8 baby massage mistakes to avoid

September 20, 2019
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    Step-by-step instructions from Youtube, check. Nicely scented oil and room, check. Soothing music, check. 

    You’ve 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? 

    The experts from the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) point out eight bad moves you may be making. 

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  • BAD MOVE #1: You schedule a massage on your terms
    2 / 9 BAD MOVE #1: You schedule a massage on your terms

    There isn’t a magic hour to give a rubdown, so don’t impose one on your baby if she is not in the right mood.

    In fact, this can be downright stressful on the developing brain and nervous system, says Canada-based IAIM trainer Sylvie Hetu. 

    Your child may be receptive in the morning, after a bath or before bedtime. Always get her “permission” and watch her cues before starting, advises Margo Kilborn, president of IAIM International Board. 

    “Although your baby won’t be able to say yes or no, watch how she responds to know if she’s ready,” she says. 

    A “yes” is usually accompanied by good eye contact, relaxed “open” body posture, smiles and some babbling; while fussiness, lack of eye contact and crying indicate “no”. 

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  • BAD MOVE #2: Your strokes are too light
    3 / 9 BAD MOVE #2: Your strokes are too light

    Giving a gentle rubdown doesn’t mean you don’t apply any pressure. Research has shown that babies don’t fancy light touches, which tend to be ticklish and rev up the nervous system, Sylvie says. 

    “Try stroking yourself lightly on the skin; even adults get antsy after a while,” she explains.

    “On the other hand, a gentle but firm touch is calming, which is why most of the baby massage strokes we teach parents are done using the entire hand or palm. 

    To check if you are applying too little or too much pressure, watch your infant’s cues for signs of discomfort and adjust accordingly, Margo advises. 

    Related: Here’s what you didn’t know about baby spas

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  • BAD MOVE #3: You get someone else to massage Baby
    4 / 9 BAD MOVE #3: You get someone else to massage Baby

    Sure, regular massages offer plenty of health benefits. But the biggest advantage is the parent-child connection, which is important for babies’ social, emotional and brain development, Margo says. 

    At IAIM, parents are taught that every massage session is a “special time” for them to bond with their little ones; not an activity that should be carried out by strangers or even other adults, such as the babysitter and domestic helper. 

    “Your baby is not a commodity you bring to a garage to have her fixed,” Sylvie says. 

    “With infant massage, the bonding between parent and child is as important as the technique, if not more.

    By allowing someone else – other than yourself or spouse – to do this intimate activity with your little one, you disturb that bond and emotional relationship.” 

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

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  • BAD MOVE #4: You learn from Youtube videos
    5 / 9 BAD MOVE #4: You learn from Youtube videos

    There’s an abundance of “how-to” videos online, but infant massage isn’t something that you can perfect overnight by watching them, the experts point out. 

    Every child is different. “For example, some babies like longer massages, but others like it short and sweet,” Margo explains. 

    “Parents must learn to observe and respect their baby’s cues, and this is best learnt with the help of a certified infant massage instructor.” (See sidebar Where to sign up.) 

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  • BAD MOVE #5: You give her a rub-down while looking at your tablet
    6 / 9 BAD MOVE #5: You give her a rub-down while looking at your tablet

    “Distraction is one of the greatest problems the modern multitasking parent face,” Sylvie says, adding that your phone’s notification alerts or video sounds can also ruin the experience. 

    “When concentration keeps getting cut off during a task, 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 at a quiet place where she has your undivided attention, Margo adds. 

    Dim the lights, undress Baby down to her diaper and put her on the floor with a mat or towel.

    The room temperature should be kept at around 25 deg C. You can play soft, soothing music in the background, but hold the pop songs. 

    “We also usually tell mums to do the massage at the same place. The routine helps to condition and calm their child,” she adds.

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  • BAD MOVE #6: You use essential oils
    7 / 9 BAD MOVE #6: You use essential oils

    Never use massage oils with a strong scent on your little one, especially if she is below six months old.

    Essential oils are a definite no-no because some studies suggest it can be dangerous to a baby’s nervous system, Sylvie says. 

    The added fragrance from oils or other products may also interfere with her ability to recognise her parents’ unique body scent, and affect the bonding process, she adds. 

    Margo advises using a cold-pressed, unscented vegetable oil such as grapeseed or sunflower oil, ideally from an organic source. 

    “The general rule is, if you’re prepared to put the oil in your mouth or cook with it, then it’s a good option for your baby massage,” Margo says. 

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  • BAD MOVE #7: You try to massage your fussy baby
    8 / 9 BAD MOVE #7: You try to massage your fussy baby

    Your loving touches will help calm her down, right?

    While studies show that babies who are massaged regularly cry less, sleep better and are generally less colicky, you shouldn’t do so when she is in the middle of a meltdown. 

    “When Baby is crying, her body releases stress hormones. If you massage her, you will end up stressing her even more, leading to a vicious loop of stress,” Sylvie explains. 

    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 stress-reducing benefits, massage her at least once a day or as frequently as she likes – just not when she’s crying or cranky, Margo advises. 

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  • BAD MOVE #8: You stop massaging Baby when she turns four months old
    9 / 9 BAD MOVE #8: You stop massaging Baby when she turns four months old

    Betty Lee, an IAIM-certified instructor, says even newborns and premature babies can benefit from a massage.

    Just make sure you get green light from your doctor and learn the correct massage techniques from a certified infant massage instructor. 

    There’s no need to stop once she’s older, either. In fact, the IAIM experts say parents can continue to provide their older kids with nurturing massages – with adjustments at different stages – because loving human touch helps them become emotionally and socially well-adjusted adults. 

    For instance, you may have to include more interactive elements, such as songs and nursery rhymes, while massaging an active toddler or use a few toys to encourage her to be still.

    At any time, follow your child’s cues to know when to start or stop a massage.

    Where to sign up 

    International Association of Infant Massage (Singapore chapter)
    Visit: www.iaimsingapore.com 

    Thomson Baby Massage 
    Call: 6251-4090 
    Visit: www.thomsonmedical.com/ parentcraft-centre 

    KK Women’s and Children’s hospital
    Call: 6394-1268 
    Visit: www.tinyurl.com/KKHBabyMassage

    Related: 3 medication mistakes parents make 

    (Photos: 123RF.com)

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