Baby Yoga & Massage in Special Situations

In this article you will learn how yoga and massage can help babies with special needs, special situations and help parents to manage any childhood ailments.

Babies with Specific Needs

Premature Babies

Having to be on a neonatal unit can be quite stressful for a premature baby, partly because they have left the confines of the womb before they were at the correct stage of their development to do so, and partly because of the invasive medical treatment they receive in order for them to survive. Just being in the outside world can be incredibly stimulating for a premature baby and even the slightest touch can be all too much for them. In the early days after birth they will be far too sensitive to receive a full massage, and even light stroking may be extremely irritating and stressful for them. However, gentle positive touch may be comforting, Without being over-stimulating and gives parents the opportunity to start to learn What their baby is ‘telling’ them.

Benefits for Your Premature Baby

If the hospital neonatal staff encourage you to – practise containment holds with your hypersensitive baby as this can be extremely positive for you both.

Insight
There is some evidence to show that some premature babies who receive positive touch from their parent in hospital can improve physically and mentally – they might even gain weight more rapidly.

Benefits for You, If You Have a Baby on the Neonatal Unit

If your baby is attached to wires and machines, you may be feeling helpless, powerless and detached from your baby. However, using positive touch with your baby can really help you too, because you are helping your baby, as well as having the opportunity to spend time getting to know them and start to build a bond with them at the same time.

Insight
As your baby grows and develops, it will become possible to gradually introduce the gentle strokes and eventually most of the massage. However, it is not suitable to carry out yoga exercises with a premature baby until they are fit and well and at least a couple of moths past their original expected due date.

Tips for Introducing Touch

It may be necessary for you to introduce ‘touch’ to your baby in stages, so that you have the chance to really start to understand your baby’s needs and not over-stimulate them with too much, too soon.

Skin to skin contact – this is sometimes known as ‘Kangaroo Care’ and is often a good first step to introducing positive touch to your premature baby. For this you need to tuck your baby inside your top so that your baby’s skin is in contact with yours. This can be so comforting for them and gives you the opportunity to get really close.

Containing positive energy – in some cases actually touching your baby may be far too stimulating for them. If this is so, simply hold your hands about 8-10 cm from your baby, so that they can feel your energy.

Activity
To see how your baby might feel your energy:

 

  • Sit quietly with your hands about 15-20 cm apart (imagine you are holding a ball delicately between your hands).
  • Concentrate on the area between your hands as you slowly bring them together.
  • You should notice that there comes a point when you can feel the energy between your hands. It feels as if you have something there, but you can not see what it is. This is what your baby will be able to feel when you hold your hands about 8-10 cm above them.
  • Containment holds – these type of holds to the head, chest, head and buttock, and head and back can be very beneficial, which may:
    • help to centre and calm both you and your baby
    • allow you to introduce some gentle touch to your baby
    • be comforting for your baby
    • help settle your baby when distressed

Tips for Introducing Massage

  • Stroking – this is often the first step to introducing massage to a premature baby. Once your baby is a little more robust and more accustomed to their environment, they may be ready to experience the benefits of receiving some massage – the long, slow, gentle strokes along the limbs described in the Newborn Routine are a good starting point.
  • Before massage – leave at least half an hour after feeding before carrying out any massage.
  • Environment – once massage is introduced, your baby may be more settled and enjoy the massage, if:
    • the lighting is subdued
    • there is gentle music playing in the background
    • you only try a minimum number of strokes.

Hypersensitivity – many premature babies experience invasive procedures during their time on the neonatal unit and many have cannulas in their feet. If this is the case with your baby, you may find that they do not like their feet being massaged. Simply hold their feet gently and talk reassuringly to them, until they feel more comfortable and begin to understand that the touch that you are offering is positive and loving.

Babies That Have Special Needs

Coming to terms with the birth of a baby with special needs may be very challenging and difficult for many parents. The condition a baby is born with may affect not only the child’s life forever, but it is likely to impact on the family as a whole. A baby with Special needs may find it more difficult to respond to many of the usual signals that parents use to communicate with them (eye contact, smiling, speech and body movements) because of their particular condition. This may make the early bonding stage more challenging for parents. However, baby massage and yoga can help tremendously, because of the time it gives parents to really start to watch and then understand their baby. By their very nature, massage and yoga are very interactive, so they can help parents gain confidence when they are communicating with their baby. Through massage and yoga, parents can ‘tune’ into their baby and learn more about what their baby is trying to ‘tell’ them, even when a baby’s cues are quite subtle. These activities also give parents special time with their baby, giving them the opportunity to really build their relationship.

