If you press here…
It won’t hurt anymore
Colic, teething, earache, it’s not always easy for your baby. Baby reflexology can offer a solution; relieving symptoms by simply massaging your baby’s feet. Journalist Jeanine Hoekstra and her daughter try it out.
Just after giving birth to my daughter Nora I hear of something called “foot reflexology” for babies. It is supposed to bring relief to all sorts of baby ailments as well as improve the bond with your baby. Considering how Nora’s older brother Sjors had cried a lot during the first months of his life due to colic and reflux, I am immediately interested. If there’s anything I can do to make Nora’s first months easier to deal with, I want to give it a try.
Massive poo diaper
I get in contact with Floor Tuinstra. She is the first person in the Netherlands to offer a baby reflexology course for parents. Seeing the positive results after treating a seven month old boy from a friend of hers gave her the idea to also apply reflexology to other babies. In this case the baby had difficulties defecating, but after a foot massage from Floor he produced a huge poo diaper within half an hour and afterwards he never had problems anymore with his poo. Floor started to treat more babies and noticed her massages were having an effect. She started looking for information and found a course in Great Britain where baby reflexology was already more commonly known.
Usually Floor organizes three get-togethers for groups to teach them the techniques of baby reflexology but on request I can get one of one and a half hour.
Nora has a perfect timing: just before Floor arrives she’s had a drink. She is awake and satisfied so we can start right away. First I have to rub my hands and make contact with Nora. According to Floor, I have to ask her if I can massage her feet. That’s fine but Nora is only 8 weeks old and she can’t talk yet so how do I know if Nora is ok with it? Floor: “Sometimes babies will start to kick or cry, or pull their feet back. That is a sign they are not in the mood”. Nora is calmly looking around while I hold her feet, therefore Floor concludes that she will be okay with it.
Baby reflexology starts with the assumption that the feet consist of different zones which are in contact with other parts of the body such as the digestive tract, the ears or the nose. By treating a specific point on the feet you can relieve issues in that body part. With reflexology for adults there can be quite a bit of pressure applied on the different zones of the feet, but with babies it’s a matter of softly touching with your index finger and thumb. Doesn’t it itch a lot, all that massaging on their little feet? According to Floor most babies actually like the feeling and makes them relaxed. “If you think your baby has itchy feet you can try to apply a bit more pressure; it’s less ticklish that way and more of a massage.”
The foot map for babies is less detailed than those for adults. I learn that I can treat the heel to make my baby sleep better and that the area for colic and constipation is right beneath the middle of the foot. If a tooth is coming through, I have to massage the top of the toes. Despite the foot map I have difficulties finding the right spot. My fingers seem enormous on those mini baby feet. Won’t I press the wrong spot and stimulate the wrong body part? Floor comforts me. She compares it to walking on cobblestones: by having the whole length of your foot make contact with all those different shapes and sizes does not mean that every organ in your body will all of a sudden get activated. To make the massage a bit easier you can use oil. “Preferably an unperfumed organic oil such as sunflower oil. Because baby reflexology is also a way to improve the bond with your baby, smell also plays an important role. Scented massage oils will disturb that process,” Floor explains.
An advantage of baby reflexology according to Floor is that you can easily do it in between other tasks: “Those little feet are easy to get hold of and a massage only lasts a little bit; so even in line at the supermarket you can try it out to relax your baby”. That is also the experience of Hilary, mother of Vera and Dominique (1), who followed the course with Floor when her twins were 6 months old. “Sometimes I take their feet during feeding or reading to them. Especially when they are over stimulated or teething; I can easily comfort them in such a moment.”
A few days later I give it a try and it turns out not to be that simple. The day before Nora received her first vaccinations, and she is clearly still a bit upset. So much so that she doesn’t really feel like having a foot massage at all: she immediately starts to cry. I decide to comfort her and try it again later. Floor also advises to “not continue with the massage to your baby when she lets you know she’s not in the mood. If she starts to cry, it’s better to just pick her up and comfort her and try again when she is more relaxed and calm”.
