How to Massage a Baby
Imagine for a moment your gentle hands softly stroking your baby and how relaxing and pleasurable that feeling brings. The emotions of holding your little one with loving touches and strokes evoke a very pleasant experience that compares to little else in parenting. Now we know from research just how those strokes and gentle touches emit both emotional and physical benefits for your baby. That makes just such an experience even more relevant and important in your infant’s development.
Infant massage is a dynamic and personal way to bring added health and wellness to your baby. Research has revealed that massage benefits your child in a multi-faceted level from calming anxiety and colic to improving weight gain, muscle development and social growth. One of those research revelations is the impact of massage to your baby’s sleep. Massage helps your baby to sleep.
All you need is 10 to 15 minutes to fulfill a vital component for your baby’s overall developmental milestones translated through sleep habits. In this article, we will reveal the impact of massage on your infant’s sleep, as well as simple techniques to massage your baby. When all is “read and done”, you’ll know how to massage your baby to sleep.
First let’s look at some of the many benefits of massage both to your baby and to you.
What Are the Benefits of Massage to Your Baby?
Scientific research and medical studies are uncovering objective proof that infant and child massage impacts the overall health and development of your newborn well into adulthood. Massage between a parent and baby has multiple benefits levels that we only once speculated. These benefits include the following areas of your baby’s life:
- Parent & Child Bond
- Developmental Maturity
- Relief of Pain
- Relief of Stress
- Reduced Colic
- Reduced Constipation
- Improved Physical Health (including asthma, colds, earaches, sensory, teething, etc.)
- Improved Sleep
- Improved Immune System Health
- Improved Emotional Support
- Improved Muscular Support
- Improved Weight Gain
- Improved Social Skills
- Increased Attentiveness During Wake
- Advanced Mental Milestones Attained
- Advanced Motor Skills Milestones Attained
What Are the Benefits of Massage to You?
Is it any surprise that massaging your baby has benefits to you, too? Here’s how infant massage has great intended benefits to you as the parent:
Creates a Better Bond with Your Baby
Sensitive touch is vital for stress relief and your baby’s social development. These tenets are first learned in the interaction between parent and child. Massage will offer your child’s developmental dependence on you in every facet of her life, from relaxation to stimulation. Your baby’s confidence in your favorable contact is what sets the bond between child and parent throughout life.
Greater Ability to Read Your Baby’s Cues
The special bond created through close massage will enhance your awareness of your infant and heighten your ability to better read your baby’s non-verbal cues. This is so important especially in the early years of non-verbal communication to isolate your child’s outward signs of joy and discomfort
Improved Confidence in Handling Your Baby
The daily intimate contact through massage will help you the parent to become more attentive and responsive to your baby’s physical and emotional conditions and signs.
Infant Massage Creates Relaxing Time for You
You can’t create a gentle massage environment being in an anxious state. You will soon see that as you prepare the room and yourself for the slow and methodical massage experience, your mood and mind will relax. What a terrific way to wind down the evening yourself.
Baby Massage Creates a Better Sleep for You
Research confirms that infant massage results in a calmer and cheerier baby, along with improved emotional and physical health. It follows that experiencing a happier baby and one who sleeps longer and better will result in a more tranquil household environment. This is sure to help you sleep better and longer between midnight comfort runs.
In general, infant massage provides great benefits for you as the parent:
- Creates a better bond with your baby
- Creates better non-verbal communication with your baby
- Creates a greater ability to read your baby’s cues
- Creates greater confidence in handling your baby
- Creates relaxation for you
- Creates positive hormone release
- Creates better sleep for you
How Massage Helps Your Baby to Sleep
Research is revealing that massage can assist your baby to fall asleep. And daily massage will help to get his circadian rhythms established. This means that your baby will fall asleep easier and sleep longer through the night. The positive result is that your child will be more active and alert during the waking hours of the day.
Circadian rhythms influence the mental and physical variations we are naturally designed to experience every 24 hours. The circadian rhythms affect the changes in brain waves, hormone production (such as melatonin), body temperature, sleep, and appetite that the body should naturally experience.
The sleep-enhancing hormone called “melatonin” is produced by the brain and is needed to help relax your baby in preparation for sleep and to keep him asleep throughout the night. Melatonin is naturally released in darkness. However, massaging a baby also helps to release vital melatonin. In fact, research reveals that babies that are massaged have a higher level of melatonin than babies who are not massaged, show less sleep delay activities, and have shortened periods of inactivity before sleep onset.
What You Need to Massage Your Baby
Massaging your baby is simple and requires few, if any, special items. Keep in mind that you want to create an environment conducive to a relaxing atmosphere for both you and your baby. Here’s what you should focus on when creating the perfect setting.
