To a baby, touch conveys many things. The power of touch is one of the most important ways babies communicate and interact with the world. Maybe this is why they love cuddling up with a parent when they are upset or when they need to feel secure. If there is a way you can use touch as a means to soothe, calm, and strengthen your baby, then it is through massage. Massage helps you have a strong positive interaction with your bundle of joy and nurture the parent-child bond, and the benefits of massage are numerous.
If you intend to give a massage to your baby and are not quite sure of the process, then this MomJunction article should be helpful. We will help you massage your baby in ten simple steps, and answer other queries you must be having about body massage for babies. So, read on.
What Is Baby Massage?
Baby massage is the activity of a parent gently stroking the body of the baby with the use of massage oil or lotion specifically made for babies. Massage proves to be soothing for babies while also providing an avenue for the parent to deeply bond with their little one.
When To Start Baby Massage?
There is a general opinion that one must wait for the infant to complete one month of his life before massage begins. The reason for this is that a baby’s skin barrier is underdeveloped at birth and it takes 15 days for the skin to become water resistant.
At about 15 days of age, your baby will also shed his umbilical cord stub. Until then, this can be an infection hazard if any massage oil gets trapped in it. If you plan to take your baby to group massage sessions then it is advised to wait till the baby is six weeks old since very young babies can find crowded environments stressful. Overall, one month is the ideal age since it has multiple benefits viz. the umbilical cord stub has fallen and navel has dried, the skin is less sensitive than at birth, the skin barrier is stronger, and the baby at this age can be more responsive towards touch.
Benefits Of Baby Massage
Massage provides several natural benefits to the baby such as:
- Boosts psychological and social development: According to a 2012 report by Asian Nursing Research Journal (1), stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch has a positive effect on the baby’s psychological and social development along with strengthening the baby’s bond with the parent.
- Relieves stress, relaxes muscles: Massage relieves stress in babies by stimulating the release of oxytocin, a feel-good neurohormone and decreases the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone (2). It relaxes muscles, stimulates their growth, and even works particularly great with colicky babies.
- Stimulates nervous system: Massage is beneficial to the baby’s nervous system since it greatly improves baby’s motor skills development.
- Helps baby sleep better: Babies sleep better when they are massaged. This has several benefits from faster muscle gain to improved immune response. Infants who are massaged just before bedtime produced more melatonin – a sleep-regulating hormone (3).
- Can improve the quality of life for differently-abled babies: It is the best way to soothe babies with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy as it provides a reassuring way to effectively calm them down (4). Premature babies show better motor development when massaged regularly. They even gain weight faster than premature babies that are never massaged. In fact, massaged premature babies, have shorter hospital stays. Babies born to depressed mothers, when massaged, cried less and showed greater emotional and social development as they grew.
- Great for circulatory system with other benefits: Massage improves the blood circulation and decreases the level of discomfort caused by gas or acidity, congestion, and teething (5). Massage stimulates the nerves that pass through the digestive tract thus benefiting the digestive system.
- Way to deal with postnatal depression: Massage is an effective way to deal with postnatal depression among mothers. Depressed mothers showed improved mood and behavior when they massaged their babies regularly. When it comes to fathers, research has shown that fathers, who regularly massage their babies develop improved self-esteem. They also display increased involvement in baby’s care and interact with babies more frequently.
Best Time To Massage Your Baby
The best time to massage your little one is when he is alert, well-rested, and seems interested in the environment. Select a moment right between two feeding sessions when he is less likely to feel full or hungry. There should be a gap of at least 45 minutes from the baby’s last feeding session. Also, wait for 15 minutes after the massage before feeding again to give the baby’s body some extra time to relax completely.
When it comes to a specific time for massage, you can best stick to massage after bath when he is just about to be tucked into the bed for the night or for a nap. Baby massage before a bath is the ideal time since you can wash away the oil during the bath to prevent the accumulation of residual oil or lotion on the baby’s sensitive skin. You may choose to massage your baby after bath in case he has extremely dry skin or if your paediatrician has given a green signal to it. Generally, you’ll notice the greatest benefit if you can stick to a regular bedtime routine of baby massage at night.
How To Massage A Baby?
Before you get down to the process of massaging the baby, you need to set up various things.
Setup For Massage:
Start your baby massage with the following setup:
- Sit on a bed or soft carpeted floor with a towel in front of you. You can also place a towel on a table to massage your little one while you stand. The towel helps absorb excess oil.
- Maintain a comfortable room temperature. During winters, ensure that the room is warm and during summers make sure there is ample circulation of cool and fresh air in the room. Babies do feel warm quickly and tend to become cranky.
- Lighting in the room is important and use as much natural light as possible.
- Choose a massage oil that is specifically made for babies. Select unscented oils, with natural fragrances and no added perfumes.
- You can choose to massage your baby with or without the nappy, but you can loosen it when massaging his tummy. Massaging without nappy may increase the risk of accidental soiling, but it also ensures that you massage every part of his body.
