The Best Time for Yoga and Massage

In this article you will learn:

  • When is the best time to do massage and yoga
  • How to understand what your baby is telling you
  • Whether your baby is saying “yes” to yoga and massage
  • When not to do massage and yoga with your baby

How old should a baby be before massage and yoga can be introduced?

Positive touch, holding and containment are wonderful tools for parents to use in the first few weeks of their baby’s life, when massage and yoga may be far too stimulating for the newborn, particularly as they feel touch on their skin more intensely than an older child (the touch receptors are tightly packed together in the newborn and disperse with age) and their early experiences are multi-sensory (for example, they ‘see’ sounds and ‘hear’ colour). Also, they need time to adjust to their new environment.

Generally, a good time to introduce the massage and yoga routines is after a baby has had their six-week health check. Although a six week-old baby may still be quite sensitive to over-stimulation, they are at least becoming familiar with their surroundings at this stage and are more likely to be able to enjoy massage and yoga.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce massage to your baby at all during the first few weeks. As massage can greatly help alleviate colic, you may wish to try the colic routine with your baby. The yoga holds are also useful for helping to calm a newborn baby. These are not too stimulating and will give you the opportunity to gently introduce yoga to your young baby.

What time of day is the best time to do baby massage and yoga?

Because babies naturally go through six different states of consciousness many times during the day, there will be occasions in the day when your baby will be more receptive to having a massage or doing some yoga exercises. By understanding these states, it becomes easier to anticipate when your baby might be ready to have a massage, or do some yoga.

The six different states of consciousness are as follows:

  • A deep sleep state is when a baby’s eyes are firmly closed: breathing is deep and regular with no arm or leg movement.  This is a time when the baby needs to rest as it gives them time to rest and grow.
  • A light sleep state is when the baby’s eyes are firmly closed but eyelid movement can be seen. The baby may twitch a little and their breathing is likely to be irregular and shallow.
  • A drowsy state is when the baby is just beginning to awaken from their sleep. Their eyes may be open, but with a dazed appearance. There breathing is regular but faster and shallower than when they are asleep.
  • An alert, awake state is when the baby is relatively quiet and seems able to focus on a person or an object. The sights and sounds around them are likely to produce a response; in this state a baby can be very enjoyable for parents. The baby will be responsive to the voice of its parents and is more likely to respond to singing and having fun during this time.
  • An alert, but fussy state is when a baby is possibly going to cry, but is not actually crying as yet. They may be soothed or brought to a calmer state by an attractive stimulus. If the stimulus is too much, they may become fussy and then start crying. This would not be a good time to start massage or do some yoga if your baby was not used to the routines and did not know how they felt about these activities. However, after a baby has become accustomed to massage and yoga, and understands that they enjoy this time, it might be possible to suggest massage or yoga to a baby while in this state, which may help calm them.
  • Crying is the sixth state and allows a baby the chance to release tension. It is their way of signalling an urgent need. Crying is often a sign that a baby is hungry, in pain, bored, in some discomfort or tired. It is generally the most effective way to get a parent’s attention.
Insight

An alert, awake state is a good time to see if a baby is happy to have a massage or do some yoga.

Understanding why babies cry

Crying is the way in which babies communicate their distress and their need for attention. Crying is a baby’s genuine request for help, and not a way of manipulating its parents to give them undue attention. When crying, a baby is hoping to receive a response from their parent, so that their distress can be alleviated. The uneasy feeling that crying causes a parent is as natural as the crying itself; we are designed to respond to our baby’s cry and not to ignore it.

If an adult is ignored they can either raise their voice until they are heard or perhaps rephrase what they have said. However, if they are repeatedly ignored they may give up trying and become withdrawn, feeling quite dejected. Babies react in the same way: if ignored they cry louder, if continually ignored they eventually withdraw into themselves and do not try to communicate how helpless they feel. Eventually they will lower their expectations of care, and of themselves – believing that they are not worthy of more attention.

