At the core, parenting is all about creating a soothing and healthy environment in which your newborn knows how loved they are. While touching and caressing your baby may come naturally to you, learning the art of baby massage may seem daunting at first. Yet, it’s one of the most important and natural things we can do to build a strong loving foundation and help our children develop both physically and emotionally.
In India and other Eastern countries, baby massage is considered one of the most important aspects of baby rearing with many families hiring “Ammas,” women who come to the house to perform massage, on a daily basis.
As nice as it would be to book a daily massage for baby, learning baby massage is not as complicated as many parents fear. Simple baby massage techniques will help your baby relax and will have innumerable benefits for both baby and caretaker.
Science Backed Benefits
If you’re looking for a simple technique to introduce into your routine to help your baby calm down, relax, and sleep better— look no further than baby massage. When a baby is massaged, you are actually stimulating their central nervous system, building muscle tone, and allowing them to release serotonin that helps form vital connections with you, themselves and the world around them.
Research conducted by Dr. Tiffany Fields, Director of Touch Research Institute, showed that infant massage can have these benefits among many others.
- Lower heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Increases in positive hormones
- Improved immunity
- Physical growth in babies
- Psychosocial development
- Encourages attachment and bonding with parents
- Growth and weight gain
- Improves sleep
Prepping for the Massage
When it comes to baby massage, the prep is just as important as the basic strokes.
You will want to massage your newborn at a time when they are alert but aren’t irritable or fussy. If your baby is hungry, crying, or fussy for any reason, massaging them will not actually calm them down. It may overstimulate them, causing them to be more distressed.
In addition, make sure that you yourself are calm. If you are feeling particularly stressed or frazzled, take a deep breath and try to calm yourself prior to the massage.
If you are both feeling calm and alert, then you can take the next steps:
- Remove any jewelry and wash your hands
- Dim the lights and put on soft music
- Place your baby on a blanket on the floor, bed, or on their changing station.
- Verbally engage with your newborn and ask their permission. If they are smiling and making eye contact, the answer is “Yes.” If they are scrunching their face and arching back, you may want to find another time for massage.
- Have an edible oil on hand, such as coconut or grapeseed oil.
Basic Massage Strokes
When it comes to massaging your newborn, be sure that you are using gentle strokes and not applying too much pressure. But don’t make the mistake of having too light of a touch as that can make baby feel ticklish. A nice medium pressure should work fine.
Arms and Leg Massage: For your newborn’s arms, stabilize your baby with one hand, and then use the opposite hand to lightly glide from shoulder to hand. Do this 3 times, and then switch arms. You will do the same steps for the legs, going from thigh to feet. Always massage in the direction away from the heart as this stroke is less stimulating for baby.
Belly Massage: Place your hand flat against the baby’s bellybutton. Rub their belly in small clockwise circles, applying gentle but firm pressure. Try to stay away from the belly button area, especially in babies under 1 month.
Back Massage: After massaging the arms, legs, and belly, you can turn your newborn around onto their bellies. This is a great opportunity for tummy time. You can gently rub their back using the same circular motion as you did for their bellies.
Face Massage: After you have massaged their back, place your newborn gently back onto their back. You can then place both hands on your child’s forehead and trace down to their chin. Repeat several times.
Be sure to remain calm throughout the massage and use songs and conversation to connect with your newborn.
Baby Massage Takeaways
Now that you know the best methods for baby massage, you’ll want to practice once a day and work up to two massages per day. Even 5-10 minutes a day is a wonderful way to release tension for both you and baby and to enhance your bond. It will also help soothe and relax baby so that they improve their sleep and maintain optimal health.
As you can see, infant massage unlocks a wonderfully loving environment for the baby and will help you to enjoy those precious moments with them while they are a newborn.
Elina Furman is a mom of two boys Julian, 12, and Dylan, 8 soon to be moving to Connecticut. As a certified infant massage instructor and baby product expert, she is excited to bring awareness to the scientific evidence-based practice of baby/child massage practiced around the world. To help spread the word about the benefits of baby/child massage, she is developing the first handheld massager for babies and children, Kahlmi. Sign up for their email at Kahlmi.com and follow along on IG @getkahlmi. Oh, and if you need some baby tips and advice, follow her on TikTok at @kahlmi.