I can pretty much guarantee that the number one topic for any group of new parents is how much does your baby sleep! No one can really explain to an expectant parent just what sleep deprivation feels like in those early weeks/months, the sheer exhaustion of rarely sleeping more than 2 hours at a stretch and I know I’m not the only one who has longed for a night alone at a Premier Inn!
All babies are unique individuals, some love to sleep, others not so much. Some love day time naps, others can only fall asleep in the car and will jerk awake at traffic lights. According to research at Stanford University, a newborn baby ‘needs’ 16 hours sleep in every 24, split down the middle between day & night sleeps whilst a 6 month old baby ‘needs’ 14 hours, 10 at night, 4 during the day but please, always remember each baby is an individual and you are not doing anything ‘wrong’ if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night in the timescales that books tell you they will.
So will massage help? I’m not going to pretend that every single baby will miraculously sleep through the night once they’ve experienced a massage but I do, truly believe that baby massage is a fantastic skill to have in your ‘go to tool box of how to help my baby’ and after all what have you got to lose (apart from those dark rings under your eyes)?
Let’s think about what having a massage is all about. The word massage literally translates as to stroke. Have you ever had a massage yourself? If so, do you remember the zen like feeling afterwards? The heavy eyelids? Maybe you even fell asleep during it. What was the room like? Were the lights dimmed, did it smell nice and comforting? Was calming, gentle music playing? All those elements would have been intentionally chosen to relax you but they are essentially window dressing not the reason you felt relaxed, calmer and sleepier at the end.
Ready for a bit of science? When skin is stroked, an important nerve for sleep is stimulated. The Vagus nerve, also known as the wandering nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which works in opposition to the nervous system which is responsible for our fight or flight responses, think caveman versus sabre tooth tiger. If we think we are in danger, blood is sent away from our vital organs to muscles so we can run away or fight and our nervous system will produce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol which makes it impossible to sleep well. But when skin is stroked, the Vagus nerve is stimulated, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and happy, lovely, sparkly hormones like Oxytocin (also known as the love drug) are created and begin surging around your baby’s body rapidly reducing cortisol stress levels and the body returns to focusing on day to day functions such as digestion and resting.
So how does knowing this help my baby to sleep? Dim the lights, turn on your Tiddley Pom diffuser, take some deep, restorative breaths and after asking permission to massage, start gently massaging your baby. Adding this to your bedtime routine will help him/her relax and help the digestive system work more efficiently. As your hands touch his/her bare skin, both your bodies will produce Oxytocin, and stress levels will rapidly fall in you both and you will begin to feel relaxation wash over you. I promise you this will become a time of intimacy, a special time, a time to gaze into each others eyes and fall even deeper in love and by the end, I suspect you will both be ready for bed.
I’m not saying it is a guaranteed winner for 10 hours solid sleep but I can’t think of a more wonderful way of becoming sleepy and relaxed than a lovely massage accompanied by a gentle lullaby at bedtime.
But please, if you are beyond tired, ask for help. Take a break. Look after yourself. Remember you can’t pour from an empty jug
love Elizabeth x