Last month I wrote an article Coping with Colic and thought the next logical step would be to advise how infant baby massage can help!

Have you ever known a baby who just won’t stop crying, even with a full belly, clean nappy and lots of cuddles?

There’s really nothing that can fully describe the gut-wrenching feeling of your baby repeatedly crying for no clear reason. In the moment, nothing seems to exist except their crying, and your instinctual need to fix it.

Perhaps you’re frantically rocking, swaying, and bouncing that inconsolable baby right now. Or maybe you’re an expecting parent who’s heard about colic and wants to plan ahead.

The age of practice of infant massage is gaining fresh popularity recently as a remedy for colic. One gentle massage technique, in particular, could totally change your relationship with your baby in as little as 15 minutes a day.

Firstly, what is colic and its symptoms?

If your baby cries for at least 3 hours a day, for 3 or more days a week they fit the definition of a “colicky” baby. Colic is a problem for 40% of babies so you’re not alone!

Although it’s not dangerous for the baby, colic can take a serious toll on the mental health and relationships within the household. Every new parent will stop at nothing to solve their child’s discomfort but when that seems unachievable it can leave them feeling inadequate or doubting themselves as a parent.

It’s important to mention that you should see your doctor or childhood nurse to ensure the crying is not due to another cause.

Colic often disappears as mysteriously as it began, commonly resolving on its own by 3 or 4 months of age. But in the lingering frantic hours until then, parents of a colicky baby will try just about anything to find some relief.

Before you can use massage to effectively relieve colic, you need to be able to properly identify the symptoms.

Common symptoms of colic include a painful cry that may last for hours, a continuous clench of fists and leg-pulling toward the abdomen, crying at consistent times throughout the day or night and a distended and firm belly. 

You can read more information about Coping with Colic and symptoms here.

How does Infant Massage help?

Infant massage is a wellness tool used by parents for thousands of years around the world. Massage is a gentle yet powerful approach to infant health which also provides a safe and effective treatment for colic in infants. Compared to other potential colic treatments, the risk of side effects is extremely low and the treatment itself is enjoyable for the parent and child.

Research has found that Infant Massage techniques that focused on the abdomen can help to relieve the symptoms of colic, wind and constipation in 2 to 4 weeks with regular sessions.

Infant massage helps in a number of ways:

  • It helps to eliminate wind from baby’s body
  • It can help to produce “feel good hormones” helping baby to relax and reducing levels of stress hormones
  • Baby massage can help to mature the digestive and nervous systems by helping to tone the digestive tract and aid the process of myelination of nerve cells for better brain body communication
  • Most importantly, baby massage offers the opportunity to listen, observe and communicate
  • It makes the baby feel secure and comfortable outside the womb
  • Skin to skin contact may be able to soothe and reassure baby

Massaging a crying baby

Trying to massage a crying baby is stressful for parents but it is recommended that the massage be carried out while your baby is experiencing the discomfort and pain to help provide relief.

This massage technique can be incorporated into your daily routine for ongoing colic maintenance. You don’t have to wait until your child is experiencing discomfort.

To help your baby relax during the massage, try to keep yourself calm so that you can continue to reassure your baby by speaking softly, making eye contact and cuddling.

If you are familiar with Infant Massage you will be aware that a permission sequence is used prior to the massage commencing. The Colic Massage Sequence adjusts this permission with a calm statement (detailed step 1) as the massage is being done to relieve your baby’s immediate pain and symptoms of colic wind and constipation. 

I recommend not massaging your baby within 30 minutes of their last feed to avoid discomfort and pressure that may upset their full stomach.

The Colic Massage Sequence

The colic massage sequence is a series of massage techniques that will help to relieve your baby’s symptoms of colic, wind and constipation.

Start each massage session by reassuring your baby. Over time, your baby will begin to understand that, through the massage, you are trying to help. The following is a brief description of each step. 

  1. Place your hands on the centre of your baby’s body to provide comfort.  Although it may be difficult as your baby is distressed try to establish eye contact, and say in a calm voice, “I understand you’re in pain and I’m going to help you.”
  2. Warm up your hands by rubbing them together and apply baby massage oil. Ensure your hands are warm before touching your baby as cold hands will only make their discomfort worse. Once the oil is warmed (but not hot), spread it over the abdomen avoiding the diaphragm.
  3. Place your hands flat across the width of your baby’s tummy and “scoop” downwards from just below the diaphragm to the base of the tummy, alternating hands with each stroke.
  4. Hold your baby’s ankles firmly and with the knees together, bend the legs inwards until the knees are putting very gentle pressure on the abdomen. Count out loud for 6 seconds and then begin gently bounce the legs as you bring them back down while repeating; “relax” in a calm voice.
  5. Commence the lower case ‘n’ stroke by placing your left index and middle fingertips just on the inside of your baby’s right hipbone. Ensuring your fingers are not digging in, move your fingers upward in a straight line, stopping just before you reach the diaphragm. Retrace the movement using your right hand.
  6. When you reach the diaphragm again with your right hand, continue to move your fingers across the tummy (under the diaphragm), and then downwards again to the inside of the left hipbone.
  7. Repeat the knees to the tummy step complete with bouncing down the legs.
  8. Repeat steps 3-6 twice more.

You should aim to repeat the steps of the sequence 3 times during each massage session. Do not repeat more than twice in a day.

Depending on the severity of your baby’s colic, wind and constipation results can be instant to a couple of hours.

More Information

The main role of an Infant Massage Instructor is as a teacher, as they demonstrate how the parent can use infant massage to soothe their child.

For reassurance, you may want to watch an Infant Massage Instructor complete the massage techniques while you watch and practice on your own baby or demonstration doll within a class. Or, you may just want to take the tips in this article and give it a try for yourself. There’s no wrong way to go about it. Try things out and find what works for you and your baby!

Wild Lace Wellbeing holds Infant Massage classes within the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith areas. Please contact the Infant Information Service if you are looking for an instructor within another area.