One of the best ways to help your little one and yourself is through the use of therapeutic massage. I often suggest Tummy Massage (or to be technical, abdominal massage) to my patients and their parents. Tummy massage can be helpful in a few different ways: a gentle tummy massage for your infant can help to soothe them and also help gently stimulate their gut to move along gas that may be causing them undue pain. Older children and adult patients greatly benefit from abdominal massage to help stimulate a bowel movement when they are having issues with constipation. Constipation is generally defined as having bowel movements that are painful or difficult to pass or that are very infrequent. Please talk with your family practitioner about using abdominal massage for your children or yourself to make sure it is okay for your particular case. Abdominal massage is a very easy (and free!) way to do self-care at home for yourself and the children in your care.

How to do abdominal massage:
With firm but gentle pressure apply castor oil or edible oil (such as olive oil, sesame seed or grape seed oil) to the abdomen in clockwise circles with your flat hands. Do about 10 circles. The oil tends to absorb into the skin, but remaining oil may stain clothing. I do not suggest using non-edible oil such as mineral oil or baby oil as anything put on the skin absorbs into the body.

I use a technique called the “I Love yoU” stroke: For the “I” part of the stroke: With the fingers flat (not pokey dagger fingers, please!) stroke down from the bottom of the left ribs to the top of the left hip. Do this stroke at least 10 times. Use firm pressure, but be sure to check in with the person you are working on that the pressure is okay. Watch their face and if they are able to let you know how it feels definitely ask for feedback. I always explain exactly what I am doing to anyone I am working on, be they a few day old infant or a grownup. The sound of your voice and loving gaze will help calm your infant and the explanation will help older children and adults know what to expect.

For the “L”ove part of the stroke: Continue with flat fingers and gentle/firm pressure: stroke from the bottom of the right ribs, over to the bottom of the left ribs and then down to the top of the left hip. You have made an L shape with your stroke. Do this stroke at least 10 times. It is very important that you always work in a clockwise motion when doing abdominal massage, as this is the direction the gut works in. We are trying to move things forward, not back them up.

For the yo”U” part of the stroke: Continue with flat fingers and gentle/firm pressure: stroke from the top of the right hip up to the bottom of the right ribs, over to the bottom of the left ribs and then down to the top of the left hip. You have made a U shape with your stroke. Do this stroke at least 10 times. You might feel gas bubbles or lumpy bumps under your fingertips that are being moved along by your massage. This is what we’re going for.

Finish up with another 10 flat-handed clockwise strokes on the entire abdomen.

I like to have my patients use castor oil because it is a good lubricant for massage as well as anti-inflammatory and mildly detoxifying. You can leave the massage oil on if you like and it will absorb into the skin to continue detoxifying the body. Sesame oil is used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine to help nourish and detoxify the body. It is thought to be especially helpful for those with a Vata or more dry constitution, as is usually the case in those people with dry, constipated bowel movements.

Times when abdominal massage is not indicated:
Active infection of the gastrointestinal tract.
Immediately after abdominal surgery.
During the first trimester of pregnancy.
Abdominal aneurysm.
Cancer present in pelvic area or while undergoing chemotherapy.
If an IUD is present a much, much lighter pressure should be used over the uterus if doing abdominal massage in that area: use a feather-light touch in that area of the body.

Talk with a well-trained massage therapist or naturopathic doctor if you have any of these conditions or any other serious health condition before performing self abdominal massage. They may be able to give you alternatives to help you do self-care at home.

Please note that information here or elsewhere on this blog is strictly for educational purposes and does not constitute diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. You should always talk with your doctor about your particular health conditions and course of action.

Dr Corinne Harpster is a naturopathic pediatrician at SageMED who has fourteen years of professional experience as a massage therapist and is a certified Maya Abdominal Massage Therapist in the Arvigo Techniques. She practices in Bellevue, WA and you can contact her through Sagemed.co

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Corinne Harpster
Corinne Harpster

Dr. Harpster received her Doctoral degree in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in 2009 where she is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Botanical Medicine department. She specializes in pediatrics and is especially passionate about working with patients on the Autism spectrum. She is the head of the pediatrics department at SageMED in the Factoria area of Bellevue, WA.

Dr. Corinne lives in Kirkland with her wonderful husband and amazing daughter. She especially enjoys playing at the parks with her family, cooking nourishing, traditional whole foods, reading, and spending time in the forest and at the beach. You can reach Dr. Corinne at Sagemed.co

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