The Basics of Infant Massage

How infant massage can help you get to know your baby

Sometimes when you are expecting a baby it’s hard to think ahead to what you will do once the baby finally arrives. Sometimes it doesn’t really sink in, until the baby is born, that you are responsible for caring for someone who can’t use words to tell you what he or she needs. Many parents feel anxious and confused during this early period of parenting, often referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’. So what is the solution? One fun and easy thing to try is infant massage.

Bonding with your baby 

Infant massage provides an important opportunity for bonding between you and your baby. The importance of facilitating skin-to-skin contact with baby immediately following birth is becoming part of hospital policy, and infant massage is an extension of this bonding through touch. When your baby is crying and you have run through the entire checklist of possible reasons, simple touch helps to build both the baby’s and the parents’ confidence and attachment in a loving relationship. Infant massage also improves non-verbal communication and solidifies your baby’s trust in you as you learn to respond to the baby’s cues.

As baby grows, massage stimulates neurological development as it helps baby get in touch with his or her body. It can also be used to soothe baby when he or she is fussing due to colic, gas, constipation, or teething, and can even help baby calm down and relax to get ready to sleep.

7 things you need to massage your baby

  1. A warm, cozy and calm environment. If you are going to undress baby completely, you may want to think about having a changing mat or towel on hand in case of accidents. It is also important to make sure that you are comfortably dressed and seated and that distractions are minimized.
  2. A small amount of unscented, cold-pressed vegetable oil – if your answer to the question ‘would I put this on a salad’ is ‘yes’, then it’s OK to use to massage your baby.
  3. The baby’s permission. It is extremely important to respond to baby’s cues. If she’s not interested in being massaged, she will let you know, perhaps by flattening her hand, arching her back, trying to roll or twist away or batting your hands. Avoid trying to massage baby when he or she is hungry, too full from a recent feed, playing with something very engaging, or just about to drift off to sleep. You can try to check in with baby for permission by doing a quick full-body sweep with your hands, gently, from head to toe.
  4. Routine. It’s a good idea to make massage a regular part of life. Many parents incorporate it with their bath and/or bedtime routines, as it helps calm baby at night.
  5. A massage sequence that incorporates the baby’s entire body, or at least the parts that he or she likes having massaged. It is common to start with legs, followed by tummy (clockwise, starting at the baby’s lower left side) and chest, moving out to shoulders and arms, then head, and finishing with baby’s back. In Eastern tradition, it is considered most relaxing to stroke away from the centre of the body (e.g., when massaging the leg, start at the thigh and move down). In Western tradition, it is considered best practice to ensure that the final strokes return the flow of blood towards the heart (e.g. cupping ankle in one hand and stroking up towards the thigh with the other hand).
  6. Firm but gentle pressure. Babies are quite sensitive to touch – if your touch is too soft, they may find it irritating; if you are too rough, they may find it painful. Keeping your hands soft and breathing steadily and calmly throughout the massage will help you apply the right touch for your baby.
  7. Patience. Your baby may not tolerate more than 10-20 minutes of massage, so don’t worry if you aren’t able to get through a full sequence every time. Also, some babies don’t take to massage the first few times you try it, but don’t give up, they could grow to love it as toddlers. If you feel like you could use some more pointers on how to help your baby when he or she is fussy, you can ask your city’s public health department or seek out an infant massage workshop run by a local registered massage therapist.

The most important outcome of trying infant massage with your baby is really getting to know them. It’s a chance to step outside the stresses of day to day life and create a safe space for you and baby to have some quiet, loving one-on-one time. It can also be a chance for the person who takes care of the baby all day to get a rest as partners, grandparents and other close caregivers can also use this amazing tool.