How to Perform Infant Massage

infant massage
Getty/ Images By Tang Ming Tung

Therapeutic touch has benefits for humans, no matter how old they are. As humans, we are social and physical creatures and suffer drawbacks when we are not physically connected to others.

For babies, however, the art of touch, or massage, also has extra special benefits. Premature babies, for example, benefit greatly from massage. Studies have shown that premature babies gain more weight, are able to regulate their body temperatures better, and have better health outcomes and less health complications with regular massage from a caregiver.

But even if you don't have a premature baby, your term baby or toddler can still benefit from the technique of massage. Here are a few tips to help you learn how to perform infant or toddler massage.

Benefits of Massage

A lot of research has been done on the benefits of massage for premature infants (babies born under 37 weeks), but studies have also found that massage can help term infants (any baby born at 37 weeks or later) too. For example, massage has been show to:

  • Increase the attachment between a mother and baby.
  • Help infants sleep better.
  • Enhance motor development.
  • Improve digestion.
  • Reduce fussiness.
  • Promote relaxation.
  • Increase oxytocin, which can help milk production in breastfeeding mothers.

How to Perform Infant Massage

Many of the benefits of infant massage can be gleaned from simply incorporating more skin-to-skin touch with your baby. So if you're feeling overwhelmed about adding one more "to do" to your list in taking care of your baby, don't worry.

You don't have to go above and beyond to become a certified massage therapist to practice massage therapy with your baby. The important thing is to be connected through touch. You can perform infant massage in several different ways, such as:

  • Start with a relaxing environment: You can dim the lights, put on some white noise like a fan or a noise machine, or soothing music, and tidy up the room a bit so it's a calm space. One expert at Stanford suggests that you get in the habit of talking to your baby as you start a massage practice because it encourages the baby to listen and communicate with you. It also teaches you to read your baby's cues. She notes that it's important to ask for a baby's permission for a massage, even at an early age. Babies can let us know when they are fussy, etc., so it's a good habit to get into.
  • Massage your baby after bath time. Use a gentle baby lotion, baby oil, or oil such as grape seed oil or coconut oil warmed in your hand to massage your baby. Start with the outer limbs, stroking downward from the top of the arm down, and from the top of the hip downwards. Use gentle pressure and you can knead the skin or use light strokes. There is no "right" or wrong" way to perform infant massage, but you will want to see how your baby is reacting and change up your techniques as needed.
  • If your little one has colic, you can also use massage techniques to help alleviate discomfort from gas. Using very, very light touch, you can massage your baby's tummy, starting from the top and moving your fingers in a clockwise direction to help move any trapped gas bubbles through the digestive system. Always check in with your child throughout the massage to make sure he or she is not uncomfortable.
  • Practice massage with feeding. If you are breastfeeding, simply let your baby nurse undressed or in just a diaper to get more skin-on-skin contact with you. If you are bottle feeding, you can also practice skin-to-skin to get those touch benefits; simply unbutton your shirt and nestle the baby next to your skin as he or she eats. You can rub her arms or shoulders or back as she eats or gently touch him while nestling him close. The important thing is touch, so don't be afraid to practice massage in a way that feels most natural to you.

    Massage As Your Baby Grows

    As your baby grows, there is no reason to discontinue the practice of massage. Massage has benefits no matter what age your child may be, so consider incorporating the practice of massage as your infant continues into toddlerhood and childhood, and beyond. Talk to your child as he/she grows, ensure that you let your child tell you if he/she is comfortable with massage, and most of all, continue to find ways to stay physically connected to promote a life-long, lasting bond.

    Sources

    Gürol, A, et al, The Effects of Baby Massage on Attachment between Mother and their Infants. Asian Nursing Research, 6(1): 35 - 41. Mar 2012 Retrieved from http://www.asian-nursingresearch.com/article/S1976-1317(12)00007-2/abstract.

    The benefit of touch for infants, parents. Stanford Medical News Center. Sep 2013 Retrieved from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2013/09/the-benefits-of-touch-for-babies-parents.html.

    Continue Reading