Insight

As well as the emotional benefits to be gained from introducing massage and yoga to a baby with special needs, the physical benefits associated with these activities may also have a positive effect, offering parents a useful tool to enhance their child’s potential physical ability and ultimately their enjoyment of life.

Pre-autism

Studies in many countries show that autism appears to present itself in infancy as ‘pre-autism’. This is whereby a baby will begin to show a number of recognizable characteristics. These signs of ‘pre-autism’ have been analysed with the use of video footage dating back to the 19303.

It has also been recognized that the interaction and the subsequent attachment between parent and ‘pre-autistic’ baby was clearly different to that of a parent and infant, where the baby did not present with this condition.

A centre in Israel, studying pre-autism, offers support to parents with babies showing signs of pre-autism. They help the parents by teaching them how to improve the interaction and engagement with their babies. One of the tools that is used is baby massage this helps with the interaction between parent and baby. The centre has been able to establish that intervention at an early stage definitely seemed, in most cases, to prevent the usual recognizable autistic characteristics developing later.

Autism

Children with autism are usually diagnosed at around 18 months of age. They often have difficulty in relating to other people, have a disassociation from their environment and are very sensitive to sound, light, smell and touch. Children with autism are often touch-defensive and can become aggressive when touched.

Massage may help a child by reducing their stress. It may also improve communication, such as eye contact and vocalization. However, it is a light touch that can be far too over-stimulating for these children, so it is recommended that a firmer touch is applied. Always watch for their individual cues and be patient as they will not respond as quickly to massage as other children that do not have this condition.

Interactive play such as yoga exercises and the massage stories can also help some autistic children. Shared play experiences can enhance a child’s potential in all areas of learning and development. Interaction and communication with children using play rather than simply increasing ‘play skills’ can enhance their learning experience. For instance, introducing a basket of food for sensory input during a massage can really help with communication; parents can establish a connection with their child by exploring the sensory experiences they enjoy.

Babies with Hypotonicity

Babies that are hypotonic have poor muscle tone and can appear floppy.

Tips for Massage and Yoga

  • To help improve your baby’s muscle tone:
    • the massage strokes you use should be brisk and stimulating
    • massaging the chin and cheeks can help support their tongue and help with speech.
  • Be careful not to hyper-extend their, what appear to be, very flexible joints during the yoga exercises.

Babies with Hypertonicity

Babies that are hypertonic have very tense muscle tone and can appear stiff and lack flexibility.

Tips for Massage and Yoga

  • Initially concentrate on the unaffected areas of your baby’s body so that your baby learns to appreciate how good massage and yoga can feel.
  • Start with gentle massage on the affected areas of their body, as tense muscles can be tender when pressure is applied to them.
  • To avoid discomfort, do not force your baby‘s tense muscles beyond their capacity during the yoga exercises.
  • The yoga exercises for the affected area may not be appropriate, depending on the severity of the tension in their muscles.
  • Continually reassure your baby during the massage routine and yoga exercises.
  • Massage strokes and yoga exercises should be slow.

Children with Visual or Auditory Impairment

Tactile experiences are of great importance for the visually and hearing impaired baby as they help them define the world. Massage can offer them a positive tactile experience.

Visual Impairment: Tips for Massage and Yoga

  • Talking gently and singing to your baby during the massage and yoga sessions is especially important.
  • Describing the area of their body that is being massaged can promote body awareness.
  • Holding and cuddling frequently gives reassurance and will help to make your baby feel secure.
  • You can try and give your baby boundaries by putting a towel rolled up like a sausage around them, giving an added sense of security, during the massage and the yoga floor exercises.
  • Reduce the noises in the immediate area to a minimum:
    • so that your baby is more likely to stay focused on you and will not be distracted
    • so that your baby feels secure.

Auditory Impairment: Tips for Massage and Yoga

  • Lots of eye contact between you and your baby is important:
    • until your baby is used to massage and yoga and feels secure, avoid strokes and exercises that impede this eye contact (such as the back massage).
  • Talking and singing rhymes to your baby is still important:
    • Your baby is more likely to focus on your lips as they move and may feel the vibrations from the Singing.
    • This helps you focus on your baby.

Down’s Syndrome

Poor muscle tone contributes to the tendency of some children with Down’s syndrome to be physically inactive. For this reason, their need for physical stimulation is vital. (The guideline for hypotonicity, above, should be taken into account when massaging or using the yoga exercises.)