It can be difficult for parents to understand what their baby is trying to say to them when they are crying, but in time this becomes easier and parents begin to recognise what the different cries mean. There are eight main causes of crying:

  • Hunger
  • Tiredness
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Loneliness
  • Over-stimulation
  • Under-stimulation
  • Frustration
Insight

If your baby’s cries for help are consistently met in a sensitive way they will begin to cry less as they learn to trust that you understand and are there to help and comfort them when they need you.

Hunger

If a baby is hungry, the crying will normally stop when they are offered food. If a baby has been left to cry for sometime and has worked itself into a highly emotional state, the baby may need to be calmed before they will accept food. It is important to remember that when a baby experiences the feeling of hunger it happens quickly. It is a sensation that can distress a baby to them it is a survival instinct.

Tiredness

Many babies cry just before they go to sleep and on waking again. When a baby cries before dropping off to sleep they can feel out of sorts, irritated and often do not want to give in to it. A baby’s sleep cry tells the parent that the baby needs to be helped to go to sleep. This does not necessarily mean that they want to be cuddled to sleep just that they may need assistance in accessing their own ability to self-calm.

Pain

If adults hurt themselves they are often very verbal in their reaction, but it is rare that they resort to crying. A baby is quick to cry with any pain and there is a good reason why. A baby cannot assess how badly it is hurt; it cannot distinguish between a small bruise or a more serious injury. In order to protect themselves, babies cry in order to bring the parent to their aid and so that the cause of their pain can be assessed and the appropriate action taken. A baby’s cry of pain is hard to ignore because it tends to be loud, sharp and intense: a baby with colic is a good example.

Discomfort

If a baby is uncomfortable, wet or dirty, they may cry. The cry is milder and lacks the sharpness of the pain cry but is designed so as not to be ignored.

Loneliness

Sometimes a baby will cry if they feel lonely. They may simply want to be close to someone special and have a cuddle. Even the smallest of babies are sociable and want to be with other people who are most familiar to them, in particular their Mum. Parents that take time to be with their baby are helping to make them feel secure and confident. This helps to make them feel loved and believe that they are loveable.

Over-Stimulation

Too much light, sound or activity can make a baby cry. Over-stimulation is a form of sensory pain where a baby’s eyes, ears or general nervous system are suffering from too much input. Overpowering smells can also trigger a reaction. The situations that we, as adults, have become conditioned to tolerate can be too much for a baby. As able adults we can remove ourselves from an intolerable situation, a baby cannot.

Under-Stimulation

Boredom can become a problem with older babies, particularly when they are over six months old. Crying during this stage may be from boredom, so it is important to vary your baby’s environment by providing access to colours, shapes, textures and sounds in order to stimulate the senses.

Frustration

This can be a problem with older babies who find their clumsiness or lack of mobility a barrier to reaching their goal. If they try to do something and fail, they may start to cry as a way of getting Mum or Dad’s help, so that they can achieve what they wanted to do. For example, a baby may cry with frustration until they master a new skill, such as crawling and walking.

 

Insight

Take time to watch your baby so you begin to notice what sort of things they do before they start to cry.

Take time to listen to your baby so that you begin to notice the different types of cry they make, which will help you become aware of whether they are hungry or tired, etc.

Understanding what your baby is telling you

Your baby will tell you how they are feeling and What they want by using ‘non-verbal cues’. There is no ‘recipe’ of cues all babies are individual and will have different ways of telling their parents What they want. Sometimes the cues will be very positive and your baby will let you know how happy they are. Other times, your baby will not be happy and Will use negative cues to show you how they feel.

