- Karen Stoner, LMT
Massage Tips and Trivia: When babies are massaged, they fall asleep faster and sleep better
"When babies are massaged instead of rocked, they fall asleep faster and stay asleep better when the parent leaves"
We know that massage can have some amazing effects on the body, but it isn't just for adults. Babies can get as much good out of massage as adults. Many people feel that massage is only needed if a person is stressed or in pain, and babies don't have those issues, right? Babies can be stressed because among multiple reasons, they can't communicate as well as they (and their parents) would like. Massage can calm down the nervous system, and effect the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which control sleep, which is something that babies are still learning how to regulate.
One natural and instinctive method for calming babies and helping them to sleep is the 5 S's - Swaddle, Shush, Side, Suck, and Sway. Swaddle means to wrap the baby tightly in a blanket or a swaddle that hugs them tight, making baby feel like they are still encased in the womb, therefore helping them find a sense of calm. Shush is a gently "Shhhhh" that creates kind of a white noise that helps baby feel like someone is there, also reminiscent of the constant noise they hear while still inside the mother's body. Side refers to laying or holding the baby sideways, such as the "football" hold. This changes how baby's body weight is distributed, and may help with any tummy problems or gas. Suck means to give baby something to suck on - either a pacifier, bottle, a finger, or allowing baby to nurse. The sucking motion can stimulate hormones that help baby calm down. Finally, sway is just as it sounds - gentle rocking or moving while holding the baby. Baby is constantly in motion while in utero - every time mom walks or moves, baby moves with her, so the constant moving can be calming. How many parents report driving around in the car with baby in the back seat just to help baby fall asleep? All of these are wonderful and useful tips to help baby calm down, relax, and sleep. Unfortunately with all but Swaddle, once the parent doing the calming technique walks away, the technique is over and baby can still startle into waking up.
Integrating massage into these techniques creates a more lasting sensation that helps babies stay asleep after the calming techniques stop. Massage doesn't need to be done in place of these techniques, but rather in addition to them. Giving the baby a massage before swaying or rocking baby to sleep may help the ending of the swaying, once baby is put down in the crib and parent walks away, to be less jarring and baby may sleep longer and more calmly. While massage for babies isn't a fix-all or guarantee to stop babies from crying and sleep perfectly, it is another "tool for the parenting toolbox" that can help both baby and parents.