Guest blog: the link between baby massage and sleep
Maddie Hale runs the Baby Company, providing classes for babies to help them develop and grow.
If you're looking to gently encourage a few extra Zzz's from your little one then Baby Massage may be just the thing. I am always spouting on about the vast benefits of Baby Massage - one being improving sleep - and yet parents always seem surprised when they return the following week from class telling me how well their little one slept after their massage last week!
Studies at Warwick University in 2006 found indications that "infants who were massaged cried less, slept better, and had lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol compared to infants who did not receive massage" - Angela Underdown, Warwick Medical School and The Institute of Education at the University of Warwick.
At home an evening massage is the perfect introduction to bedtime. Little babies haven't yet developed their circadian rhythm (the ability to distinguish between day and night) and so any signals we can give them will help them to know it is now evening and soon will be time for sleep.
Furthermore, thanks to the touch-induced sleepy hormone Melatonin, massaging your baby literally helps them to fall asleep and establish their sleeping patterns.
A great young baby routine would be:
Create a calming environment;
Enjoy a gentle baby massage;
Fresh nappy & into pyjamas;
Read a short story;
Insert the last evening feed where appropriate for you and your baby and there's no need to introduce anything more than this until baby is a little older and does go down to bed at a more civilised time.
Certainly for the first 3 months or more routine will be very much baby-led. However, having this set of actions at the same time every evening communicates to baby that it is now evening and time to be calm. So if your baby isn't settling to bed yet, you could still do this mini routine at say 7pm each evening then have the lights dimmed and interaction low until baby does go down for the night.
You will gradually find that as your baby develops their circadian rhythm and their sleep consolidation, there will be a more distinguishable bedtime and night time wakings will reduce to an appropriate developmental frequency.
Another great time to massage for improving sleep is in the morning! Many babies have a morning nap not long after they officially wake from the night. If you can, squeeze a nice relaxing massage in before this sleep to optimise the nap that hopefully follows.
You might also find that your baby is much happier at this time of day than in the evening, so you will have more chance of doing a full body massage and really lapping up the benefits! A lot of night time sleep challenges can be improved just by looking at the day time naps and there's no gentler way to do this than with a lovely baby massage!
Massage and any kind of touch stimulates the release of the hormone Oxytocin which you are probably familiar with when reading up about birth. Once your baby is here however it continues to play a huge part in forming a loving bond between you both, helping establish breastfeeding, acting as a pain relief and relaxing you and your baby thus contributing to calming baby in preparation for sleep. Touch is also extremely reassuring for babies, children and even adults.
Your baby's natural instincts will only allow them to fall asleep if they feel safe and secure to do so - holding and touching your baby supports them in understanding that you are there if they should need you and that they are perfectly safe to drift off to sleep calmly.
Remember to always check in with your baby, making sure that they are happy and healthy before starting a massage. Watch carefully for cues that they may have had enough and always stop for a break and a cuddle if they need it.
So there you have it - a spot of baby massage before bed can result in better night time sleep due to the reassuring touch of a loving caregiver stimulating the sleepy hormone Melatonin and the love hormone Oxytocin; baby will be relaxed, settled and reassured to drift off to sleep. Newborn ailments such as wind, colic, constipation and teething can be soothed, helping baby to settle to sleep with your support.
At The Baby Company, massage classes are small, calm and supportive ensuring you feel comfortable to care for your baby at ease and learn how to soothe, settle and nurture your little one with respect.
My Baby Sleep Confidence workshops focus on boosting parents' confidence around newborn and baby sleep , knowing what is developmentally normal and thinking about gentle ways to optimise sleep so that you feel empowered to approach baby sleep in a way that feels comfortable and nurturing.
The Baby Company classes currently run in Cheddar, Banwell or private 1:1 or group sessions in your own home. For the full schedule please pop over to the booking page by clicking the link below...