Baby Massage & Baby Yoga – The Why, the What and the Which one by Rachel at Pregnancy and Parenthood

The Why: Why should I consider baby massage or baby yoga over other baby classes?

Babies are born communicating and with an emotional need for connection. Even moments after birth, babies pay attention to the rhythm, movement and facial expressions of the people caring for them, trying to read meaning from their actions. Our tiny humans look to their caregivers for information to learn about the world around them, for reassurance and comfort during stressful episodes. The feedback they receive and the response to their own communication attempts, shape their developing brain as they learn who is in tune with their needs and who they can relax around.

For healthy human relationships to develop we do not need to be connected all of the time. However, it is increasingly recognised, that in modern society babies are spending less and less time in a connected state with their primary caregiver. There are many reasons why this might be the case, (which goes beyond this blog) but providing parents with opportunities to connect with their babies and nurture their relationship is what baby massage and baby yoga can do so beautifully.

Modern science demonstrates how a baby’s brain lights up in response to the sound, sight and touch of its mother alone. Therefore in the early months of development, there is no better plaything than a mother’s affection. Never again will this be the case as our baby’s attention quickly turns to the outside world, toys and other beings. Therefore in these early weeks and months of life, babies do not need to be stimulated they need to be connected. Time at home “just being”, skin-to-skin contact, baby wearing and responsive cue based care are to name just a few things that can be done in the early few days and weeks to start these connections. However there is a time when getting out and about with a newborn is also an important part of building on the mother-baby relationship. Finding a comfortable setting, where you feel able to continue forming a loving and caring relationship with your baby within a group is important and taking those initial steps out in a new motherly role should not be underestimated.

The What: What do baby massage and baby yoga classes look like?

Baby massage and yoga are both activities you do with your baby; they involve proximity, communication, touch and trust and can help build parent-baby interactions and confidence. Under the right guidance and instruction baby massage and baby yoga should be graded to your baby’s state of arousal and their sensory threshold. By encouraging the reading of and responding to your baby’s attempts to communicate and by watching and waiting as new experiences are introduced the subtle signs of disengagement and over-stimulation should not be missed. Baby massage and yoga both work with a baby’s natural development to gently unravel a baby and gradually allow them to experience the world in new ways. They are also activities that can be repeated at home without equipment and adapted as infants grow and their needs change.

Yet despite their many similarities, a baby massage course would look very different to a baby yoga course. Baby massage involves undressing babies to maximise skin to skin contact and the release of the bonding and attachment hormone oxytocin.   In yoga, babies remain fully clothed. Baby massage uses physical strokes against the skin to provide stimulation, relief and relaxation, where yoga uses more postures and movement to gain the same benefits. In baby massage, the baby is certainly emotionally engaged and participating but physically more passive, whereas in yoga babies are more physically active and alert.

The Which one: I see you run baby massage and baby yoga classes, which one would be best for me and my baby?

At Pregnancy and Parenthood we often talk about baby massage and yoga as a natural continuum with each other and in week 5 of our baby massage programme we start introducing the gentle movements associated with baby yoga. We believe that if parents like the principles of one, they will more than likely enjoy the atmosphere and benefits of the other. Our suggestion is that baby massage can be introduced earlier when babies are more passive and are slowly accommodating to the world around them. Baby yoga can then build on these sensory experiences and offer more movement, proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation at a point appropriate to their behavioural and physical development. Baby massage can be started from birth; however we find most mothers are ready to start around 6-8 weeks of age. We suggest not looking to start baby yoga until babies have reached at least 10 weeks of age as this is when babies become more awake and alert and at Pregnancy and Parenthood we feel families will benefit most from the class. We never combine classes as each course has its own structure that builds on itself week on week to ensure babies are ready at each stage to progress and to prevent overstimulation.

So to summarise our baby classes provide parents with opportunities to connect with their babies whilst nurturing their emotional and physical development. Our courses are always small to allow the babies time and space and to promote a relaxing environment. Whilst baby massage and baby yoga have many of the same principles, classes look very different and will provide different experiences and skills. Which one parents choose to undertake is a personal choice but why not enjoy them both?

To find out more about baby massage and yoga the Pregnancy and Parenthood team are running a workshop at the spring 2018 Parent and Baby Show. This workshop will give you the opportunity to see for yourself the differences and similarities between the classes. We are also offering an exclusive PABS show discount when you book onto both courses at our hub and Baby Centre in Hethersett – valid for courses starting in May and June subject to availability.

Written by Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapist Rachel Pailes who has a specialist interest in newborn and infant development. Rachel is part of the Pregnancy and Parenthood team based from Rowan House Health and Wellbeing Centre in Hethersett, where she teaches Infant Massage and offers developmental assessments and treatment. To find out more about their team and their services follow them on Facebook @pregnancyandparenthoodnorwich or go to their website pregnancyandparenthood.co.uk