Let’s now see how to massage a baby in the right way. Here is a step-by-step guide:
Step 1 – Seeking the permission:
The first step is to take your baby’s ‘permission’ since you would not like to give him a massage when he is not interested. The simple way to do this is by taking some oil in your palms and rubbing it gently on the baby’s tummy and behind his ears, and observe his body language. If he resists being touched or grumbles and cries when massaging, then it is probably not the right time, yet. If he shows positive signs and seems okay with what you are doing, then you can go ahead with the massage.
Keep in mind that, initially, your baby may seem uncomfortable with the massage as it is a new experience. But as he gets used to it, he is less likely to resist it and instead tends to enjoy it.
Step 2 – Massaging the legs:
- Start with the baby’s feet. Rub some drops of oil on your palms and begin massaging the baby’s soles. Massage the heels up to the toes with your thumbs. Then, using your palm, stroke the bottom and top of the baby’s foot. Slowly, make circles with your thumb all over the bottom of each foot and then to the toes. Do not pull any toe like they do in adult foot massage. Instead, lightly massage each toe right to the tip. This will help stimulate nerve endings..
- Lift one of the legs and make gentle strokes on the ankle and slowly extend it towards the thighs. Gently stroke from the foot up to the thigh. You can also massage both the legs at once if your baby is calm and relaxed.
- You end the leg massage by gently grasping the thighs with both your hands. Slowly stroke toward the heart from foot to thigh, like you are gently wringing a towel.
Step 3 – Moving to the arms:
- After the legs have been massaged, the arms should be massaged. The pattern of massaging is quite similar to the legs. Hold the baby’s hands and make circular strokes on the palms. Slowly make small strokes on the baby’s fingers moving towards the tips of the fingers.
- Turn his hand around and now gently massage the back of his hand with straight strokes towards the wrist. Then, gently massage his wrists in circular motions, like putting on bangles.
- Move your strokes slowly towards his forearm and then towards the upper arm. Massage entire arm with gentle circular motions as if you are wringing a towel.
Step 4 – Chest and shoulder massage:
- Make gentle strokes in tandem from the left and right shoulder towards the chest of the baby. You can then trace your hand back to the shoulder. Repeat the motion gently. Next, place both your hands at the center of your baby’s chest and rub outwards from the body – towards the lateral side.
- Make gentle strokes outwards from the bottom of the sternum, the chest bone, across the chest, as if tracing a heart shape.
Step 5 – Time for tummy massage:
- Next comes the baby’s stomach. Remember, this is a delicate area, and therefore you must avoid even the slightest of pressures. You start your stroke from the top of the belly right below the chest bone. Place your palm gently below the chest bone and make clockwise circular strokes across the belly – all around the belly button. Do not apply any pressure and let your hand gently glide across the belly.
- Continue the circular motions in clockwise direction while avoiding the belly button. In young babies, the belly button/navel can be sensitive and delicate since they would have recently shed their umbilical cord stub.
Step 6 – Massaging face and head:
- Massaging the face and head can be challenging since babies tend to move a lot. But it is as important as massaging the other parts of the body. Begin by placing the tip of your index finger at the center of your baby’s forehead and slowly stroking along the outline of his face towards his chin. From the chin, move your finger towards his cheeks and massage his cheeks gently in a circular motion. Repeat the strokes a few times.
- After massaging the face, start massaging the scalp with the fingertip like you are shampooing the baby’s hair. Use gentle pressure from your fingertip and do not apply any extra pressure since the baby’s skull is delicate.
- You can even massage the baby’s forehead gently by moving your fingers outwards from the center of the forehead.
Step 7 – Finally the back:
- It is finally time to turn your baby around and massage his back. Place your baby outstretched on his tummy with his hands at the front and not on the sides.
- Place your fingertips on the baby’s upper back and trace clockwise circles while slowly moving the strokes towards his buttocks.
- You then place your index finger and middle finger on either side of the upper spine and very gently move the fingers all the way to the buttocks. Repeat the strokes a few times. Do not place the fingers on the spine. Instead, place two fingers on either side of the spinal groove and run them down.
Massage the baby’s shoulder blades with gentle clockwise circular strokes. Make same gentle strokes at the baby’s lower back and buttocks. End the massage with this last stroke. Apart from the above-mentioned baby massage techniques, there are other effective massages for the baby that work great in certain situations or conditions.
Conditions Where Massage Can Be Beneficial
There could be certain medical conditions or situations where a baby can gain relief through massages. Here are some scenarios where you can consider massaging your baby to make him feel better.
1. Constipation, gas, and colic:
‘I love you’ massage is the best massage to give when your baby is suffering from constipation, gas, or is colic. Research proves that infant massage works great in easing the symptoms of colic among babies. This is a variation of the standard tummy massage that can help tackle multiple problems. Start by lying your baby on his back. Use your fingers to trace a straight line on the right side of the navel. This forms the letter ‘I’. Then place your fingers at the upper left corner of the belly to trace a horizontal stroke towards the end of the left ribcage. Trace a vertical straight line stroke, exactly like the ‘I’ stroke. This forms the letter ‘L’. Next, place your fingers at the lower left corner of the belly and trace a letter ‘U’ around the navel towards the baby’s lower left corner of the tummy. This massage helps your baby poop well and relieves him of wind pain. It is also an awesome baby tummy ache massage since the pattern of the letters in the massage follows the layout of the intestines within thus stimulating them to ease the gas and constipation, which can cause pain and discomfort to the baby.