- Start with a flat surface so your baby can’t roll off (for example, the floor or changing table)
- Make sure the room is warm because your baby will be naked
- Soften the lights
- Turn off your telephone or any obnoxious noises
- A towel to place underneath your baby if you remove her diaper
- Soft music (optional)
- Massage oil (optional) See below for further recommendations and instructions
What to Do While You Are Massaging Your Baby
- Talk to your baby in gentle tones
- Sing to your baby in gentle tones
- Hum to your baby in gentle tones
- Listen to soft instrumental music
- Always use firm but light, slow and gentle strokes
- Always watch your baby’s reactions to massage
Massage Techniques to Use on Your Baby
Technique 1 – Head & Face Massage
Step 1 – Place baby on back facing you or sit with your knees raised and place baby on thighs.
Step 2 – Cradle baby’s head from behind in both your hands holding with your fingertips.
Step 3 – With your thumbs gently stroke from forehead to behind ears. Repeat multiple times.
Step 4 – Shift head cradling to your palms and gently massage the scalp with your fingertips, avoiding the soft spot (like you are shampooing baby’s hair).
Step 5 – Supporting baby’s neck take your thumbs and index finger and gently massage ears and end by thumbs stroking down sides of neck.
Step 6 – Lay baby down and trace around outside of face with palms from top to chin. Repeat 3 times.
Step 7 – Place thumbs at bridge of nose and sweep outwards over brows. Repeat.
Step 8 – Place thumbs at bridge of nose and sweep outwards over eyes. Repeat.
Step 9 – Place thumbs at bridge of nose and sweep down nose and outward over cheeks.
Step 10 – Place thumbs at base of ear. Gently massage along jawline in circular movements toward chin.
Step 11 – Place fingertip pads on forehead and gently feather from forehead around face toward chin. Repeat.
Note: be careful not to massage around your infant’s crown soft spot that has not closed.
Technique 2 – Tummy Massage
Step 1 – Place baby on back facing you.
Step 2 – Hold knees and feet close together and stretch legs straight out.
Step 3 – Lift knees toward baby’s tummy 3 times.
Step 4 – Place your hand on baby’s tummy and massage in firm but gentle circular movements from one side of tummy to the other. All movements should be clockwise to support digestive system.
Step 5 – Repeat 3 times slowly.
Technique 3 – Arm Massage
Step 1 – Place baby on back facing you.
Step 2 – Gently grasp baby at shoulders with thumbs facing in.
Step 3 – Gently pull your hands down length of arms from shoulder to hands. Move back in opposite direction from hands to shoulders. Repeat 3 times.
Step 4 – Move hands back down to baby’s wrist and hold baby’s hand facing up.
Step 5 – Massage palms of hand by moving your thumb in circular movements and out to fingers. Repeat on opposite hand.
Step 6 – Grasping baby’s wrists, place at baby’s sides. Lift arms gently over his head and then back to sides. Repeat 3 times.
Step 7 – Grasping baby’s wrists, place outward (“I love you this much”) with palms up. Cross your hands and baby’s arms across his chest (left hand over right chest and right hand over left chest). Repeat 3 times ending in crossed position. Release wrists.
Technique 4 – Leg Massage
Here is a great massage to stimulate your baby’s legs.
Step 1 – Place baby on back facing you.
Step 2 – With baby’s legs gently straightened, feather your fingertip pads down legs from thighs to top of feet and then to underside of feet. Move fingertip pads back up to thighs in the opposite direction. Repeat.
Clasp your baby’s ankles in both hands and gently massage by using circular movements with your thumbs as your hands move from ankle to thigh.
Step 3 – Gently and firmly grasp your baby’s thigh with both hands.
Step 4 – Slide your hands down the leg from thigh to ankle.
Step 5 – Repeat Steps 1 through 3 approximately 2 to 4 times.
Step 6 – Alternate legs and complete Steps 1 through 4.
Step 7 – Raise baby’s legs to hips and slowly move them in a bicycle rotation. Repeat 4 times.
Step 8 – Hold one leg in your palm at the calf. Gently flex foot at the ankle with your other hand. Repeat. Switch hands and complete on opposite leg. Repeat
Step 9 – Straighten baby’s legs and feather your fingertips from side to side up the legs.
Step 10 – Finish by placing your palms gently on baby’s thighs.
Technique 5 – Back Massage
Step 1 – Position baby on tummy with hands in front or under chin.
Step 2 – Place your palms gently on baby’s back. Move hands side to side and in opposite directions from neck to buttocks. Move back up. Repeat 3 times.
Step 3 – Place one hand on buttocks. With the opposite hand stroke down from neck to buttocks. Repeat 3 times.
Step 4 – Using fingertips of one hand move in circular movements down one side of spinal cord and up the other side. Repeat in opposite direction. (Avoid spinal cord directly).
Step 5 – Drape your hands over shoulders. Massage shoulders with your thumbs gently avoid pressure.
Step 6 – Move hands down to buttocks. Place your palms on buttocks and gently knead buttocks area with heal of hand in larger circular movements.
Step 7 – Return fingertips to neck and stroke down back from neck to buttocks. Repeat a few times. End by placing your open hands firmly on baby’s back.
Technique 6 – Neck Massage
Step 1 – With one hand support your baby’s neck and head.
Step 2 – With alternate hand place thumb on one side of neck and two fingers on other side of neck.