Most children generally love music, singing and dancing, and children with Down’s syndrome are no different. Sensory stimulation (such as music) and motor stimulation (such as dance) should be a part of their education from a very early age. Movement stimulates the brain and nervous system. Music is composed of highly structured series of sounds and contains most of the elements of language pitch, rhythm and timbre. Listening to music, singing along to nursery rhymes and dancing can help a baby with Down’s syndrome acquire their language skills. Therefore, it is as important to sing, and use massage and yoga, with a baby who has Down’s as it is with a baby who doesn’t.

However, you should seek advice from your child’s GP before commencing massage and yoga if your baby is suffering from internal organ defects.

Congenital Malformation

A baby with a congenital malformation may benefit from receiving massage and yoga from infancy and into childhood, as it may help them have a positive self-image, as well as helping parents to overcome their fears and to accept their child’s body shape more readily.

Insight

It Is Vital to Practice Yoga and Massage Safely.

If your baby has any health problems, it is important that you consult your baby’s specialist or GP before commencing the massage routine and yoga exercises. Some children with special needs have the added challenge of medical illnesses to contend with as well. For example, many children with Down’s Syndrome have a heart or circulatory condition.

Massage and yoga increase blood flow, which potentially increases the volume of blood flow through the heart, arteries and veins. Therefore, it is important that the specialist is consulted to confirm that yoga and massage can be introduced.

Sensitive Babies

Not all babies are able to respond positively to a full massage or yoga routine, particularly if they are inclined to be very sensitive and become upset easily. With all babies it is important to only do the amount of massage or yoga that they are happy with, but with more sensitive babies it may be necessary to give a little more consideration to how the routines may be adapted to suit their needs.

If you have noticed that your baby is generally quite sensitive, it is advisable to introduce them to massage before the yoga routine. In the main, massage gives more opportunity for a parent to keep their baby in close contact with them. Not only is the yoga routine far more energetic and possibly far too stimulating but it does not keep a sensitive baby close to their parent when doing some of the exercises. Yoga can be introduced at a later stage, when the baby is happy with a full massage and will be ready for the more stimulating yoga exercises.

It is beneficial if a parent is able to recognize the characteristics of their sensitive baby, which will help them to decide the best way to adapt the massage routine for them. The characteristics of sensitive babies mainly fall into three categories, these are commonly known as fussy, disorganized or hypersensitive babies. Although it is possible to give an indication of the main characteristic of a fussy, disorganized and hypersensitive baby, it is important to remember that all babies are individuals and the best way to really understand what a baby is ‘saying’ is to try to understand what they are trying to communicate through their non-verbal cues.

The fussy baby

When a baby is inclined to be fussy, the parents often feel that they have a particularly ‘difficult’ or ‘demanding’ child. A fussy baby is in fact desperate to be heard. The fussiness is an indication of a baby who is crying out to be calmed. They want to be able to feel safe and secure and are desperately seeking the level of care that is required so that they feel as if their needs for survival are being met.

Insight

How to Tell If Your Baby Is Fussy:

  • They are only content when they are in contact with you and cry when you put them down.
  • They are extra-sensitive to disturbing noises
  • They do not adapt well to changes in their routine
Things to remember when introducing massage to a fussy baby:

 

  • Always be sensitive to your baby’s cues.
  • Introduce positive touch carefully and gradually starting with the containment holds.
  • Try massaging over your baby’s clothes, until they feel more secure about being undressed.
  • Choose a time in the day when your baby tends to be less fussy.
  • Maintain close contact by massaging them while being held or across your lap.

The Disorganized Baby

‘Disorganized’ babies have often had a difficult and stressful birth, so they need help to become calm and to find an inner peace. Gentle rocking and soothing sounds may help a baby to become calm as can swaddling, which may help them feel secure.

Insight

How to Tell If Your Baby Is Disorganised:

  • They are unable to maintain eye contact.
  • They move their arms and legs in a fast, uncontrolled manner.
  • They have distressed crying.
  • They hold their hands in front of their face.
  • They are prone to having hiccups.
Things to remember when introducing massage to a disorganized baby:

 

  • It is best to introduce the massage routine while your baby is still dressed.
  • Start slowly using the containment holds and as massage is introduced, keep your baby close to you.
  • You can gradually increase the number of strokes that you do with your baby.
  • Lie your baby on their side during massage, which may reduce the over-stimulation, of face-to-face contact.

The Hypersensitive Baby

Premature babies, babies with special needs and those that have experienced medical intervention at birth, may be hypersensitive, and may struggle to cope with over-stimulation and are inclined to become tired quickly.

