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Baby Massage Magic: What's so Special about Baby Massage Classes?

What is baby massage? Baby massage simply means touching your baby, but doing so in a mindful, conscious and nurturing way. Baby massage fosters communication between parent and baby. Parents touch and care for their babies hundreds of times each day, but we don’t often take the time to sit down and do it so consciously. When doing massage, unlike when we are just cleaning or dressing baby, we tune into our baby’s behaviors and cues to understand what she is communicating. We make sure our baby wants to be massaged and we observe baby to see hows he likes to be touched: when in her day is best for her to be massaged? Which body parts does he like to have massaged? How much pressure does he enjoy? Does he want to have eye contact while he is massaged or does he prefer to look away while enjoying the sensations? Does she like mum to sing or play games while massaging, or does she prefer some soothing background music, or perhaps quiet? Each baby is unique and your baby will teach you how to massage him as long as you “listen” to him.

Who can do baby massage?

Anybody can massage their baby. Most classes here in Dubai are geared to mothers, but dads are also great at it and can find it very enjoyable and relaxing. Dads may not get a lot of time with baby during the day, so a nice massage before or after bath time in the evening can be a wonderful way to connect (and give mum a little break!). Other family members, including big brothers or sisters and grandparents can also learn to do the massage strokes. Nannies and child minders may also be taught to do some of the strokes by the parents if you wish, but classes are typically geared for the parents. I always tell mothers that baby massage shouldn’t become just one more thing that you feel guilty about if you didn’t get to it today or even this week. It should be an enjoyable part of your day or your week that you find relaxing and fun, not a chore. If it didn’t get done today, there is always time tomorrow, no harm done!

When can you start?

The International Association of Infant Massage approach that we provide is suitable from birth until age 1, but in my experience mothers don’t really enjoy the class once baby is crawling. Some other baby massage classes have you wait until baby is 6-8 weeks old. Babies who are very young will definitely have a very short attention span for massage and are less likely to get much massage during the class session, as they will be sleeping and feeding much of the day. But a newborn can receive huge benefits from massage, so I wouldn’t discourage parents from starting at that age. Newborns often have wind, gas, colic, reflux, and other tummy upset, all of which can be soothed with massage. Parents who attend the class with a newborn will still learn all the strokes and gentle movements and will go home with diagrams to help them remember everything, and they then can offer the massage at home when the baby is awake and alert and ready for it. And you can continue to use the same massage strokes throughout baby’s infancy and childhood. In addition, the social aspect of the classes is extremely helpful for new mothers, and receiving support and making friends can help tremendously with the adjustment to motherhood.

How do you massage a baby?

Start by asking your baby if s/he would like a massage. We use visual and other sensory cues to help them understand what we are asking: showing them our hands as we warm the oil and other signals that we are preparing for a massage, and we observe their physical and facial responses and noises—you would be amazed to see how much they can communicate even without verbal language. When you take a baby massage class you will learn specific strokes for all the parts of the body. Parents are the experts of their own child and your baby will teach you what he or she likes, so you can adapt the strokes, the amount of pressure, the number of times you repeat them, what order you go in, what body parts to start and finish with or focus on and all of that to what suits your baby and you. Babies’ attention span and likes and dislikes will also change significantly as they grow and mature, but as long as you follow their lead you can’t go wrong. The 2 main points of it are the nurturing touch and the communication between you and your baby. The only strokes that you really must follow the directions are tummy strokes—stroke the tummy in a clockwise and or downward direction to work with the digestive system and not against it.

Are there spots you should never massage?

Not really, as long as you observe your baby and follow her preferences. Some babies love tummy massage, while others hate it. One baby can’t get enough foot massage, another cries whenever her foot is touched (maybe it tickles?). I have even met a baby or two who really didn’t like to be massaged at all (at least not at this stage), and they preferred being held and maybe watching the other babies get their massages. You must learn from your baby what she likes and doesn’t like, and be prepared to adapt it as baby grows and changes. This is a great parenting skill to learn--understanding that your child is unique and that you can read his behavior and cues to find what is right for him.

What oils/tools do you need?

