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Abdominal Massage Techniques for Babies and Children

As is the case with adults, infants and young children who experience stomach upset can derive a lot of benefit from frequent stomach massages. Massaging the abdomen of infants and young children promotes good digestion, can lessen gastric upset, can soothe the muscles and nerves in the area of the massage, and it can bring comfort to the organs that are connected to the stomach and gastrointestinal tract. Aside from dietary issues such as food intolerances (or allergies), the digestive process can become interrupted as a result of significant emotional stress or tension. Abdominal aches, gas, and a feeling of bloatedness are typical reactions to a sudden increase in a feeling of stress.

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Stomach Massage for a Baby with Gastrointestinal Problems

If baby is currently having symptoms and is upset, you may try laying him or her across your lap, stomach down, then patting their back gently and repeatedly. After baby is no longer fussing, you can perform an abdominal massage. A baby who suffers from colic or colic-like symptoms can benefit greatly from regular abdominal massage. The massage can relieve symptoms, ease the strain of digestive discomfort, and even promote peaceful rest at night. Infant massage can be done daily; it provides a great way to bond with your baby. It can also be an excellent way to stimulate bowel movements that can be interrupted by stress, diet, medicines, or other health issues.

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To massage your baby’s abdomen, start when baby is quiet but alert and hasn’t just eaten. Undress baby down to a diaper and place him or her on a blanket face up. Starting at the base of the rib cage, massage abdomen in a circular, clockwise motion. Make smaller and smaller circles, gradually making your way to the navel. Next, hold baby’s knees and feet together and gently press knees up toward abdomen. Gently rotate baby’s hips a few times to one side, then to the other side. This can be helpful in releasing excess gas. Now, place your hand on baby’s tummy horizontally, rocking hand from side to side. Make gentle but firm motions, to avoid tickling infant. Cover area below navel, stopping short of pelvic region. (Note: Do not massage stomach if umbilical cord hasn’t healed completely.)

Abdominal Massage for the Older Child

Maintaining healthy eating habits and doing regular exercise are great ways to promote digestive wellness in older children. However, abdominal massage can be added as a supplementary tool, to further reduce the occurrence of stomach upset. An older child experiencing stomach pain may begin by bending over the arm rest of a couch, or by lying down, face down, and placing a pillow under their stomach. If this does not bring relief, a parent can administer an “upside-down U” massage:

  • Have child lie on their back. Pour oil on your palm and rub both palms together, to make sure your hands are warm.
  • Next, massage up the right side of the child’s stomach, then across the top of the stomach below ribcage, then down the left side. This can help move gas bubbles along the intestines.
  • You can also use firm, gentle pressure beginning under ribcage, and work clockwise making small, circular motions.
  • A circle should be completed no less than twice, but can be done a few more times. Pelvic area does not need to be massaged.

If gastrointestinal discomfort persists in either a baby or an older child, you should consult with your pediatrician, to rule out a more serious health condition.