It’s a brave new world outside of the womb and it can be stressful for newborns. Massage can help your baby release that stress, feel soothed and relaxed and may even help them sleep better and be less irritable. Research has shown that babies who are rocked, held and touched are often less aggressive as adults. Studies have also shown that massage helps relax premature babies and babies with special needs.
Massaging your baby will also help you get to know your baby better by enabling you to become more aware of your baby’s cues and signals, sounds and movements.
- Find a warm, comfortable place. You might want to place your baby on layers of soft towels that have been slightly warmed in the dryer.
- Consider your baby’s best time of day (and your own) for the massage. Babies who have fussy periods at night, for example, may drift off to sleep with a massage. Other
babies may feel too stimulated and not respond to the massage.
- Turn on some soft music or sing to your baby.
Get your technique down pat
Lean your baby against the soles of your feet while you position yourself against something, with your knees slightly bent in front of you and your soles turned inward. This provides the right support. Experiment to find the position that offers you and your baby the most comfort and support.
An animal or vegetable oil, such as safflower or avocado oil, is best to use. You can also use baby oil or lotion, though these tend to leave residues or clog the pores. Lotions tend to dry quickly and have to be re-applied often during the massage. Avoid almond or other nut oils in case of an allergy.
Starting at the feet is less of a threat to a baby and is often accepted easily. Work toward the heart in order to improve circulation. Motions such as “milking” and gently squeezing the legs, feet and toes are essential in starting the massage ritual. The feet can be rubbed in a circular motion and rolled along with the legs (like rolling dough between your palms). Massage one leg and foot at a time.
Tummy and chest
Massaging the stomach can help relieve any gas pains the baby has and can help with digestion.
Work clockwise in circular motions from the chest to the lower abdomen. Move your thumbs outward from the navel. Make the letter “I” on the left side of the baby’s abdomen, make the letter “L” on the right side of the baby’s tummy, and end on the lower left-hand side, making a “U” from left to right. Walk your fingertips across the stomach from left to right to help digestion.
Rub the chest with a motion similar to flattening the pages of an open book. Make a circular motion back to the heart.
Make circular movements with your thumbs over her jaws and make smiles on her upper and lower lips. If your baby likes it, you can brush lightly over her eyelids, nose and lips.
Work down from the shoulders at right angles to the spine as if you are walking sideways down the back. You can also use circular motions on her back, working up from the bottom.
Benefits for baby:
- increased sense of love and trust
- better digestion
- relief of gas and symptoms of colic
- enhanced muscle tone
- less infant stress
- increased circulation
- enhanced respiration
- awareness of his/her body
Benefits for parents:
- enhanced bonding
- stronger communication with infant
- improved ability to “read”
- increased confidence in parenting
- intimacy with infant
- emotional satisfaction from
spending quality time
with their child
Originally published in ParentsCanada: Best Wishes, March 2007.