Positive Cues

When a baby wants to communicate with someone they might:

  • Be still
  • Gaze at a face
  • Reach out to the person
  • Turn their head and eyes towards the person
  • Smile
  • Coo
  • Use gentle movements of the arms and legs
  • Have bright, wide open eyes
  • Look alert and awake, bright and responsive

Negative Cues

When a baby wants a break or a rest they will disengage and withdraw. They might:

  • Turn away
  • Cry
  • Become fussy
  • Cough
  • Hiccup
  • Yawn
  • Wrinkle their forehead
  • Arch their back
  • Fall asleep
  • squirm
  • Kick and pull away
  • Have mottled skin

Is your baby saying ‘yes’ to massage and yoga?

When you are deciding whether your baby is saying ‘yes’ to massage or yoga, it is important to think about their non-verbal cues, so that you can decide if it is a good time for them or not. Positive cues are more likely to indicate that your baby is saying ‘yes’ to massage or yoga; and the negative cues are probably a sign that it is not the right time for your baby, and they are saying ‘no’ to the activity.

Sometimes you might find it difficult to know whether your baby is saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, particularly when their non-verbal cues are quite subtle and if you have not given it any thought before. Do not worry, this understanding will come in time, and you will find that if you have not understood what your baby is saying immediately, they will give out even stronger cues, making it quite clear how they are feeling.

During the massage and yoga routines it is vital that your baby is happy, in order for them to learn that these activities are fun and that when they say ‘no’ to massage or yoga, they are heard, listened to, and their feelings are respected. If a baby’s ‘no’ cues are ignored, they will believe they do not have a voice and that their feelings are not worthy of attention. Also, babies that are not listened to often become withdrawn and generally less responsive.

You will probably find that when your baby is in an alert, awake state during the day, they are more likely to say ‘yes’ to massage or yoga, because they are keen to play and have fun with you during these periods. Many babies enjoy a massage just before or after a bath you might find this also fits in with your routine. However, your baby may become quite excited after massage and in particular yoga, so it may be that first thing in the morning is better for you both. What is important is that it is right for your baby and you, so that massage and yoga are thoroughly enjoyable experiences.

When is it not a good time to do massage and yoga with your baby?

It is important to avoid doing massage and yoga with your baby if they:

  • Are asleep, tired, hungry, crying or fretful, because these are all ‘no’ cues.
  • Are unwell, or have a raised temperature. Their immune system will need to be left to deal with the problem and not be over stimulated by massage or yoga.
  • Have an infectious skin condition, because this may aggravate the infected area. The most common skin infections in children are impetigo and ringworm. It is best to refrain from massage and skin-to-skin contact as there is a risk of cross-infection.
  • Are suffering from bruising, sprains or a fracture. It is advisable to refrain from massage until the injuries have healed completely and the swelling has gone down. It may be possible for the unaffected areas to be massaged, but yoga may cause pain and should be avoided until the baby is well again.
  • Have open, weeping wounds and rashes or have an unhealed navel. Breaks in the skin may become infected if massaged and this might cause discomfort and pain.
  • Are suffering from jaundice, as their liver is most likely not functioning as it should. Refrain from massage and yoga until the liver is functioning correctly.
  • Have received vaccinations within the previous three days. Vaccinations have an impact on the immune system, as vaccines trigger the immune system to produce antibodies in a similar manner to that of the actual disease. Because massage and yoga are stimulating and have an impact on the immune system, it is necessary to have a break from these activities, so that your baby’s body is not overloaded or overstimulated while it is trying to deal with the vaccinations given.
  • Have been diagnosed with brittle bone disease. The bones children suffering from this disease can be so brittle that they break with normal handling.

Generally, after surgery, refrain from massaging the affected area for at least eight weeks to allow the wound to heal. However other areas of your baby’s body could be massaged once they have recovered from having an operation. Only massage the unaffected areas once your baby has been given the all clear by the surgeon or GP. It is advisable to avoid yoga until the wound is completely healed. As yoga is quite dynamic, the wound may be affected by many of the exercises.

 

Insight

It is advisable to check with your baby’s GP or consultant, before commencing massage and yoga, if your baby has any medical condition and/or has undergone recent surgery.