Parents told to massage babies for good night's sleep
Parents who want to ensure their newborn baby sleeps at night should try giving their child a massage.
Researchers have found it can be as good as rocking at lowering stress levels in infants, helping them sleep better and cry less.
It can also promote and strengthen the bonds between parents and their new baby.
They concluded that massage could be a useful technique for parents who want to find ways to improve their babies' sleep and ability to relax.
Infant massage has traditionally been used in some parts of the world including Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union.
It is also increasingly being recommended to UK parents in antenatal or special baby massage classes.
Typically it involves gently touching the baby's body, from the head right down to the toes, while looking tenderly into the child's eyes.
The pressure should only be very gentle and range from simple touching through to gentle movement of the muscles under the surface of the skin.
A team of researchers from Warwick Medical School and the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick wanted to see what effect the massage had on the baby.
Angela Underdown, who led the research, looked at nine different studies covering 598 babies all under one year old.
In each case the parents giving the massage had been trained by health workers.
Overall the research showed infants benefited from massage as they tended to cry less, sleep better and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to those who did not receive massages.
The researchers also found that massage built better relationships between babies and mothers who had postnatal depression.
One of the studies compared massage to rocking and it found no significant difference between the two methods of soothing infants.
Dr Underdown said more studies comparing the two methods would therefore be needed in order to prove which was better.
However, she said the findings of the research did show that massage can benefit babies.
"There are indications that infants who were massaged were more relaxed, probably due to lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol compare to infants who did not receive massage," she said.
"One of the studies also suggests that massage may help in aiding infants' sleeping patterns."
"None of the studies that we examined recorded any detrimental effects of infant massage."
"As there are indications that infant massage may have an effect on sleep and crying this would seem a useful technique that parents can use with their babies to help them relax and promote sleep."
She advised parents who were wanting to learn it to try to attend a local group where they can learn the techniques from midwives or health visitors.
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