2. Cough and congestion:
Massage can also help the baby feel better when he is suffering from congestion, cough, and cold. Here are the steps to follow:
Step 1: Start by rubbing some oil or lotion on the palm of your hand. This makes your hands warm, soothing the baby as you massage him. Rub your baby’s chest using both your hands by starting from the center to the outside using small circular strokes. Then rub the entire chest in circular motions using just one hand.
Step 2: Now, focus on the baby’s face. Here you massage the sinuses by gently running your fingertips from the inner end of the eyebrow down to the nose and then to the cheek. Repeat this motion a couple of times. This helps release any accumulated mucus present in the sinuses.
Step 3: Lastly, you massage the baby’s feet focusing primarily on the sole. Massaging the sole helps in generating heat that can help loosen the mucus within the chest.
The feeling of warmth will relieve the heavy feeling of congestion in the chest caused by cold and repeated cough.
3. Gastroesophageal reflux:
If your baby has acid reflux then he may have trouble lying flat on the ground. In such situations, place a pillow under his upper back. Place the pillow in a manner that the baby lies at 45-degree angle. Then give the baby a tummy massage with the same steps mentioned above. Regular massages in a baby with chronic reflux has been clinically-proven to reduce the symptoms and give the baby relief (6).
Massage is helpful when your baby is having bouts of hiccups. Hiccups occur when the irritated nerves of the abdominal cavity cause fluttering of the diaphragm due to accumulated gas or due to excessive intake of air during breastfeeding. A massage can help de-stress the tensed diaphragm thus mitigating hiccups.
When massaging to rid your baby off hiccups, put the baby in an upright position and massage him from his lower back all the way to the shoulders in gentle circular motions. You can do this by placing the baby on his tummy. Do not apply a lot of pressure while massaging.
You can follow the aforementioned massage procedure if the baby is suffering from jaundice. Body massage for jaundiced babies has been clinically proven to improve the defecation rate and reduce the amount of bilirubin, which is the compound that causes yellowish skin in jaundice (7). Massage, however, does not cure jaundice in babies. It just alleviates the symptoms and associated discomfort caused by jaundice thus making the baby feel better.
It may sound surprising but local massage after vaccination in infants can have significant benefits for the little one. Firstly, massaging the area around the point of injection can help relieve pain and make the baby feel better. Secondly, it helps improve the immunogenicity of some vaccines, which is the body’s ability to produce antibodies against the antigen for which the vaccine has been given. This case has been clinically proven for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (8).
Never massage directly at the point where the vaccine was injected. Instead, focus on the surrounding areas by massaging gently with soft and smooth strokes.
Massaging your baby’s gums when he is teething is a great way of alleviating the pain and irritation (9). Simply wash your hands thoroughly and wipe them dry. Then use your clean fingers to gently massage the bottom of his gums. Do not apply any pressure nor massage the top of the gums where the tooth would erupt. Only run your fingers gently at the base of the gums and continue doing so all along his gums.
Focus on the gums at the front since that is where the first teeth would emerge. You can give this massage when you feel your baby is irritated due to teething.
How Often Should You Massage You Baby?
There is no restriction on how less or more you can massage your baby. It is great, though, to have a fixed massage routine since it helps your baby reap all the long term benefits of massage. If your baby faces certain adverse medical problems, then consult the baby’s doctor about the ideal massage routine.
Baby Massage Tips
Here are some important points to remember about massaging your baby:
- If at any point during the massage your baby becomes cranky, then just skip that massage step and move to the next one. If he is still irritable, then stop the massage. You can make an attempt at massaging him later when he seems more receptive to touch.
- Always be gentle during a massage. Never apply too much pressure on the baby’s body since his bones and tissues are very delicate. Also never massage the genitals or around the groin area.
- Speak, laugh, and smile while massaging your baby. When he looks at you, initiate an eye contact and do some baby talk with a smile. This will help keep him interested in the activity eventually making him more cooperative.
- When done, wipe away the oil on the baby’s palms and fingers using a tissue paper. This is to prevent him from accidentally ingesting the oil when he puts his fingers in his mouth. It is for this reason, choose baby massage oils that are 100% safe for babies and do not pose any health risk even on accidental ingestion.
- Maintain a fixed time for massage. This will help establish a routine, making a baby more comfortable during a massage.
When Should You Stop Massaging The Baby?
There is no fixed age to stop massaging. You can choose to massage the baby as long as you want. Many mothers stop the massage when their little one is completely weaned and has transitioned from a baby to a toddler.
Massage is a great way of improving the bond with your baby while also enabling him to grow better. Maintain a schedule for massage and consult your doctor in case of doubts or queries.
How was your experience of massaging your baby? Share it with us in the comments section below.
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