Baby massage has so many benefits but one of the big benefits which isn’t well known is that it can help your baby’s immune system.
Dr Tiffany Field who is the founder of the Touch Institute at the University of Miami Medical School has conducted many research studies which explores the benefits of touch and how baby massage can support infants, especially pre-term infants. She found that by moving your baby’s skin, it activates the pressure receptors under the skin and this has the effect of increasing vagal activity.
What is vagal activity?
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that runs from the brain to the colon. It controls some of the muscles including the heart. When we stimulate the vagus nerve (vagal activity) it can have the positive effect of lowering the heart rate and blood pressure. When the heart rate is lowered it reduces cortisol.
The reduction of cortisol by massage leads to increased natural killer cells and natural killer cell activity. Natural killer cells, in turn, ward off viral, bacterial and cancer cells. This increases the immune system function, helping keep illness at bay.
How much pressure to massage?
It is important to note that moderate pressure is required so a light stroke will not be effective. This is why I always advise parents to massage their baby with the same pressure as if you were stroking a cat or a dog. Nobody wants to be tickled so those babies need a firm stroke which moves the skin. Staying attuned to your baby will let you know if your baby is happy with the massage. Just ensure you don’t bruise, leave finger marks or make the skin very red. A natural flush is normal.
Helping boost your baby’s immune system is just another amazing reason to massage your baby.