The benefits of reflexology for babies

The theory behind reflexology is that certain areas of the feet correspond to organs and systems of the body. “Proponents believe that pressure applied to these areas affects the organs and benefits the person’s health,” note experts at Mayo Clinic.

Did you know there are more than 7 000 nerve endings in the human foot? By targeting these nerve endings, a reflexologist can assist the flow of energy through the body to the areas affected by illness or stress. It should then come as no surprise that reflexology can also be extremely beneficial for your baby’s health.

With reflexology, all the nerve endings in the feet are stimulated. “This stimulation ‘awakens’ the organ and allows for better functioning. All organs in the body, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas benefit from this. There is an increase in blood circulation, ensuring a wonderful boost of oxygen and increased nutrient absorption,” explains therapeutic reflexologist, birth doula and infant massage instructor Michelle Walton.

She says reflexology is especially helpful in relieving colicky symptoms that are usually associated with an under-developed digestive system (which is present in nearly all babies at birth). “As you stimulate the digestive system reflexes on the feet, it causes the muscles to relax and releases the cramping in your baby’s digestive system. If there is any wind trapped in the colon, you will hear a lot of gurgling and sometimes your baby will expel any waste sitting in the colon,” explains Michelle. Reflexology can also help relieve teething symptoms.

ALSO SEE: Coping with colic

Reflexology vs baby massage

Michelle explains reflexology is only performed on the feet, while baby massage is performed on the entire body including your baby’s head, torso, arms and legs. With reflexology, you don’t need to remove any of your baby’s clothing, so it’s less invasive and the chances of your baby being overstimulated are slight. “An entire
reflexology treatment can be completed in five to 10 minutes, whereas a massage takes anything from 20 to 30 minutes,” says Michelle. “Often, if a baby has pain, she won’t allow you to touch that part of her body, which is why reflexology is a quick and effective modality for relieving painful symptoms.”

ALSO SEE: The benefits of baby massage for you and your baby

When can you start reflexology?

From as early as birth. Michelle says reflexology is especially helpful directly after birth – whether it was a vaginal birth or a C-section − as it helps to expel any excess fluid or mucus that is sitting in your baby’s lungs. A reflexology treatment after birth also helps to increase blood circulation immediately. “This is particularly beneficial where there is a low Apgar score and if your baby is a little blue,” says Michelle. If you had a particularly difficult birth and your little one is a little stressed, reflexology can help calm her by gently holding her solar plexus reflex. “This not only calms your baby down quickly, it also helps kick-start all those tiny organs in your baby’s body as some of them are only beginning to work now that your baby has been born – the heart being one of them, as well as the lungs,” explains Michelle.

Your step-by-step reflexology guide

  • Lie your baby down so the balls of her feet are facing you. You’ll be using the tips of your thumbs to stimulate the reflexes.
  • Begin the treatment on the right foot by relaxing and warming up your baby’s foot. You could massage the top of the foot from the toes to the ankles or use an upward “milking” action from the ankle to the tips of the toes. Whatever you do on the right foot, do on the left.
  • Start by rolling each little toe, beginning at the big toe and ending at the baby toe, from the base of the toe up to the cushion (teeth reflexes).
  • You then stimulate each little cushion with the tip of your thumb (sinuses, eyes and ear reflexes), again beginning at the big toe and ending at the baby toe. Push down on the little cushion, make a tiny circular movement with your thumb, hold it for a second and release.
  • Wrap the fingers of your left hand around your baby’s foot so they lie across the top of her foot, forefinger closest to the toes and little finger closest to the ankle. Using the tip of your thumb of your right hand, work across the ball of the foot (lung reflexes) from the inside (under the big toe) to the outside edge (under the little toe). Place your thumb on a point, press inwards into that point gently, make a tiny circular movement, hold it there for a second and then release that point. You then walk the thumb across slightly to the next point. Let your thumb walk across the entire foot. Once you have done the ball of the right foot, move to the left foot and do the same.
  • The next step is to move down the foot to work across the arch all the way to the outer edge, ending just before the heel begins (upper and lower abdominal reflexes). Once you have done the right foot, move across to the left foot.
  • Next, move down to work across the entire heel area (pelvic area and internal pelvic organ reflexes). Again, first complete the right heel before moving onto the left.
  • To work your baby’s spine, place your thumb at the base of the heel on the inside of the foot and work up over the arch of the foot, ending at the bottom of the big toe.
  • End the treatment with a little massage on each foot. Once done, take both feet in your hands, fingers across the top of the foot and thumbs free. Place your thumbs simultaneously on the solar plexus reflex point, which you’ll find by drawing an imaginary line from the second toe down, below the ball of the foot. It can also be found by gently squeezing the top of the foot inward. Find this “little dimple space” in each foot and gently stimulate the reflex for about five seconds. This will allow your baby to relax deeply and let go. Put all your love into this final massage, ensuring the two of you share a deeply relaxing, loving experience.

What should you focus on?

“During the treatment, focus on the area of the foot that relates to the area in your baby’s body that is presenting with symptoms,” recommends Michelle. “For example, if your baby is struggling with colic, concentrate on working the lower abdominal and pelvic reflexes a little more than the rest of the foot. When doing your final foot massage, massage those areas to stimulate them even further,” she says.

Handy tips for parents:

Michelle has the following tips and advice for moms wanting to try reflexology at home:

  • Ensure your nails are short so you don’t hurt your baby.
  • For your first few tries, begin the treatment while your baby is in a good mood. This is usually after a sleep and feed.
  • Your pressure should be gentle, yet a little firm. It may hurt if your baby is not well, so trust your instinct and lighten your pressure.
  • Make this time fun and special if you’re going to incorporate reflexology into your daily routine.
    Work quickly and calmly if you’re using the routine to help relieve symptoms that are causing your baby discomfort. Your baby may fuss or cry. Gently chat to her and let her know you’re trying to help her.
  • Doing the treatment during times of illness is a great way to help her get well faster.
  • There are no harmful side effects to baby reflexology, so try it and experiment by adjusting the treatment to suit you. If you’re stimulating the entire foot, you’re doing great!
  • Sing nursery rhymes like “This Little Piggy” to help keep your baby calm and engaged during the treatment.
  • The treatment should be no longer than five to 10 minutes depending on what your baby will allow. If she seems to be enjoying it, carry on.
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