Touch is necessary to the development of babies and children. Babies born into environments lacking in physical and emotional interaction are at a higher risk for developmental and emotional issues later in life. Studies done on children who spent time in orphanages and other attention-deprived environments have shown that kids who had been in orphanages for more than eight months had higher levels of stress hormones and lower levels of social bonding hormones than babies who were adopted by four months. These deficiencies remained even after children had been adopted into loving homes.
With touch being this important to your baby’s development and sense of well-being, you’ll want to actively incorporate it into you and your baby’s routine. A great way to do this is to massage your baby. Baby massage can be as natural as any other interaction you have with your baby, and we’re here to show you how.
Massage therapy has existed for thousands of years, with the first known text dating back to 2700 BCE China. Massage now has many applications in modern medicine and numerous studies have shown the positive effects on patients recovering from illness or injury. Several studies have also been done involving massage on babies, particularly preterm babies with positive results.
Massage can begin after umbilical cord has fallen off to prevent infection. Some experts recommend waiting until baby is one month old so his skin isn’t as sensitive as a newborn’s. There is no cutoff age for massaging your baby. Massage can benefit children (and adults!) of all ages.
There are many reasons parents may choose to massage their babies. Here are just a few:
- Tummy trouble
This is probably the most beneficial type of massage for parents to learn. A gentle tummy massage can be beneficial in relieving pain associated with gas and can even help move the bowels of a constipated baby. Massaging baby’s belly in a gentle clockwise motion can help get things moving and relieve some of his discomfort. Click here for our short guide to tummy massage.
- As part of a bedtime routine
A 2017 study published in Infant Behavior and Development showed that a bedtime routine implemented for two weeks had significant positive impact on small children getting to sleep, staying asleep and waking in better moods. Massaging your baby, along with a small set of relaxing behaviors, such as a warm bath, lowered lights and a bedtime story or song can help calm baby and ease him into sleep much more easily than just putting him to bed at bedtime.
- Help with weight gain
Studies have shown that massage with moderate pressure was significantly more beneficial to weight gain in premature babies and that their mothers were the perfect masseuse. These studies have also shown that babies who are massaged, particularly with oil, gained up to 48% more weight than infants receiving regular care and were discharged from the hospital days earlier.
- Calming and relaxing baby and mom (or dad!)
The benefits of touching your baby do not stop at him. Massaging baby, along with cuddling and other skin-to-skin contact, has been shown to increase oxytocin, sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone.” This can help mom bond with baby, even through difficult feelings like those that come along with post-partum depression. Massage can also help dad bond with baby and make both parents more confident in handling their new baby.
How to massage baby:
- Step 1 – Choose a Good Time for You and Baby
About an hour after a feeding is ideal, both to minimize spitting up and to avoid baby being hungry and not receptive to massage.
- Step 2 – Make Sure Baby is Comfortable
Make sure the room you will be in is at a comfortable, warm temperature, especially if you will have baby’s clothes off for his massage. Turn down lights and noise such as TV or radios.
- Step 3 – Choose an Oil or Lotion
DO NOT USE ADULT MASSAGE PRODUCTS! Babies’ skin often cannot handle the types of oils and concentrations that adults can. Baby oil and lotion are fine and some even have calming scents, such as lavender and calendula. These scents are popular and can be very relaxing, but you should remember to never apply essential oils directly to baby’s skin. A carrier oil is a must, and your best bet is to use a product made specifically for use on baby’s skin. It’s a good idea to test any oil or lotion you plan to use on a small patch of baby’s skin 24 hours before using it to massage him. Here are some oils and lotions we like for baby massage:1) Aveeno Baby Eczema Nightime Balm
2) Baby Mantra Masage Oil
3) California Baby Massage Oil
4) California Baby I Love You Massage Oil
5) Motherlove Birth and Baby Oil
6) Johnsons Bedtime Baby Lotion
- Step 4 – Choose or Create a Massage Routine
Start by massaging baby’s feet and legs to warm her up to the idea and sensation of being massaged. After you feel she is comfortable, move to another area, such as her belly, back, arms and hands. Experts recommend different routines and movements. Check out some of these resources and choose what works best for you:
Baby Massage: The Calming Power of Touch (book)
Baby Massage and Yoga (book)
Find a local infant massage class to take with your baby.
- Step 5 – Follow Baby’s Cues
Massage baby as long as you are both enjoying it. Your baby will let you know if she doesn’t like a certain technique or if she is done altogether.
If you are dealing with a fussy or colicky baby, you’re probably willing to give anything a go. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend massage to calm and soothe your baby. Besides, even without all of the claimed benefits, there are no dangers to massaging babies, so it can be done purely for the enjoyment it brings mom, dad and baby.