Want your baby to sleep better, cry less and be less stressed? Then give baby massage a whirl, suggests Gayle Ritchie
A room full of babies is always going to be noisy, right?
Not if the babies are enjoying a massage class with Lynn Duncan. Here, time seems to stand still as tiny babies as young as four weeks old enjoy communicating with their mums (and some dads) via the medium of gentle touch.
“In all honesty, classes are usually really relaxed and quiet,” says Lynn.
“If mums are relaxed and calm, this helps babies to be, too.”
The room is super-cosy, with low lighting and soothing music creating a chilled atmosphere. Massage pillows and sensory toys are used to instil a sense of peace.
Recent research showed infants who were massaged cried less, slept better, and had lower levels of stress hormones compared to those who were not.
Lynn isn’t surprised by the findings. “Baby massage, a combination of strokes and techniques, has been practised for centuries and benefits babies and parents in many ways,” she says.
“Some of the main benefits are colic and constipation relief, strengthening muscle tone, relaxation, reduction in stress levels and supporting the loving bond between parent and baby.”
Using baby massage, or touch communication as it’s also known, parents grasp the art of listening, asking permission, communicating, interpreting and responding to cues.
Meanwhile, the baby displays engagement/disengagement cues, and furthers body awareness, listening and communication. And of course, both baby and parent benefit from eye contact, relaxation, stronger bonding and trust.
Lynn runs massage and yoga classes for babies across Dundee and Angus via her company, Deerbaby, which she set up in September last year while working as a health visitor for NHS Tayside.
“I always loved my job as a nurse and health visitor and thrived on supporting families,” she says.
“However, I wanted to offer a tailored service for parents and could see the direct benefits of baby massage and yoga.
“By offering baby massage classes I can empower parents to feel more confident in dealing with common issues that arise with babies.”
Lynn also feels passionate about peer parent support.
“Knowing there are other parents feeling the same as you – stressed, exhausted, sleep deprived and anxious – is really important,” she says.
“Social isolation can be common once you’ve had a baby, so for some of my mums attending my class it’s a chance to meet other mums, chat and alleviate worries.”
The hour-long sessions, which include time for drinks and chat, start with a discussion about health.
Parents then strip babies to their nappies (some leave clothes on) and Lynn demonstrates techniques on a doll before asking the babies’ permission to massage them.
“This is important as it enables good recognition of language and understanding for baby,” she explains.
“We gently take baby through new moves and revise ones we previously learned. Most babies love it. Nothing is ever rushed and I remind parents to listen to their babies’ cues. This can mean stopping for a cuddle or feed and comforting them.
“Some sleep through class, some giggle and some make loving sounds.
“Some cry during massage and this is okay. It’s not necessarily because the parent is doing it wrong – it means the baby has another need at that time.”
Lynn is mum to Finn, 7, and Darcy, 3 and has massaged them both from a young age.
“They ask for a massage if they want to spend some time with me or if they’re feeling poorly,” she says.
Deerbaby classes are small and Lynn adopts a non-judgmental, inclusive approach.
She’s keen for more men to come along.
“Unfortunately, most men go back to work quite soon after parental leave, meaning they miss lots of hands-on stuff with baby,” she says.
“Attending a class enables them to become more confident in their tactile ability with baby. This helps support their attachment and allows them to comfort and soothe baby, too.”
For more details, see www.deerbaby.co.uk