The Benefits of Baby Massage (And How to Do It)
If just lifting your crying baby can calm them down, imagine the effect of a full body massage.
Massage promotes good digestion, growth, circulation, regular sleep, reduced colic, and eases teething pain. It also ensures regular oxytocin boosts for you and your partner, and is a recommended form of bonding with your baby.
Giving a massage can be almost as relaxing for you as it is for your baby. Just make sure that the circumstances are right. Choose a quiet and warm place where the baby will be comfortable, and try relaxing them using a few of the techniques below.
Which massage is best for the baby
It depends as much on how much your baby likes massage as it does on your technique. Explore. Here are some massages to try:
- Leg massage
- Arm massage
- Belly massage
- Neck massage
- Colic-relief massage
For a proper leg massage grip the baby’s leg firmly, but gently enough to avoid discomfort. Move your hands up and down the baby’s leg and repeat the process for the other leg.
For arm massage the technique is largely the same. Roll the baby’s arm between your hands from shoulder to palm. If they react well, gently rub his or her palms with your fingers in a circular clockwise motion to stimulate relaxation. How well it all works depends on their personality and mood. You’ll know.
Stomach pain can be a particular problem as newborns struggle with hunger, growth and gas. (This is slightly different from colic, the cause of which which is still a matter of debate.) However, stomach massages can help alleviate some of these symptoms. Place your hands at the navel and rub gently in a circular clockwise motion, repeating until the baby is comfortable — or as long as it’s enjoyable.
For colic, there are a number of things you can do. Try giving a stomach massage followed by gently raising one of their knees up to their tummy for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg and keep going until the baby is visibly happier.
For a neck massage, hold your baby’s head firmly in place. They don’t yet have the motor skills to hold it up themselves. Use your thumbs to apply gentle pressure to the tissue and rub their neck in a circular clockwise motion.
Take time to prepare
Maximum comfort means minimum upset. Newborns are more sensitive to their environment and with a massage everything from the environment to the touch of your hands needs to be gentle and considered.
The best way to ensure this is to first choose a room where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Make sure that it’s well-heated, that the baby is fed, and that you have a baby mat on hand in case of any accidents. You may also want to have towels, clean clothes and emollient available for when you’re done.
Try to time the massage for when the baby is rested but not tired — perhaps just after a nap or between feeds. This way they’ll be less likely to be cranky and being neither hungry nor too full, will be less likely to have stomach cramps.
Enjoy your time together
Every activity is a great opportunity for bonding. This works great for fathers and their children, since much mother/child bonding happens during nursing. We would encourage the father to conduct the massages. Who knows, perhaps he’ll offer a healing massage to the mother as well.
There is a higher likelihood that the baby will respond physically to a massage: smiling, reaching for the parent masseuse, and trying to communicate. This is as good for the parent as it is for the child, stimulating the production of oxytocin (the “love” hormone) and promoting feelings of warmth and closeness.
You might try communicating with the baby by laughing with them, talking, playing, and getting close with them. Babies take these moments of physical contact into early childhood. And it’s something you can reflect back on when the baby is six feet tall and can dunk.
Before you go
Baby massage became widespread in the 1970s as an effective way of caring for premature babies. Kangaroo care, physical closeness and skin-on-skin contact offered a way for both parents to bond with their child.
Research shows that it can be especially important in the first few days following birth. A 2004 study showed that newborns who spent time in intensive care were more likely to go home early if they had some light massage therapy.
A study conducted by IAIM Australia in 2010 concluded that people who experience massage in early infanthood are less likely to suffer from PTSD and depression in later life. It has even been linked to the promotion of good hygiene. Now we’re talking!