Babies are known for being adorable and cuddly, but they’re also a lot of work! Massaging your baby is an easy way to provide some much-needed relief.
Some studies have shown that babies who receive massages from their parents tend to be more content and cry less.
Plus, the added benefit is that you’ll get a chance to bond with your little one.
You’re not the only one who craves a soothing body rub now and then. Babies also find a gentle laying on of hands very relaxing — and even therapeutic.
That’s because of the five senses, touch is one of the most developed at birth, and there’s research to suggest that infant massage has enormous benefits for helping babies grow and thrive.
Not sure where to start? We’ve put together a handy guide on the benefits and techniques. It’ll teach you all you need to know about baby massages.
Bonding Through Baby Massage
Baby massages are a great way to bring you and your little one closer. Trust and communication development as you interact with your baby.
Your calming touch will make your baby feel loved and cared for, too.
Your baby will also feel relaxed during a massage. Anecdotal reports suggest this relaxation may help improve their sleep, but more research is needed.
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The Health Benefits of Baby Massage
According to the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), baby massage may help to stimulate the circulatory and digestive systems. This might, in turn, help some babies with conditions such as:
Massages may also help ease muscular tension, growing pains, and teething discomfort and stimulate growth in preterm infants.
However, a Cochrane systematic review found little evidence for these reported benefits. More research is needed to support these claims.
If your baby has any health issues, you should speak with their doctor first to decide if you should massage your baby.
How can infant massage benefit your little one?
It may help ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, boost his muscle development, calm him when he’s fussy, and soothe him to sleep.
But the advantages don’t stop there: All that stroking and touching make it easier for you to bond with your newborn.
What’s more, giving your baby a massage can help you find your own inner Zen, too (and who can argue with that?).
You can start these gentle massages the day you bring your baby home. Or you can encourage your partner to try their hand at infant massage — a good opportunity for bonding.
When to Start Baby Massage
The IAIM suggests that parents introduce touch as soon as the baby is born.
Many moms and dads love to do so by placing their baby on their chest, bare skin to bare skin.
This is known as skin-to-skin care or kangaroo care. While you’re holding your baby close, gradually start stroking their legs and back. Then move on to other areas such as the arms.
After the first few weeks of birth, you can begin massaging your baby. However, make sure to follow your baby’s mood.
Your baby should be calm, alert, and content when you’re ready to give them a message. Never perform any massage technique that seems to make your baby uncomfortable.
It’s not the best time for a massage when your baby turns their head away from you or stiffens their arms.
Wait at least 45 minutes after feeding. Performing a baby massage too soon after they eat can cause vomiting.
How Often to Perform Baby Massage?
How often you massage your baby depends on you and your baby. Some parents give their baby massages daily, while other parents massage their little ones every other day.
You can massage your baby during the morning to get the day going or at night before bedtime to help soothe your baby to sleep. Pay attention to your baby’s cues to help determine the best massage routine.
Techniques for Massaging Your Baby
Here are some tips and techniques that will help you and your baby make the most massage time.
Daily infant massage is a great way to bond with a baby.
What’s more, researchers are finding that massage may promote better sleeping, relieve colic, and perhaps even enhance an infant’s immune system, motor skills, and intellectual development.
Here are some tips and techniques to help you along.
Use a blanket or towel, and massage oil in a non-breakable container. (Test the oil on a small spot of your baby’s skin and wait a day to be sure no irritation appears.)
Start when your baby is in a calm yet alert state — not immediately after a feeding or when she’s sleepy.
Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together, forming a diamond shape with your legs. Drape the blanket over your feet and between your knees.
Undress your baby down to her diaper and place her on the blanket, cradling her head on your feet.
Start with a gentle “hello” stroke from the baby’s head to her toes. If the baby stiffens, cries, or becomes irritable, move to another body part or end the massage for the day.
If she responds well, start gently massaging her body section by section.
Hold your hand so your pinky’s edge can move like a paddle across your baby’s belly.
Starting at the base of the rib cage, stroke down with one hand, then the other, in a paddle-wheel-like motion.
Massage her abdomen with your fingertips in a circular, clockwise motion.
Do the “I Love U” stroke: Trace the letter I down your baby’s left side. Then trace an inverted L, stroking across the belly along the base of her ribs from her right side to her left and down.