Step 3 – Gently rub sides of neck in circular movements.
Step 4 – Place baby on tummy with head turned to one side.
Step 5 – Resting your palms on baby’s shoulders gently rub back of neck alongside spinal column from top to bottom. Repeat with head turned to opposite side.
Step 6 – Stroke with fingertips from head to neck ending by placing your palms gently on baby’s shoulders.
Technique 7 – Colicky Baby Massage
Step 1 – Begin with a Belly Massage
Step 2 – Bend your baby’s knees gently to his stomach and hold that position for 30 seconds.
Step 3 – Slowly release baby’s legs to extended position.
Step 4 – Repeat Step #2 and Step #3.
Step 5 – Place the outside of your hand at the top of baby’s belly and gently slide your hand down past the belly button. Alternate hands and repeat 5 or 6 times.
Step 6 – Repeat the entire process for 10 minutes.
Note: When massaging the tummy area, always move in a clockwise pattern to follow the digestive system with rapid and light strokes.
Should You Use Massage Oils
When you massage your baby to sleep, it is not necessary to use lubricating oils. It is strictly a personal choice. You may choose to use a massage oil not only to moisturize their baby’s skin, but to minimize friction between your hands gliding over your baby’s tender skin.
If you do prefer to use an oil, select one that is safe and odorless, just in case your baby does gets some into her or his mouth.
Always do a patch test first to assure your baby doesn’t have allergies with any product you are using. To perform a patch test, apply a small amount of the oil to an area of your infant’s skin and watch for a reaction within a few minutes. If no reaction, you should feel comfortable to use the oil.
Select an oil that is higher in linoleic acid, as those are safe for your baby if ingested (organic is always best). Consider the following oils for massage:
- Almond Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
Note: oils high in oleic acid (olive, butter ghee) should be avoided because they can break down the natural protective skin barrier needed in early infants)
Note: mineral oil and nut oil may be prone to cause allergic reaction
Note: if you are averse to using oils try cornstarch to reduce contact friction
How to Use Essential Oils to Complement Infant Massage & Sleep
Aromatherapy is a wonderful overall therapeutic addition to your baby’s massage and sleep environment to foster physical development and emotional well-being. For infants over 3 months old, there are some essential oils that can support sleep, provide calming and reduce constipation and colic symptomology.
Always purpose to use the very purest therapeutic grade pure essential oils. This will avoid adulterated knockoffs in the highly competitive EO market.
Never use undiluted essential oils on your baby. Instead, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), when using an essential oil for massage, mix it with a carrier oil at a dilution rate of 0.5% to 2.5% (approximately 1 drop of essential oil to 9 drops of carrier oil).
To aid in your baby’s sleep, a reliable list of safe essential oils include:
- Dill (Anethum Sowa)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Radiata)
- German Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)
- Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
- Mandarin (Citrus Reticulata)
- Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile)
Ways to Incorporate Essential Oils in Baby Massage
- Add to Carrier Oil
Mix a drop or two into your massaging carrier oil to create an aromatherapy experience.
- Diffuser / Aromatizer
A gentle and safe way to release the essential oil aroma is through a diffuser in your child’s room. Follow manufacturer directions.
- Bath Time Addition
Adding a small number of drops of essential oil in your baby’s bath water can calm and lull your baby, especially before bedtime.
- Wear it Well
Place a couple drops of essential oils on your wrists or clavicle. The warmth of your body will intensify the essential oil and waft into the environment to give a sensory experience for your baby during the massage.
Note: Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil when using around a baby. It is recommended that essential oils not be used around infants under three months of age. For preemies the professionals recommend that you do not use essential oils until 3 months from their due date.
General Guidelines Do’s & Don’ts
Baby Massage Do’s:
- Be patient – your baby is an individual and may need time to adjust to massage
- Observe your baby’s reaction to the massage
- Stop if your baby becomes upset, fussy or falls asleep during the massage
- Talk softly, hum, or sing during massage to increase the bonding environment
- Massage for approximately 10 to 20 minutes
- Bathe your baby after the massage to amplify the feelings of tiredness
- Remain relaxed
- Share the massage experience with your partner or spouse
- Talk to a pediatrician if your child has existing medical concerns
Baby Massage Don’ts:
- Massage baby’s 2 soft spots (fontanels)
- Massage your baby after bath time
- Continue massage if your baby becomes irritable, cries or falls asleep
- Use mineral oils or most nut oils, as they may cause allergies to your baby’s sensitive skin
- Use oleic oils (ex. olive and butter ghee) as they can injure the delicate skin barrier in newborns
- Don’t hesitate to talk to your pediatrician if your baby has existing medical concerns.
A clinical link exists between the level of a parent’s and baby’s physical touch contact and the child’s development and intellect. The more affectionate the physical stimulus in the initial twelve months of life can organically impact the baby’s brain and physical development.
Baby massage is an integral skill tool for a parent. Be Patient when introducing massage to your baby. Your baby is an individual and may need time to get used to massage. In time your infant will look forward to your gentle touch that cues it’s time to go to sleep.