What is the best age for Baby Massage?
Gentle baby massage can be done from any age. Many Eastern cultures use massage for babies right from birth and in countries like India, massage often forms a strong part in baby's daily routine as it is understood to promote growth and resilience. Certainly, skin to skin contact soothes newborns and encourages bonding between parent and child; and most mothers instinctively stroke and caress their babies. Nothing is lovelier for a new Mum than snuggling with her newborn and gently stroking their downy head and soft cheeks, or circling their palms with her thumb whilst holding a tiny, sleepy-person's hand in her own. Whilst these actions release relaxation hormones in to both baby and parent, if you think about the mechanics of them, they also constitute a form of massage.
What is the best age for baby massage CLASSES?
NOTE: This is an entirely different question!
In my opinion, from about 8 weeks to crawling.
Newborn skin is extremely fragile and easily damaged. Even a few repetitive manipulations causing skin tautness can result in soreness and damage. Applying oils to newborn skin to reduce friction (which to my horror I have seen advocated on some websites) is something to most definitely avoid until at least 6 weeks old when the skin has adjusted to dry conditions outside of the womb and formed its naturally protective barrier. Consider also the risk of spreading infection from one area of skin to another (eg in cases where the umbilical cord stump is taking a while to heal), particularly if attending a class in public areas used by many other people.
In the UK, most babies have a 6 Week Check at which they are medically assessed by a GP. This check is useful in ruling out conditions like hip dysplasia which would be exacerbated by certain parts of a baby massage routine, and I always strongly recommend waiting until after this check (which of course may not be scheduled dot-on 6 weeks) if you have any concerns whatsoever about your baby's health or development.
So from a heath and safety angle, I always advise waiting until baby is at least 6 weeks old before joining any class, but I actually set my own classes' minimum intake age to 8 weeks. On one level this is a bit like shooting myself in the foot financially, given that the Baby Massage 'market' time-frame is so very short and by 6 weeks many Mums are keen to start getting in to an external routine with baby in tow and baby massage classes are often a first port of call... But, I do this to ensure absolutely that baby's skin is mature enough for oil and (perhaps most importantly) because in my experience, 6 and 7 week old babies simply do not cope well with all the stimulation experienced in a class.
Babies cope much more readily after 8 weeks with a class environment as there is a huge developmental leap in that very short time frame when sleeping and eating patterns become slightly more predictable, and (again this is speaking generally) babies become yet more relaxed in lessons at about 3-4 months old. A more relaxed baby tends to have a more relaxed Mum, and let's face it, Mums of young babies need all the relaxation-boosts they can get. Yes, I 'could' run classes full of tiny 6 week old babies who become over-stimulated and cause anxiety for their Mums, but I choose not to do that because as a professional massage therapist, I believe it is entirely the wrong approach, both in terms of helping new Mums and in terms of fostering a love of massage.
And so, what about an upper age limit for classes? Before a baby is crawling around, it is obviously much easier for Mum to follow the lesson. Although many babies are already proficiently rolling over in class (which usually solicits a round of applause!) massage can continue easily after the roll; but if an oily baby crawls off at speed, slippery-handed mum may have difficulty in taking back control comfortably. Having said this, if a parent has a crawling baby and personally feels confident about massaging 'around' their baby's activity and if she does not mind that they might not get as much massage done as perhaps they thought, them coming along to class is absolutely fine with me.
Finally, what about an upper age limit for baby massage?
It might get more tricky as baby becomes more mobile, but absolutely, don't stop massaging! Find other techniques and ways to sooth and establish physical contact with your child. It is entirely natural that as your child grows that they move through phases of what they will accept and tolerate in terms of massage, but the benefits of massage continue to be felt at all ages, so it is well worth persisting, even if they seem to 'go off' it once they become mobile. Do try again a few weeks later, even if it is just an 'In the Night Garden' style palm-circling whilst sending them off to sleep each night.