You needn’t be out of diapers to reap the benefits of massage, according to a new study from the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute. Babies and toddlers who were massaged by their mothers for 15 minutes before bedtime fell asleep sooner and were more likely to sleep through the night than those who were rocked to sleep.
In another institute study, preemies who were massaged for 15 minutes three times daily for ten days gained almost 50 percent more weight and were discharged six days earlier than other preemies.
Touch can lower a baby’s stress hormone levels, says institute director Tiffany Field, Ph.D. “It puts babies into a more relaxed state so they sleep better.”
So how can you help your little one? Simply massage your baby from head to toe for 15 minutes once daily before bed or at bath time, says Field. Pour a little baby oil into the palms of your hands, rub them together, then, using your fingertips, draw circles in a rhythmic motion over your baby’s body. Don’t forget his hands, feet, face, and head. Next, hold an arm or leg and, gripping softly with your other hand, gently move it back and forth (think of milking a cow).
Be sure to apply enough pressure so that you don’t tickle, and “look to your baby for cues about whether he likes being touched,” says Field. “If he doesn’t like the sensation he’ll fuss, arch his back, breathe harder, and turn redder.”
Chances are, though, he’ll purr like a cat. “Many parents who massage their babies end up doing it through childhood because their kids like it so much,” says Field.