by Allison Bayliss
Today we have Allison Bayliss, Paediatric Massage Instructor, joining us at The Nursery Collective to share the key benefits of massage for infants and children. Allison is a Melbourne Mum of two and the founder of Paediatric Massage Instruction.
My kids love massage – it was always part of our bath and bedtime routine when they were babies and this blog is a reminder for me to do it more often! On a recent trip to Bali, both of them had a few massages and enjoyed them just as much as the adults! I just enjoyed watching my youngest (who never stops moving) actually stop and relax - you can see for yourself in the first picture below!
After reading this article, I’m sure you will be inspired to try childhood massage out for yourself! Cathy x
5 Benefits of Childhood Massage You Need to Know About!
Childhood massage goes by several names such as; baby massage, infant massage and paediatric massage. They all refer to massage for infants and children, usually from newborn to around 11 years. The benefits of massage are widely known but generally refer to adults and not children. Some researchers have looked into the benefits of massage for children and have found results indicating that their caregiver (generally the person giving the massage) also benefits from the process.
There are a so many benefits to massage that it would take a long time to go through all of them but let’s have a look at some of the main ones.
1. Benefits of Massage for Infants and Children - Relaxation
The most obvious benefit is relaxation. We all love the idea of relaxing because it makes our bodies and minds feel so good. It reduces our feelings of anxiety, as well as the stress hormone levels in our bodies, such as cortisol, which in turn enhances our immune system. When doing infant massage, this reduction in stress levels even takes place within the giver of the massage (probably a parent), which can then improve their mood, self esteem and confidence as a parent. This is especially beneficial for those struggling with perinatal anxiety, postnatal depression or an attachment issue related to childbirth.
Off to a pretty great start wouldn’t you say?
2. Benefits of Massage for Infants and Children - The Vagus Nerve
Another fantastic benefit for massage in infants is the stimulation of the vagus nerve. Which nerve you say? This nerve branch is huge and has an effect on the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems of the body. Researchers have found low birth weight infants receiving massage have gained weight through the increased vagal activity and enhanced gastric motility (emptying and refilling of the stomach). Other related digestive ailments have shown improvement such as colic, reflux, wind and constipation. Improved pulmonary (lung) function and increased blood and lymph circulation are also benefits relating the stimulation of the vagus nerve.
3. Benefits of Massage for Infants and Children – Improvement in Sleep Patterns
A benefit many people notice is the improvement in their babies sleep patterns. The reason for this is because massage helps balance sleep hormones. In the early weeks of parenthood, babies seem to have their night and day all muddled up. We call this the ‘circadian rhythm’ and it takes about 6 weeks for newborns to develop a regular rhythm. Infant massage helps improve sleep by increasing serotonin levels and regulating melatonin secretion rhythms. By balancing these hormones massage can help encourage deep sleep. I can hear tired parents everywhere cheering!
4. Benefits of Massage for Infants and Children – Cognitive Development
On a neurological level, massage has some astounding effects. The enhancement of a child’s cognitive development, for example, is so important because this refers to the development of their thought processes such as remembering, problem solving and decision making. Through regular massage a child experiences habituation. This is a vital form of learning and stimulates the growth of millions of new connecting links between neurons due to the release of the hormone called adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). The result of this process, which is actually a stress response, is that the brain is able to process information and determine whether a new and stressful situation is actually recognisable as being safe and predictable.
Thus by carrying out massage on a regular basis, the infant should become easier to soothe and settle down faster than they may have previously done as their brain will recognise the massage sequence as being a safe and predictable situation, reducing the stress hormone levels of the child.
In addition to improved cognitive development, massage can also speed up the myelination of the brain and nervous system. Skin stimulation encourages the development of the myelin sheath which covers the nervous system to enhance the communication between nerves, or the firing of nerve cells. The infant’s motor development is improved and the overall brain-to-body communication is enhanced.
5. Benefits of Massage for Infants and Children – Bonding Between Child and Parent
While all these facts are amazing, the most important benefit in my eyes is the enhancement of the bond between the child and their parent. As a new mum, I struggled to connect with my first born. I was so anxious and unsure and it turned out I had postnatal depression. It took some time but we found our way together. I didn’t know about infant massage then, but it is something we both enjoy today. It has given us an opportunity to relax together, talk about the day while doing something that makes us both feel good.
Parents who regularly massage their children benefit from less anxiety and improved moods, fewer depressive symptoms and increased self esteem and confidence. By engaging regularly in such a positive way with your baby or young child, you become more aware of their cues, how they communicate their needs to you. Roughly 80% of what a baby communicates to the world around them is through movement. Learning their cues enables us to understand when they are tired or hungry or upset before it reaches the crying stage. This helps strengthen that bond between you and your child because they know they are understood and you become confident that you now understand them.
So there we have it! Just some of the amazing benefits of paediatric massage. It is never too late to begin and it is a routine you can both enjoy for a long, long time. I hope you seriously consider having a go because I know you will never regret an opportunity to be closer and better connected to the most precious thing in your life. Your child.
by Allison Bayliss
Paediatric Massage Instruction
0418 621 508
Information sourced from the Infant Massage Information Service (IMIS) Pty Ltd 2012
Allison Bayliss is a Melbourne mum of two and founder of Paediatric Massage Instruction. Before delving into the world of small business, Allison was a primary school teacher. After the birth of her second child she retrained and qualified as a remedial massage therapist.