Insight

How to Tell If Your Baby Is Hypersensitive:

  • They do not enjoy being cuddled and often give the impression that they would prefer to be left alone. They may even become distressed when someone tries to offer comfort.
  • They try to avoid eye contact and often look fretful.
  • They are easily disturbed and frightened.
  • They may cry hysterically, often during the evening.
Things to remember when introducing massage to a hypersensitive baby:

 

 

  • Ensure that the environment is calm and quiet.
  • Dim the lighting.
  • When your baby is ready for massage, start with the newborn routine.
  • When your baby is accustomed to the newborn routine, introduce the long, gentle strokes from the massage routine keeping them clothed all other strokes are likely to be too stimulating at this stage.
  • When your baby is able to cope with skin contact, only uncover the area that is going to be massaged, so that your baby continues to feel secure.
  • If the massage is too much for your baby, go back to the containment holds to reassure them.
  • Avoid too much stimulation at any one time, for example avoid prolonged eye contact when massaging your baby.
  • Handle your baby slowly and carefully, avoiding quick or sudden movements.
Activity

A Containment Hold for Hypersensitive Babies

Some babies may not cope with even the gentlest stroking, so before introducing the massage, start with the containment hold, which is calming and contains their positive energy.

Either with your baby lying on their back on a change mat or on your lap:

  • Gently rest a hand close to or on top of your baby’s head.
  • Rest the other hand underneath their feet.
  • Remain still and quiet in this position for two or three minutes.

Special situations

Multiple Births

Trying to incorporate baby massage into an already hectic daily routine for parents of twins or multiple births can be rather challenging, however, the following approaches will help to find a different way to achieve this.

  • It may be a good idea to involve both parents, a willing grandparent or older sibling, should the babies be ready for a massage at the same time.
  • The babies will be completely different and will display different cues, have different self-calming techniques, will enjoy different strokes and have different needs.
  • The babies may wish to be massaged at different parts of the day, for instance one may prefer to be massaged in the morning while another prefers a massage after a bath and before bedtime.

Adoption / Fostering

Touch is a universal language understood by children all over the world. Whether you are adopting from China, Romania, Russia or locally, you can express your feelings to your adopted child through touch. As this website explains throughout, positive touch communicates love, respect, safety and acceptance all essential for a healthy parent-child relationship and there is no exception for adoptive or foster parents.

Whether for a newborn baby or a slightly older child, baby massage and baby yoga can really play an important part in successful adoption and fostering. The age and individual case needs to be considered carefully but massage and yoga can help to form trusting relationships and offer adoptive parents or foster parents a way to make up for lost time through quality contact time that promotes closeness, security and love. As bonding involves all the senses, but primarily touch, baby massage can really help in the bonding process and help you and your adopted child to become accustomed to each other. And don’t forget that it will help your baby to feel nurtured and loved at a most unsettling time.

Positive touch, especially skin-to-skin contact and containment holding, can help bring a new baby closer to its adoptive/foster parents, especially when the baby will be grieving for the familiar touch, sounds or smells of their birth mother. When fostering, a gentle loving massage after visits to the birth mother in the very early days after separation can help with anxiety for both the baby and the foster parents.

Insight

Involving siblings in the yoga and massage can help the new arrival to become accustomed to all their new family members.

A Stay in Hospital

Parents whose children are admitted to hospital for investigations or surgery often feel isolated, scared and helpless, and as though they are losing control.

A gentle massage gives you the opportunity to give loving touch to your child and these anxieties will start to disappear. Massage also gives you something that you can have control of such as their care and general well-being and helps you to feel that you are able to do something positive for your child. It is so important for parents to maintain communication with their child While they are in hospital, so talking, smiling and singing nursery rhymes should be encouraged and indeed all of these can be done while massaging.

Often on special care baby units, there are specialist infant massage teachers who will show parents how to do positive touch with their baby safely. If the child is too poorly to be touched, parents may be offered the choice of learning the moves on a doll so that when their child is well enough they can then start to massage them. This also helps parents feel like they are doing something valuable for their critically ill baby and focus on something positive.

Childhood Ailments

Colds and Snuffles

A blocked nose or ‘snuffle’ is common in babies under six months old. It is usually due to normal mucus that collects in the nose which is difficult for the baby to clear. Massage can help alleviate some of the symptoms. The measures listed below may help to ease the problem.

  • Use the chest massage strokes and upper back strokes to help loosen mucus.
  • Use the face massage strokes to help loosen and drain mucus from the sinuses. If you baby is old enough to sit up and support its own head then try the face massage with them sitting up to avoid the mucus blocking their airways.
  • The Toe Rolling stroke works on the reflexology areas that correspond to the head, sinuses and teeth, so it may help to ease the congestion.