Food oils, preferably organic, are best as they will likely make it into baby’s mouth and are absorbed into the skin. Baby oil or mineral oil is petroleum based and is not recommended. It also leaves a greasy film on the baby, whereas the food oils will be absorbed and will help with moisturizing the skin. Olive oil has been used quite a bit, but some research shows the oleic acid in olive oil may increase the risk of eczema or worsen it if baby already has sensitive skin, so we now provide organic, unscented sunflower oil or cold pressed, organic, virgin coconut oil. Cold pressed oil is best because this means that it was not extracted with heat or chemicals that can alter the oil. Also, we want unscented oils for babies. Babies have a very powerful sense of smell, and scented oils or essential oils can be too strong for them and will just upset them. They can also interfere with the baby’s ability to smell their mother’s natural smells of skin, milk, and such, which are a powerful part of the bonding process for infants. Some experts suggest that no oils should be used on infant skin, especially newborns, due to worries about disrupting the delicate skin protective barrier and increasing the risk of eczema. I provide all my participants with the various research and opinions on this topic and encourage them to make their own decision. If you or baby don’t like to use oil, you can use the creams or lotions you already use on baby’s skin, or you can use a tiny bit of corn flour (cornstarch) instead to help your hands slide over baby’s skin. You can also just massage over dry skin and even over baby’s clothing if baby doesn’t like to be undressed.

In terms of other gear, we provide waterproof mats for babies with toweling covers which are washed after every use. We also provide cushions and pillows on the floor and a place to lean against for mother's to feel comfortable even when holding and feeding babies (and extra cushions to prop up babies who are uncomfortable lying flat due to reflux). We provide diagrams of all the strokes learned and various hand outs and digital resources on all the topics discussed in the class. Finally, we offer light snacks, water, and coffee or tea for parents to enjoy throughout the class and during the break.

What if your baby cries, or needs to be fed or wants to sleep during class?

We always expect babies to be babies, and therefore we expect crying, feeding, sleeping, weeing, pooing, and spitting up, and the need to be walked, danced, bounced or otherwise soothed. All babies cry at one point or another during a class, and sometimes they all get going at once! As a baby fanatic, such things do not disturb the instructor, Amy, in the slightest! As we say in the first class, babies are in charge and we will always adjust to meet their needs. We try to go over the new massage strokes more than once in the class session, whenever possible, and we repeat them week after week so you really learn them. We also provide dolls for you to practice on if baby is sleeping and your hands are free (which is rare!) I am very happy to help you adjust your and your baby's position if that helps, and I provide seats and bouncy birth ball for sitting and soothing babies who are not happy lying on the mat. We also have some engaging, age-appropriate baby toys and soft books to help keep older babies entertained (and for use during tummy time practice). The point of the class is NOT necessarily for baby to be massaged during the class. The goal is that you will learn the techniques and employ them at home when it suits you and baby. The real point of being in the class, mostly, is to get to know other new parents and get some info and support

What exactly happens during class?

Each week we start with a quick chat between participants, helping us get to know one another. As massage is new to most babies we introduce it gradually, focusing on legs the first week as they are very accustomed to us touching and moving their legs during diaper changes. We will review the strokes learned the week before and we add another body part until you have a full body massage plus some yoga-based gentle movements. We also spend time each week in discussion about general mummy and baby topics such as sleep, crying, making Tummy Time more fun, adjusting to motherhood, baby wearing "show and tell," birth stories and more. We finish each session with a closing thought--a relevant poem or quote about babies and being a parent for inspiration and celebration.

What are the benefits of baby massage?

There are many benefits for baby, including promoting bonding and secure attachment, verbal and non-verbal communication, sensory learning, the development of trust and confidence, and feelings of love, respect and being valued. All of the body systems are stimulated, including circulation and digestion, hormonal and immune systems, coordination and balance, muscle development and growth, and mind-body awareness. Massage can help to relieve colic, gas, constipation and other digestive discomforts. It can also help with growing pains, muscle tension, and teething discomfort. Massage also promotes relaxation, which can help with improving sleep patterns, increased flexibility and muscle tone, regulation of infant behavioral states and reducing stress hormones.

Are there benefits for parents?

