Infant massage is used and encouraged to promote physical and emotional health in babies.
Right at birth, newborns are massaged to encourage them to take their very first breath; but the benefits are not only for babies! Infant massage provides benefits for parents too.
This is a great way to relax and nurture your baby, encouraging connection at the end of the day as a part of your bedtime routine.
How does infant massage benefit babies?
Physical health, mental health, and development are all impacted when using infant massage for your little one. Appropriate stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch will positively affect psychosocial development and encourages attachment with mom.
Infant massage can also improve weight gain, growth, sleep duration, how well they sleep, calms a colicky baby by reducing stress, reduces crying, deepens the bond with parents when releasing oxytocin, and aids in development of motor skills!
According to the International Association of Infant Massage, “Both research and anecdotal evidence from families have shown that there are many ways that babies and families may benefit from infant massage.
They can be grouped into four categories: Interaction, Stimulation, Relief and Relaxation.” This would include things like, verbal/nonverbal communication, development of trust, feelings of being valued. The massage may stimulate the circulatory and digestive system, coordination and balance, learning and concentration, and muscular development.
Parents may find that it relieves gas and colic, constipation, growing pains, and teething discomfort.
It may show improvements in sleeping patterns, improved muscle tone, regulation of behavioral states, being calm and able to calm self, and reduction in stress hormones!
An important note: try to wait 30 minutes after a feeding to do a massage to prevent any vomiting.
Take cues from your baby- if they are calm and content, then a massage is probably welcomed! If they turn away from you, increase in crying, refuse to make eye contact, or remain stiff in your arms, then you may try the massage a little bit later.
If they are not receptive to the massage, then just try being present with them with touch. Lay your hands on their chest and breathe deeply. This is calming for you which allows your child to regulate as well!
"When you give your baby a massage, you're actually stimulating her central nervous system," explains Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
"That sets off a chain reaction: It makes her brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that's secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down, and she becomes more relaxed. "
For moms, the benefits include improving interaction in moms who have a postpartum mood disorder.
Setting up your massage environment
Make sure you are creating a calm atmosphere. If possible, do the massage in a warm, quiet place — indoors or outdoors. Remove your jewelry.
Sit comfortably on the floor or a bed or stand in front of the changing table and position your baby on a blanket or towel in front of you.
Place your baby on his or her back so that you can maintain eye contact. As you undress your baby, tell him or her it's massage time. They start to make the connection with what massage means and may get a little excited!
Stay relaxed throughout the massage, talking to your little one throughout the process, maintaining eye contact, and even singing them a song if you need to keep them engaged.
You can use an oil or lotion, either works.
Beginning your massage
Start with just touch and breathing. Hold your baby’s hands or lay hands on their chest and take 3-5 deep breaths.
When your baby is calm and ready, warm up some oil or lotion by rubbing your hands together and start with their legs. Stabilize their ankle with one hand and with the other hand, start at their thigh. With mild pressure, glide your hands down their leg, repeating this 3-5x.
Move on to the other side.
You will repeat the same motion on their arms.
For their chest, you continue the downward strokes with one hand stabilizing one side of their chest and the other hand gently gliding down. Repeat on the other side.
For their belly, you can do light circles starting at their belly button and moving out. Doing this several times will help any tummy aches!
When you’re ready, you can turn your baby over onto their belly and do the same stroke on their back as you did for their chest. Another one to try is light circles down their spine.
Moving on to their face, which is what you want to save for last because that will get them ready to eat! Start with both hands on their forehead and move out and down around their face down to their chin, like you’re drawing a heart!
You can also take 1-2 fingers and rub under their eye around to their ear and behind their ear to help their sinuses drain if they’re congested, kind of like in an S shape.
To see some of these strokes in action, check out this highlight on instagram!
If you have a very wiggly baby, or a baby that doesn’t want to lie down, you can do these massages in your lap!
Infant Massage Takeaways:
Infant massage is a great way to connect with your little one! Incorporate it into your routine before bedtime to increase the bonding before they are down for the night. You may also see some improvements in their overall sleep by including the relaxing downtime in your evening routine!
Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!