Colic, Wind and Constipation

Stomach discomfort from colic and wind can be very distressing for a baby, not to mention the parents. Tummy massage and relaxation holds can be very beneficial for a baby suffering from colic and wind.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is flaky, dry skin that looks like dandruff, or thick, oily, yellowish or brown scaling or crusting patches. Although at its worst it may not look very pleasant, it is actually quite harmless.

Most often it appears in the first few months of life, and it usually clears up on its own in about six to 12 months – although some children have it for several years.

For stubborn cases this remedy may help:

  • Using the Angel Kisses stroke, rub a small amount of pure, natural oil, such as olive oil, on your baby’s scalp and leave it on for about 15 minutes. (The oil helps to loosen dry flakes.) Take care when using olive oil as it can stain clothing.
  • Gently comb out the flakes with a fine-toothed comb or brush them out with a soft brush.
  • Wash your baby’s scalp with a gentle baby shampoo afterwards and leave the shampoo on for a minute longer before rinsing, to help neutralize the oil. Washing ensures that the oil does not clog the pores and cause the flakes to stick, which might exacerbate the situation.
Insight

This a cheap and very effective remedy that overcomes the need to buy costly chemical-based products.

Eczema and Psoriasis

Dry skin is a common complaint and is one of the key symptoms in relation to conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. If your baby or child is suffering from mild eczema or psoriasis they may benefit from regular massage with a natural vegetable oil, which will help to moisturise their skin. It will help soothe and relax your baby, which in turn may improve their condition.

In severe cases, where the skin is broken, sore and inflamed, parents should refrain from massaging the infected skin. However, unaffected areas can be massaged as it keeps the rest of the skin moisturised and will help to calm an agitated baby.

Skin consultants recommend that emollient creams that are supplied to ease the itching and dryness of eczema should be applied in a light downward sweeping movement, following the direction of the hair growth, rather like applying butter to toast. This is so that the cream does not clog the follicles and so minimizes the risk of inflammation of the hair follicles. Therefore, it is not advisable to use the emollient cream for baby massage. The routines described advise that the strokes go upwards towards the heart, working with the blood flow and the valves in the veins. In the main, this is against the direction of hair growth.

Insight

We strongly advise parents to err on the side of caution and only follow guidelines for the application of the emollient and refrain from using it with baby massage to eliminate any risk of infection.

Sleep Problems

Establishing a bedtime routine is extremely important for babies because they begin to know what to expect and start to feel secure and relaxed. Baby massage can be so beneficial in establishing this going to bed routine, for instance:

  • Bath
  • Massage with soothing music
  • Feed
  • Bedtime.

Refer to the section on restful sleep for further advice.

Teething

Teething and the appearance of their first little tooth is one of the great milestones of your baby’s development. However, while your baby may sail through teething, there is a possibility that they might find it a most painful experience, causing distress to both you and your baby.

The following remedies may offer comfort on the arrival of those first new teeth:

  • Extra hugs and cuddles will help comfort and reassure your baby if they are distressed.
  • Gentle containment holding and stroking not only helps your baby to feel secure but can stimulate hormones to help your baby deal with the pain.
  • The Toe Rolling Stroke and indeed the Finger Rolling Stroke work on the reflexology areas that correspond to the head, sinuses and teeth, so gentle massage of the hands and feet may help to ease the pain of teething.
  • Try the Nose and Cheek Stroke and follow the gum line, though take care to read your baby’s cues as this area may be too painful to touch.
  • If the area is not too swollen, lightly massage your baby’s gum with a clean finger as, for some, this can be very soothing.

Things To Remember

  • For premature babies introduce positive touch gradually before introducing massage.
  • Consider a baby’s individual needs and condition and adapt the massage so it still remains a positive experience of the baby.
  • Seek advice from a GP, a physician or paediatrician if unsure whether massage and yoga are suitable for your baby.
  • Consider inviting grandparents, relatives and siblings to help with massage and yoga sessions where there are twins or more!
  • Massage and yoga are great tools for forming and enhancing the relationship between babies and adoptive parents.
  • Massage is very useful for parents to use when a baby has a spell in hospital.
  • Massage can be extremely beneficial and can alleviate many common childhood ailments, such as colic, teething, snuffles and cradle cap.
  • Massage can improve mild symptoms of eczema providing a natural vegetable oil is used.
  • As part of an established bedtime route massage, with gentle nursery rhymes, can help with restful sleep.