and smelling you, and they’re getting the sense of smell around them. And touch, as we’ve mentioned, is really, really important as well, particularly after they’ve just been born and they’ve just come out of the womb where they’ve been in that lovely warm environment. Touching them very gently is just lovely.
Kristin: So, Helen, as far – you mentioned your website. But you also have an amazing podcast, and you’re doing videos and other social media that people can learn tips and tricks from you. So fill us in on how else we can connect with you.
Helen: Okay. Your listeners can find out more about baby massage on my podcast, as you mentioned, which is called First Time Mum’s Chat, by going to a page on my website. I’ve also got a free baby massage and colic routines cheat sheet that I mentioned to you, and they can find that at www.mybabymassage.net/goldcoastdoulas. And they will find all our information on the website, and they’ll find out all about the colicky baby course, baby massage routines, and colic.
Kristin: Perfect. And this will also be on our blog for anyone who wants to access that way. But this is so helpful, and I look forward to taking a look at a lot of your materials and passing the word on to our doula clients as well as our students.
Helen: I also have a baby massage Facebook page, as well, which is @burniebabymassage. And I recently spoke to somebody who I interviewed – she’s a dancer, and we did a Facebook live together, and she talked about body awareness and brain organization and stuff and how she does that with the baby. So I just thought I’d mention that, as well.
Kristin: Lovely. Yes, we can connect to that episode, as well. Well, thank you so much for your time, Helen. This has been so amazing to learn all of these fabulous tips about how families can connect with their baby and soothe a lot of the common ailments of constipation, colic, digestion issues, issues with sleep. So this has been a fantastic chat.
Helen: Well, thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you, too, and I look forward to chatting down the track. And thank you so much for having me. I really appreciated it, as well.
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