Trace an inverted U, stroking from low on the baby’s right side, up and around the navel, and down the left side.
Walk your fingers around her navel clockwise.
Hold knees and feet together and gently press knees up toward her abdomen. Rotate the baby’s hips around a few times to the right. (This often helps expel gas.)
Place your hand on the tummy horizontally and rock your hand from side to side a few times.
Note: Avoid massaging the tummy if the cord hasn’t completely healed.
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Head and Face
Cradling your baby’s head in both hands, massage the scalp with your fingertips as if you’re shampooing. (Avoid the fontanel, the soft spot on top of the baby’s head.)
Massage her ears between your thumb and index finger.
Trace a heart shape on your baby’s face, bringing your hands together at the chin. Place your thumbs between your baby’s eyebrows, and stroke out.
Again with your thumbs, stroke gently out over the baby’s closed eyelids. Stroke from the bridge of the nose out over the cheeks. Using your fingertips, massage the jaw in small circles.
Place both hands on your baby’s chest and stroke outward from her sternum to her shoulders.
At her sternum, trace a heart shape bringing both hands up to her shoulders, then down and back together.
In a crisscross pattern, stroke diagonally from one side of your baby’s hip, up and over the opposite shoulder, and back down to her hip.
With one hand, hold the baby’s wrist. Relax her upper arm by tapping it lightly.
Hold her wrist with one hand and hold your other hand in a C-shape around the baby’s upper arm; stroke from her shoulder down to her wrist.
With each hand grasping her arm, one right above the other, stroke down from shoulder to wrist with both hands rotating in opposite directions, as if you were gently wringing a towel.
Massage her palm, moving thumb over thumb from the heel of her hand to her fingers.
Stroke down the top of the hand from wrist to fingertips. Gently squeeze and pull each finger. Massage her wrist by moving her fingers in small circles.
Roll her arm between both your hands.
Place the baby on the tummy horizontally in front of you, or lay her across your outstretched legs. Keep her hands in front of her, not at her sides.
With both of your hands on the baby’s back, move each hand back and forth (keeping them going in opposite directions) from the base of the neck to her buttocks.
Hold your baby’s buttocks with one hand and use the other to stroke down from her neck to her buttocks.
Using your fingertips, massage in small circles down one side of the baby’s spine and up the other. Avoid pressing on her spine directly.
Massage her shoulders with small circular motions.
Massage her buttocks with big circular motions.
You are holding your fingers like a rake, stroke down her back.
Lift one of her legs by the ankle and relax it by lightly tapping the upper thigh.
Hold her ankle with one hand and hold your other hand in a C-shape, thumb down, around your baby’s upper thigh—stroke from her thigh down to her foot.
With your hands grasping the leg at the thigh, one right above the other, stroke down from hip to foot with both hands rotating in opposite directions, as if you were wringing a towel.
On the sole of her foot, use a thumb-over-thumb motion to massage from heel to toes.
Use your whole hand to stroke the bottom of her foot from the heel to the toes.
She strokes the top of her foot. Gently squeeze and pull each toe.
Massage around her ankle using small circles.
Roll her leg between your hands as if you’re rolling dough.
In a Nutshell, Here’s How to Give Your Baby an Infant Massage
- Legs and feet. Hold your baby’s heel in one hand; with your other hand, start at the top of the thigh and slowly stroke down to the ankle, gently squeezing the leg as you go, as if you were milking a cow. Reverse the motion and go from ankle to thigh. Then rub the feet with your thumbs, gently uncurling and stroking the toes. Switch legs. You can do these same strokes on the arms and hands.
- Head. Start with your hands on both sides of your baby’s head, then run your hands down both sides of his body, from his head to his toes. Next, draw tiny circles on your baby’s head with your fingertips.
- Face. Fold your hands (as if you were praying) on your baby’s forehead, then gently push outward from the centre. Next, use your thumb to draw a smile on your baby’s face by stroking from one cheek, across the upper lip to the other cheek. Repeat on the lower lip.
- Chest. Fold your hands on your baby’s chest, then push out to the sides as if you were smoothing the pages of an open book.