Parents also find baby massage to be relaxing and calming. It helps parents to understand their baby’s communication and behavior, and gives them more tools to soothe and relax and nurture their baby. It increases bonding for parents as well as babies and increases confidence in their abilities as a parent. One of the worst parts about being a new parent is feeling you don’t understand what your baby needs or feeling that you can't fix the hurt or upset. Having some more understanding and tools can make all the difference. Also, the social aspect is invaluable and the support from the instructor and the other parents in the group can make a huge difference for a new parent. Finally, you can make friends in your baby massage class who will be your friends and your baby’s play-mates for many years to come. Many of our groups over the years have told us that they continued to meet up and support one another long after the class was over, including through the births and subsequent kids. There is something magical about making friends as a new parent, especially when we meet in a warm, friendly and supportive environment--the oxytocin gets flowing and we "fall in love" with more than just our babies. We can bond with other new parents in intense ways unlike any other time in our life except during university or school.

Do you need to take a class in order to massage your baby?

Baby massage is not rocket science. You can make up the strokes or learn them from a book or video. Touching your baby doesn’t really take any special training, so stroke your baby and enjoy. The benefits of taking a class are really all the other information, such as helping you to understand your baby’s cues and responses, increasing your confidence in trusting your own instincts, meeting other parents and sharing ideas on the joys and struggles of parenthood. A baby massage class should leave you feeling more relaxed, more confident that you can trust your own heart, and more secure that you will learn all that you need to know from your own baby. There is no one right way to massage a baby, and there is no one right way to raise a child. We all must learn to find our own techniques and our own path. The social part of the experience, meeting other parents, observing other babies of the same and different ages and developmental stages, sharing a story, a laugh, some tears, some frustration, all will help you find your way as a new parent. Taking the class with your second baby or even third will provide the (rare) opportunity to focus just on this child, something you had so much time to do when it was your first baby. A baby massage class should be a calm and supportive and friendly sanctuary that you look forward to visiting each week, and someplace that you leave feeling nurtured yourself and better able to continue nurturing your child. And finally, if you make some good friends who wish to continue meeting up weekly even after the class has ended than you have received the greatest gift any new mother can get—a “maternal matrix” of support which will help you through all the coming stages of raising a baby.

What is unique about Love Parenting UAE's Baby Massage Classes?

Amy Vogelaar, our Certified Infant Massage Instructor, is trained and licensed by IAIM, the International Association of Infant Massage, the original baby massage organization, and the gold standard certification that is respected around the world. Amy has been running baby massage classes in Dubai since 2011, and brings the experience of having taught 1000s of parents and babies over the years. She is also trained as a midwife, an IBCLC lactation consultant, a BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm consultant, a TummyTime Method Consultant. and a Babywearing Peer Counselor. Amy and her co-founder of Love Parenting UAE, Jasmine Collin, are the winners of the 2018 Time Out Kids Dubai Special Recognition for Pre and Post Natal Care, and they have been shortlisted for this award every year since it was first introduced to Dubai in 2014. Amy's teaches many different classes and workshops and all her sessions are well-known around Dubai for being evidence-based, positive, nonjudgmental, engaging and empowering. Amy believes passionately in the power of mothers (and fathers) and in the wonder of babies, and her passion and enthusiasm is infectious. Parents have said it was more like a group therapy session than a class, and many, many of them have gone on to take other classes run by Amy, because they found her approach so reassuring and helpful. This truly is more than a baby massage class, it's a complete introduction to baby soothing, to finding your parenting approach, and to loving being the parent your baby needs.

Our Baby Massage classes meet Tuesday mornings from 10-11:30, and are now meeting in Eggs and Soldiers in Times Square Center. This is a great location with free covered parking and easy access to a number of other baby/parent-friendly shops and resources in the mall. Baby massage groups can easily move the fun to a cafe or restaurant after class to continue the conversation and enjoy lunch together.

What has your experience been with baby massage or baby massage classes? Have you taken one of our classes before? What did you find most helpful? Does your baby enjoy massage? Do you have any other questions that we haven't answered here?

Amy x

Amy Vogelaar is a former midwife, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant, a licensed BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm consultant, a Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Tummy Time Method instructor, Babywearing Peer Counselor, co-founder of Love Parenting UAE, and a mother of 2 girls, the first of whom attended an IAIM baby massage class in Bahrain with Amy when she was a new mother. The best day of Amy's week is Tuesday, baby massage class day, when she gets her baby and mama fix!

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