Just like good nutrition, a daily body massage is important in ensuring a healthy infant’s growth and development. According to experts, other than just holding and carrying babies when they cry or are feeding, massaging them daily ensures a strong bond between parent and baby.
When and how should it be done?
According to Christian Bahati, a nurse at Polyclinique de l’Etoil in Kigali, infants below one year need the massage to strengthen their limbs. He says the same technique is used to handle premature babies.
“Just like through the kangaroo method, babies born without any complications should be introduced to skin-to-skin contact with the parent through massaging to help them grow and develop all their senses well,” he says.
Bahati says the massaging should be systematic, ensuring that the movement of the palms and fingers over the infant is smooth and soothing. All this should be done when the baby is laid in front of the person massaging it, ideally, starting with the head, shoulders, and slowly to the other parts with enough jelly is important.
He adds that the movement should be in a circular motion all round using fingerprint most importantly.
Raymond Awazi, a paediatrician at Hôpital La Croix du Sud in Kigali, says touching through massage serves as psychological therapy for the infants.
He notes that baby massage also eases chronic abdominal pains caused by intestinal gas, thus increases the removal of waste from the body.
“Massaging also helps soothe babies into sleep, especially when they are crying. The massage should also be done after about 30 minutes after feeding. In situations where the baby has overfed or has some discomfort in their tummies, the mother should give them a gentle belly massage, which speeds up the digestion process. This also helps eliminating the problem of constipation and acid reflux,” he says.
Benefits of massaging
Prof Joseph Mucumbisti, a paediatrician at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, and president of Rwanda Heart Foundation, says although the child does other exercises and movement, as they grow up those massages aid in the whole well-being of the baby as they improve flexibility and co-ordination in general.
“If done the right way, it plays a vital role in improving the quality of sleep, strengthens the immune system, as well as relaxation of the child,” he says.
Mucumbisti notes that discomfort from teething, chest and nose congestion can be easily relieved through a gentle massage due to the hormones released during the procedure.
However, Mucumbisti cautions that this practice should be handled carefully.
“The skin of the baby is still delicate and prone to various infections. The mother should ensure they maintain good hygiene to avoid causing complications, for example, by washing their hands well with soap before carrying out the message. Using oil prescribed by a pediatrician is ideal to avoid allergies and other discomforts that may be caused by the wrong jelly,” he says.
Iba Mayele, a gynecologist at Doctor’s Plaza in Kimironko, Kigali, echoes similar views.
“The environment where the massage is done should be clean to avoid spreading infections to other parts of the infant’s body,” he cautions.
Mayele points out that the oil should be applied gently on the dry skin of the baby, noting that rough movements may harm the skin and bones of the infant.
He further points out that massage in general boosts the child’s physical, emotional and muscle development.
- It is fun and enjoyable for both baby and parent
- Helps both baby and parent to relax
- Encourages baby to sleep deeper and longer
- Improves colic and constipation and calms irritable babies
- Boosts a baby’s Serotonin levels which is known to reduce the risks of SIDS
- Establishes a close, loving communication and relationship with your baby
- Provides opportunity for fathers to spend quality time with their babies
- Strokes can be adapted for use on babies and children with special needs to help them reach their potential
- Massage can also be adapted for use with children of all ages. Babies and children who are massaged regularly are more likely to have a secure relationship with parents and so tend to have better relationships with others, both as children and adults
- Benefits flow onto the next generation as parents tend to parent as they themselves were parented