7 Infant Massage Tips for Improved Summer Sleep

Monday July 5, 2021

Hot weather and changing holiday routines – summer can be unsettling for babies and young children. Add retinoblastoma to the mix, and achieving good sleep at this time of year can be very hard for affected children and siblings. Morgan Livingstone CCLS explains how infant massage can help, offering specific practical ways to improve sleep during sultry summer months, whether or not a child is receiving cancer care.

Two adult hands rest on each side of a baby's headm in the middle of a massage stroke. The baby has a restful expression, and the backgroud is a calming lavender.

Benefits of Infant Massage

Who doesn’t love a massage, especially when the body is tense with stress?

Infant Massage is a beautiful and loving way for parents and babies to begin a lifelong relationship. This positive and therapeutic touch promotes early development and mental health for both parent and child.  For infants and young children with retinoblastoma, and their parents, it has the power to provide so much more.

Benefits for Baby – both at home and when in hospital/clinic

  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Balances pain responses
  • Improves immune function
  • Improves gastric motility
  • Aids digestion
  • Facilitates weight gain in neonates
  • Regulates behavioural states and promotes sleep
  • Decreases irritability
  • Enhances bonding and healthy attachment
  • Creates a loving, intimate communication between baby and parent
  • Strengthens and regulates primary organ systems (respiratory, circulatory, nervous, musculature, digestive and endocrine)
  • Promotes social, emotional and cognitive development

Benefits for Parents:

  • Promotes better understanding of infant’s individual cues
  • Enhances communication
  • Increases confidence and handling skills
  • Provides quality one-on-one interaction time
  • Helps parents unwind, relax and reduce stress
  • Increases vocalization and direct face to face interaction
  • Gives fathers a special time to connect and bond.

Relaxing Summer Sleep

Massage is truly one of the best ways to bond with your baby or young child while promoting restful, restorative sleep.  Even through hot summer nights, travel changes and the ongoing challenges of life with retinoblastoma.

Learn the basics with the following two videos.  The first covers essential safety guidance and key massage strokes.  The second provides a guided demonstration to help you learn how to give your little one a blissful leg to head massage.

Below the videos, you will find seven tips to help nurture a restful bedtime massage routine that encourages communication, soothes, and reduces stress and pain.  Both your baby and you will treasure these quiet summer evenings shared together.

Essential Safety Guidance and Key Massage Strokes

Guided Demonstration of Infant Massage

1. Bedtime Routine

Create a bedtime routine to include relaxing infant massage strokes that help release tension from daily stimuli and promote a deeper sleep. Many families like to provide massage after an evening bath.

Make sure you are realistic about giving yourself and your baby enough time for this routine. Pick a time each night when you can aim to start that allows you to provide some infant massage strokes, then feed your baby, and then settle them into sleep.

2. Travel

Do you have summer travel plans? No problem! By including massage in the bedtime routine, parents can help cue the baby about when it is time to sleep in any location or time zone.

To create this cueing, start each massage the same way before bedtime, and say the same phrase or sing the same song each night so that your baby becomes familiar with it. Try phrases like, “It’s time for sleepy massage”, “Baby bedtime massage”, or use another phrase or song unique to your family.

3. Relaxation

Infant massage strokes that move AWAY from the heart, from the shoulder to the wrist, from the hip to the foot, are relaxing strokes and perfect for an evening bedtime routine. Strokes that move towards the heart are stimulating, so best suited to morning massage routines.

4. Communication

Daily massage and increased eye contact promotes improved communication between parents and their baby. Being able to better understand a baby’s cues helps parents meet the baby’s need and reduce frustration.

Begin each massage by inviting your baby: say, “Are you ready for a massage?”  This helps your baby learn from the earliest days about asking permission to be touched, and being an involved participant in their care.

While you are providing massage, you can also talk to your baby about what you are doing, and how it might feel for baby.  Or just have a fun conversation with your baby about the adventures you had that day. The more you speak with your baby, the more they are learning about language and reciprocal communication. Many babies will begin to make sounds in response to your communication.

5. Stress Reduction

At the end of a long and active day, nighttime massage routines can help babies to decrease irritability and calm excessive crying by reducing cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Enhanced bonding through massage can help parents relax and unwind at the end of the day too.

6. Soothe

Using a plain, fragrance-free oil like grapeseed oil as a part of your summer massage routine helps keep your baby’s skin soft, and cools your baby on a hot day. Using a scent free oil that is gentle and edible, like grapeseed oil, helps your baby smell you, and helps you smell your baby – all part of healthy attachment.