I have received a folder from Floor which contains several exercises to practice, ranging from 2 to 5 minutes. For example: there is a massage to calm your baby and one which I can try when Nora has a cold. Maps of different colours and symbols are displayed to indicate different zones. The first couple of times I am scrolling back and forth a lot through the pages but after a couple of days I have the exercises in my head. I keep finding it hard to find the right areas: as soon as I have my finger on the right spot, Nora starts to move and I lose the position.
As of yet there is no scientific evidence explaining how baby reflexology works, but parents who have used it certainly notice results. Hilary and her husband apply foot reflexology daily. “It has become a part of our bed ritual: each evening before going to sleep we each take a child and massage their feet. We notice they become calmer and fall asleep more easily. It has come to a point in the meantime that they already relax as soon as we touch their feet.” Hilary also massages the feet of her twins when they have pain from teething. “After a massage they appear more relaxed and don’t go looking obsessively for something to bite in order to soothe the pain.”
Also Mariëlle who took the course is enthusiastic about the techniques she learned from Floor. She took the course together with her dad, who babysits her son Siem (9 months) once a week. She already started noticing the first effects during the course: “Siem was beginning to suffer from an eye infection so Floor then began to treat the area that is in contact with the eyes. The day after it seemed to have worsened, but what this did was to allow the infection to pass away quicker then it usually would. A day later it was completely gone”. Mariëlle also uses the foot massages to make Siem sleep better. “If I treat the areas on his feet that connect with sleeping and comforting, he clearly sleeps better.”
According to Floor the feet are especially suitable for treatment because they don’t store any traumas. At first I find that this sounds rather vague, but Floor explains: “An intense experience such as a vacuum pump delivery or a fall from a commode can be stored as tension on a baby’s body. As a result they may not feel comfortable being touched in the area where the tension is stored, for example their head. With the feet you don’t usually have that”. Floor adds that you shouldn’t try to solve medical problems with reflexology. “It is meant to offer relief with frequently occurring symptoms such as colic, reflux, constipation, ear-ache or teething. For the treatment of medical problems afflicting your baby, reflexology is not suitable; in such cases it is better to visit your GP.”
Besides that first time, Nora likes and enjoys my feet massages a lot. She makes a lot of eye contact and produces many cute laughs. She probably likes the touch, but my second child also happens to be a very happy and satisfied baby. I ask myself how I can best apply baby reflexology in her case. She never has colic, she sleeps well, and since my breasts are not overflowing with milk anymore, she also doesn’t suffer from reflux any longer. I therefore decide to focus on using the relaxing techniques and not the treatments for specific body parts.
“Not a problem,” Floor thinks. “One of the goals of baby reflexology is to strengthen the bond between a parent and child. By massaging Nora’s feet you and her also end up producing the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is also called the trust or love hormone: it helps the bonding between a parent and child. It’s also good for Nora’s brain development: children that produces oxytocin from a young age, also produce more oxytocin at a later age when they are being touched and that helps them cope better with stress. This is why I mainly use baby reflexology. The massages are a moment of exclusive attention for each other, especially when there is also an already active toddler at home; such moments with your baby can be hard to find.”
Suddenly, though, Nora gets a heavy cold and can hardly breathe through her nose, with a few restless nights as a result. I recall that there is an exercise that treats the nose so I start with that.
I don’t know if it is a coincidence or directly because of the massage, but the next day Nora’s nose is unblocked and she can breathe normally again.
With Nora baby reflexology hasn’t performed miracles yet, but I keep Floor’s folder for the moment the first teeth will come through. It is a comforting idea to be able to try something when an ailment shows up without having to administer some kind of medicine. Until the first teeth will start to show, Nora and I simply will continue to enjoy the relaxing exercises.
An article from ‘Ouders van Nu’, edition number 3 of 2015 (18th of February) written by Jeanine Hoekstra.