One of the most common reasons that parents come to our baby massage classes is help with their baby’s digestive complaints. Massaging the stomach with certain, careful strokes helps to move the milk and any wind around the intricate intestines, easing the pain, improving constipation and any cramps.
Another ailment common to many babies is gastro-oesophageal reflux. Reflux occurs when the muscle that controls food entering the stomach is not yet fully matured and so the contents of the stomach – food (milk) and stomach acid – passes back up into the food pipe (oesophagus). Stomach acid burning the oesophagus causes the baby pain, and they are frequently sick. It’s also possible to have ‘silent reflux’ where the baby isn’t vomiting regularly, but they will be uncomfortable and cranky. In addition to the frequent posseting and / or vomiting other signs of reflux can be arching away from you during feeding, refusing milk, crying and waking frequently at night.
During the first year the valve at the stomach opening will grow stronger, and many babies will eventually grow out of their reflux. However, in some cases it doesn’t go away, causing far worse complications.
How does baby massage help?
Gentle massage strokes help to calm your little one who may be distressed and in pain. Massaging the whole body will help to improve muscle co-ordination and tone throughout which can improve reflux. Whilst we cannot massage the specific muscle responsible for the reflux, massaging your baby’s skin across the whole body stimulates the nervous system, including the Vagus nerve. This nerve controls many aspects of the digestive system.
Baby massage also allows you to reconnect with your baby, who may be irritable and not sleeping well, so it can be a tough time for parents as well. A short regular massage can help you regain some of those loving feelings together.
How to massage a baby with reflux
Babies with reflux find it difficult to be flat on their back so lie them down with a cushion under the top half of the back so they are at a 45 degree angle. Listen to your baby’s signs and if they are distressed move to another position such as sitting up on your lap, or lying on your outstretched legs. Use gentle massage strokes with an edible cold-pressed, organic oil, we recommend sunflower oil.
Babies normally all enjoy their legs and feet being massaged so you could start here to introduce them to massage and work around the body. Any strokes to the stomach area should be left to right, and clockwise as this is the way the digestive tract works. Leave at least 45 minutes after feeding to massage the stomach.
Some parents find it helpful to carry your baby during the day which keeps them upright, and research has shown that carried babies cry less, and crying makes reflux worse. If you’re breastfeeding you could look at your own diet and cut out triggers such as dairy, caffeine, citrus and rich, spicy foods. These can be reintroduced one by one to see if this affects the reflux.
Your baby’s back muscles strengthen as they grow and they gradually learn to sit up, which improves the reflux with more time spent upright. You can practice a short amount of tummy time each day to allow them time to develop their back muscles.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of baby massage and learn a full body massage for your baby then come to one of our four week courses. Classes at various venues in Fishponds and Southville. Also available for 1:1 sessions or home groups with friends / antenatal groups.