7. Pain Reduction

Facial massage strokes when a baby is teething or experiencing eye pain can release endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever. Continuing gentle strokes on the face, across the eyebrows and forehead, help the baby drift off to sleep.

Teething relief strokes should include gentle but firm pressure using both thumbs or the tips of your pointer fingers in the centre of the upper lip, and move outwards towards the corners of the mouth, continuing up the jaw towards the cheeks. Then position your thumbs or the tips of your pointer fingers at the centre of the lower lip, and gently but firmly apply pressure as you stroke outwards to the corners of the mouth, and continue up the jawline.

Strokes on the eyebrows should begin with both thumbs in the centre, between the eyebrows. Stroke gently outwards, across the arch of the baby’s eyebrow. Gentle strokes on the eyebrows can be helpful for babies undergoing retinoblastoma treatment. These strokes provide babies and young children with positive and gentle touch around the eyes, when some of their medical experiences may have caused pain. This helps them understand that not all touch around the eyes is potentially painful, and can instead be a pleasant way to relax together.

A large group of people is sitting on the floor in a circle facing inward, with legs outstretched. They are holding practice baby dolls on their laps as they practice infant massage strokes.

Andrea Kelly, master infant massage trainer, hosts our child life team and additional medical and allied professionals for a certification class in Eldoret, Kenya, 2014.

Learn How to Massage Your Baby

Whether a child is developing as expected, has occasional childhood illness or significant medical needs, learning appropriate and safe Infant massage techniques can be hugely beneficial.  Many videos and other resources are available online, providing valuable learning opportunities when no local instructor is available, but we strongly encourage learning in person.

Infant massage specialists and health professionals recommend parents gain instruction from qualified practitioners wherever possible, especially if the child has a medical condition or is receiving treatment.  Group and 1:1 instruction enables your Infant Massage Instructor to highlight safety concerns, adapt approaches, and teach you techniques specific to your child’s individual medical needs.  Small group classes also create social and support opportunities during a potentially isolating time in your life.

We recommend learning with a Certified Infant Massage Instructor.  CIMIs are trained with the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) / World Institute for Nurturing Communication (WINC) to teach infant massage to parents and caregivers.  The IAIM/WINC instructors’ curriculum has been refined over 30 years through research, reflective practice and experience. It is taught in more than 50 countries by highly skilled trainers who undergo a minimum 7 year learning program before gaining Trainer qualification.

Only qualified members of the IAIM/WINC can use the CIMI title. Certified Infant Massage Instructors are qualified only to teach the techniques of infant massage, through demonstration.  Certification is not a ‘hands on massage’ qualification – it does not qualify the instructor to deliver a massage service directly to babies or children.  It also does not qualify the instructor to train parents so they may teach or demonstrate infant massage.

All Certified Infant Massage Instructors should be able to:

  • Clearly and accurately promote infant massage.
  • Explain how nurturing touch can strengthen the bonding process and promote numerous health benefits.
  • Demonstrate the full range of massage strokes on a special massage doll.
  • Teach the infant massage techniques to both individuals and small groups.
  • Create a relaxed environment that encourages informal discussion among parents on many baby/early childhood focused topics.
  • Facilitate parent-infant communication, bonding and healthy development.

Learn more about IAIM/WINC and find Parent/Baby massage classes or a CIMI Certification course in your area.

A group of ladies gather around an armchair in which one memoer of the group is seated. They are all holding infant massage dolls and training books, and smiling.

Morgan poses with her infant massage instructor students and their training dolls during a break between sessions. Los Angeles, 2019.

About the Author

Morgan and Doc McStuffinsMorgan Livingstone is a Certified Child Life Specialist and Certified Infant Massage Instructor/Trainer. She is passionate about improved child life and psychosocial supports for children and families affected by retinoblastoma.

As the Child Life Officer of World Eye Cancer Hope, Morgan contributes to the website’s Child Life sections, and speaks globally about child life supports for children with retinoblastoma. Morgan provided enriched multi-day child life programming for children of all ages at both One Rb World in Washington, D.C. in October 2017 and the Canadian Retinoblastoma Research Advisory Board meeting in December 2017.

Morgan also writes and creates resources for children and adults, and participates in child life research studies. She won the inaugural Innovation Grant at Operation Smile for developing an APP that uses Virtual Reality to prepare children receiving cleft lip and palate surgery for their operation.

Download Morgan’s helpful parent manual for supporting children’s worries using Worry Eaters.

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