We all know how good a massage can feel. It can help decrease muscle tension after a long day at work, minimize headache pain, and help facilitate the healing of soft tissue injuries. So, if it feels good and can help us heal, what about our little ones?
We can incur tissue trauma at any stage of life, in the womb, during the birthing process, and of course, all the bumps and bruises we get as we learn to crawl, walk, and run. All of this trauma, as small as it may seem, can have physical (as well as mental) effects on the body. These effects can manifest themselves later on in life, creating postural change, undue stress on ligaments, tendons and nerves, and muscle tension, as well as some mental health disorders. Massage Therapy can be very beneficial throughout the pediatric years to help with tissue healing, postural concerns (scoliosis, leg length discrepancies, etc.), latching difficulties, digestive issues, restlessness and insomnia, as well as many other issues.
How does pediatric massage differ from regular massage? Depending on the symptoms that your child may present with, many of the same techniques can be applied to the infant that would be applied to an adult but with a much gentler touch and treatment intention. Treatments can involve simple Swedish (relaxation) massage techniques, or be more specific. CranioSacral techniques can help a newborn latch onto the mother’s breast or decrease intracranial pressure that may be high due to some birthing processes such as C-section delivery. Visceral (organ) mobilization techniques may be used to help with digestion. These techniques should be performed by an experienced CranioSacral Therapist or Visceral Therapist that has had specific education towards pediatrics.
How do I know if my baby needs Massage? Obviously a newborn cannot express through voice that he/she has an upset tummy or that they are experiencing tension throughout their body. But noticing movement patterns that seem unbalanced from side-to-side, such as one arm reaching higher than another, or excessive arching of the back when being picked up, can be signs of tissue tightness within the body. Latching problems can be another sign that there may be some problem with the palate and/or the muscles that help with latching (possibly due to a difficult/long birthing process, C-section, or breech position). An overly fussy baby can be telling us that something may be uncomfortable also. Our little ones communicate in many different ways without speech. As long as you are attentive and trust your parental intuition, you will pick up on these little communication cues. Even if you think everything is okay, your baby can always benefit from massage.
When can massage be done on an infant? Massage therapy can be very effective and applied at any time from the moment of birth onwards. Pre-natal massage experienced by the mother can create a more comfortable pregnancy as issues with postural change, mood, and overall health can be addressed. This has a direct impact on the birthing process as a relaxed mother with very little discomfort going into child birth is more likely to succeed at providing a positive birthing experience for her and her baby.
It is also important to note that massage therapy is a great bonding tool for parents and their newborn. Touch builds trust for the newborn towards his/her parents, it helps to comfort, and is a great tool to be used for bedtime routines. Infant massage classes can teach parents the basics of applying massage to their infants and is something I highly recommend.
Pediatric massage can help with a variety of issues and can be done at any time. It is an amazing tool to help parents bond with their child and can be very beneficial with the developmental process of the baby. There are a variety of techniques that can be applied by the parent or massage therapist, and some that need advanced education to help our little ones developmental process flourish.
Jason Dvorak, RMT, NSCA-CPT