- Tummy. With your fingertips, draw an oval below your baby’s belly button. (Move clockwise to follow the natural path of digestion.) Next, “walk” your fingertips from one side of your baby’s belly to the other, on the diagonal, as if you were making an “X.”
- Back. He strokes his backside to side and then up and down.
Here’s what to keep in mind before you (or your partner) give your newborn an infant massage:
- Make strokes gentle but firm and not ticklish.
- Build massage into your baby’s daily schedule.
- Follow baby’s signals about when to stop. A massage can last 10 minutes or 30 minutes, depending on her moods.
Make Infant Massage Part of Your Daily Routine.
Consider massaging your baby around the same time every day so that he comes to expect and enjoy it.
What time’s best? There’s no “best” time. In general, you want to choose a time when you’re not feeling rushed (so don’t try to squeeze in a squeeze session while dinner’s cooking or you’ve got the washer and dryer going) or when your baby isn’t hungry (since he won’t enjoy the belly rubs if his belly’s empty) or too full (he’ll likely spit up his supper — you won’t make that mistake twice!).
If you’re using massage oil, choose one that’s edible, unscented, and either a cold-pressed fruit or vegetable oil.
Sure, you don’t need oil to rub your little one the right way, but it’ll be more pleasant for both of you if your hands glide more easily over your baby’s body.
Coconut oil is a good option since it is easily absorbed into a baby’s skin — and easily digested when your little one sucks on his hands or fingers.
Only use a dab and stay away from baby oil or mineral oil — they clog the pores. And nix nut oils, too, because of the potential for allergies.
Pick an Area That’s Comfortable for Both of You.
Ideally, the room should be warm — at least 75 degrees F — so your nearly naked newborn doesn’t catch a chill while he’s chilling from your massage.
You can massage your little one on the changing table, your bed (put a towel underneath to avoid oil stains on your comforter), even on the rug (use a towel there too).
Add some soothing background music, or use the time to talk and sing to your baby.
Follow Your Baby’s Cues.
No one likes to be massaged when they’re not in the mood, and that’s true for your baby as well.
If he turns away or frowns or cries when you lay your hands on him, save the session for later. And remember, you don’t have to give a full-body massage every time.
If your baby decides he’s had enough after you’ve rubbed his legs and feet, that’s okay too. Be gentle — and don’t apply too much pressure, or it will be overpowering.
Another Smart Tip from the Infant Massage Playbook:
For example, stroking away from the heart (from shoulder to wrist, for example) is relaxing, and therefore better suited for pre-nap or pre-bedtime massages.
Stroking toward the heart (from wrist to shoulder) is more stimulating and better suited for when your baby will be awake and active. You can also do a combo.
A Cozy Atmosphere Is Essential
Massage your baby in a warm, quiet place.
Make sure you and your baby are in a comfortable spot. Place them on a towel on their back so they can maintain eye contact.
This can be on their changing table or your bed. Let them know it’s massage time as you undress them.
Place your baby on their back and begin by slowly rubbing each body part. Your touch should be gentle at first.
Please spend some time rubbing each body part, starting with their head and moving gradually down to their feet.
There’s no specific recommended time for the massage. Each part of the massage should last as long as you and your baby are enjoying it.
You can also try placing your baby on their belly for a short massage, though some babies may not like being on their tummies for long.
Repeat it All Over Again
If you and your baby enjoy the massage, continue by repeating the rubbing motions, starting again from their head and moving down toward their feet.
Always communicate with your baby during the massage. Repeat their name and the word “relax” to help them calm down.
You can also tell a story or sing their favourite nursery rhyme as you move around their body.
Oil Is Optional
Some parents find the oil too messy, while other parents use it to help eliminate skin friction from massaging.
If you use oil, make sure to buy one that’s odourless and edible since your baby may get it in their mouth.
First, test the oil by applying a small dab to a patch of your baby’s skin. Check to see if your baby reacts. This is especially important for babies with allergies or sensitive skin.
Baby massages are an excellent, soothing therapy that calms your baby and promotes bonding time.
However, massaging doesn’t come naturally to all parents. Don’t be discouraged if massaging your baby doesn’t work out at first.
You and your baby may have to practice a few times before getting the message just right. With each practice, you’re developing a more profound, loving bond with your baby.
Keep at it, even if you don’t get the hang of baby massages at first. Your baby will thank you.
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