You might not think about giving your baby a full-on infant massage, because it already feels like you’re constantly touching them—nuzzling their head, kissing their cheeks, patting their back, holding their tiny little hand. But the benefits of a more dedicated infant massage routine are numerous for babies, and, it turns out, for parents too.
“When a baby is massaged regularly, you are actually stimulating their central nervous system, building muscle tone, and aiding the release of serotonin that helps form vital connections with you, themselves and the world around them,” says Elina Furman, a certified infant massage instructor and the founder of Kahlmi, a baby massage wand.
One review study states that preterm and full-term infants who receive massage from caregivers are also more likely to see more weight gain and experience increased pain reduction, improved alertness and better immune system function.
But infant massage is “also an excellent way for parents to create a calming routine,” Furman adds, explaining that it’s all about the release of another feel-good chemical, the hormone oxytocin, which helps encourage bonding between parent and child.
Giving your baby a soothing rub can boost your parenting confidence, too. “Many parents report that they feel more competent in handling their babies after consistently performing baby massage,” Furman shares. Here’s how to make infant massage part of your daily routine—and bring on the benefits for both you and baby.
Basics of infant massage
At its core, massage is all about the power of touch, which is one of the most developed senses babies are born with. If the idea of incorporating a new massage routine is overwhelming, keep it simple, but aim for consistency. “The benefits are cumulative, which means that the more you do baby massage, the more benefits you and baby will experience,” says Furman.
You can start now
It’s never too early–or too late to start, stresses Daniela Vega, cofounder and CCO of Storybook, an app combining bedtime stories with massage techniques and soothing music. “[Massage] can be applied from the first day of life, almost without any contraindications,” she notes, adding that it is always advisable to first consult with your doctor.
For newborns, start by laying baby on your chest and massaging their back, arms and legs, while avoiding the healing umbilical cord attachment, adds Furman. Once babies reach 3 weeks of age, you can begin to lay them down and perform a full body massage.
Keep pressure firm but light
Use a medium pressure with your fingers to massage your little one, avoiding too-light pressure that leads to tickling. You can adjust the pressure as baby grows and gains muscle tone, Vega notes.
Follow baby’s cues
Sometimes parents get discouraged if baby squirms a lot, but it’s entirely normal, says Furman. Watch for baby’s readiness cues so you can find the optimal time for massage, which may include eye contact, smiling and alertness. “If baby is turning away or crying, waiting to perform massage is advisable,” she says. Remember, you’re the expert on your child. You’ll be able to tell when massage will help.
“While you don’t need oil to massage, it can create a deeper, more smooth sensory experience,” recommends Furman. “The best oils to use are organic, edible, unrefined oils such as coconut or almond oil.”
Keep the room warm
To best promote the benefits of massage, you’ll want skin-to-skin contact. But keep the room warm so your child will be comfortable while unclothed, suggests Furman. Don’t forget to take off any jewelry you’re wearing and trim your nails to avoid accidental scratches.
Stick to short sessions
You don’t need a full 10 or 20 minute session for massage to be effective, Furman shares. “You can massage baby for a few minutes while you are changing them, during bathtime, even on-the-go while grocery shopping or offering a foot massage while traveling.”
You can also try gently massaging their arms and legs during a feeding session, which might help them relax and feed more efficiently. That said, aim to wait 30 minutes after a feeding before rubbing baby’s belly.
How to give your baby an infant massage
For babies, infant massage can help promote relief from colic or gas, improve sleep, help with teething pain and even help with sinus pressure. Here are a few techniques to try.
Belly massage for constipation and gas
Belly massage can be done daily to keep baby regular, notes Furman. At least 30 minutes after a feeding, stroke baby’s belly from their right to the left side in clockwise circles, making sure to follow with your other hand. When massaging the belly, always use a clockwise direction as that will help them pass gas and relieve constipation.
“I also love performing baby foot massages for constipation. You can do this twice a day by simply rubbing your thumb in circles and stroking in the middle of baby’s foot from right to left and then massaging the heel. This really helps babies who suffer from chronic constipation.”
Facial massage for teething and sleep
A mini facial massage can be relaxing and help with sleep and teething pain. Place both hands on your child’s forehead and trace down the sides of their face to their chin. If your baby is teething, you can make small circles on their jawline running from their ears to their chin, Furman suggests.
Infant massage for baby colds
For baby colds, place your fingers on each side of their nose, stroking down to help them relieve the pressure in their sinuses.
Baby back rubs for relaxation
“I also love back massage since it helps babies log tummy time and benefit from a relaxing massage,” Furman shares. You can gently massage baby’s back using the same circular motion as you did on their belly, stroking down to their legs. She suggests placing a small mirror on the floor in front of them to help keep them entertained.
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- Juneau AL, Aita M, Héon M. Review and Critical Analysis of Massage Studies for Term and Preterm Infants. Neonatal Netw. 2015;34(3):165-177. doi:10.1891/0730-0818.104.22.168