How To Massage Your Baby: A Step-By-Step Routine For A Happy Healthy Baby

Baby Massage

Baby massage is more than an enjoyable way to interact and bond with your baby. Mothers have massaged infants for centuries, using touch to calm and soothe their babies, boost circulation, aid digestion, and ease discomfort.

Touch is very important to a baby’s development, playing a positive role in their physical, social and intellectual growth. Babies need and benefit from physical affection.

Baby massage is not only beneficial for babies. The experience can increase a new mother’s confidence, reduce stress, and help lift her spirits, especially during a bout of baby blues. If a new mom has to return to work before she’s ready, massaging the baby is a great way to reconnect at the end of the work day.

Massaging your baby is easy. Here are a few steps to help you get started:

Time and place

Find a quiet place that’s warm enough for your baby to lie down in just a diaper. Place the baby on his back on a blanket or towel, either on your bed, on a changing table, or the floor before you. A nursing pillow is also a good place to comfortably prop up the baby. A good time for a massage is after baby’s  nap, when baby is being changed or after a bath. Don’t massage a baby too soon after a feeding, since it might prompt him to throw up. Watch for your baby’s reaction as you start massaging. If the baby stiffens or cries during the massage, stop and try again at another time. He may not be in the mood. If your baby is sick or feverish, postpone the massage for another time.

What you’ll need

Make sure your hands are warm and your fingernails short, so you don’t scratch the baby. Many parents prefer to massage their babies using massage oil. If you do use massage oil, make sure it’s an odorless, edible oil, so there’s no need for concern if it gets onto the baby’s hands and into the baby’s mouth. Don’t use baby oil, which is mineral based. A non-allergenic vegetable based oil such as avocado oil is ideal and contains beneficial nutrients such as vitamin E. You can also use coconut oil or sunflower oil. Be sure to first test any oil on a small section of baby’s skin, just in case your baby has an allergic reaction. Use just enough oil to moisten your fingers and prevent chafing. Rub your hands gently together before starting.

Easy does it

Especially with very young babies, use a very light touch. As your baby grows older, you can apply firmer pressure. Avoid massaging the head if the fontanelle is still soft and avoid the belly button area if the umbilical cord stump has not yet fallen off.

The massage can include gently stroking and rubbing your baby’s feet, tummy, arms, legs and head. You might start by massaging the feet and then each of the toes, then stroke up and down your baby’s legs. Or gently massage the baby’s head and face, applying light pressure up and down the ear lobes. You can stroke down from the shoulders to the feet and also along the length of the baby’s arms to the tips of the fingers.

Some massage therapists recommend massaging the tummy as a way to help a gassy, colicky baby. First, hold your baby’s feet, bend his legs and press them gently up against his stomach. Then softly massage his tummy in a clockwise motion.

Once you’ve massaged one side of your baby from head to toe, you can massage his back.

Take your cues from the baby

Make eye contact with your baby. Massage is a good way to learn more about a baby’s nonverbal cues. If the baby enjoys the massage, he’ll seem calm and happy. If he is restless or seems unhappy, he may not be in the mood. Stop for now and try again later. For the first massage, keep it short, and, if baby seems to enjoy it, you can always extend the duration the next time. How often should you massage your baby? That’s entirely up to you and the baby.

Don’t stress

Relax. Talk softly to your baby or sing during the massage. Don’t worry about doing it wrong. As long as you’re gentle and aware of your baby’s reactions, you’ll easily figure out what works best for you and your child.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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