You’re not the only one who craves a soothing body rub every now and then. Babies also find a gentle laying on of hands very relaxing — and even therapeutic. That’s because of the five senses, touch is one of the most developed at birth, and there’s research to suggest that infant massage has enormous benefits for helping babies grow and thrive.
What are the benefits of infant massage?
How can infant massage benefit your little one? It may help ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, boost his muscle development, calm him when he’s fussy, and soothe him to sleep.
But the advantages don’t stop there: All that stroking and touching make it easier for you to bond with your newborn. What’s more, giving your baby a massage can help you find your own inner Zen, too (and who can argue with that?).
You can start these gentle massages the day you bring your baby home. Or you can encourage your partner to try their hand at infant massage — a good opportunity for bonding.
How to give your baby an infant massage
- Legs and feet. Hold your baby’s heel in one hand; with your other hand, start at the top of the thigh and slowly stroke all the way down to the ankle, gently squeezing the leg as you go, as if you were milking a cow. Reverse the motion and go from ankle to thigh. Then rub the feet with your thumbs, gently uncurling and stroking the toes. Switch legs. You can do these same strokes on the arms and hands.
- Start with your hands on both sides of your baby’s head, then run your hands down both sides of his body, from his head to his toes. Next, draw tiny circles on your baby’s head with your fingertips.
- Fold your hands (as if you were praying) on your baby’s forehead, then gently push outward from the center. Next, use your thumb to draw a smile on your baby’s face by stroking from one cheek, across the upper lip to the other cheek. Repeat on the lower lip.
- Fold your hands on your baby’s chest, then push out to the sides, as if you were smoothing the pages of an open book.
- With your fingertips, draw an oval below your baby’s belly button. (Move clockwise, to follow the natural path of digestion.) Next, “walk” your fingertips from one side of your baby’s belly to the other, on the diagonal, as if you were making an “X.”
- Stroke his back side to side and then up and down.
Infant massage tips
Here’s what to keep in mind before you (or your partner) give your newborn an infant massage:
- Make infant massage part of your daily routine. Consider massaging your baby around the same time every day so that he comes to expect and enjoy it. What time’s best? There’s no “best” time, really. In general, you want to choose a time when you’re not feeling rushed (so don’t try to squeeze in a squeeze session while dinner’s cooking or you’ve got the washer and dryer going) or when your baby isn’t hungry (since he won’t enjoy the belly rubs if his belly’s empty) or too full (he’ll likely spit up his supper — you won’t make that mistake twice!).
- If you’re using massage oil, choose one that’s edible, unscented, and either a cold-pressed fruit or vegetable oil. Sure, you don’t need oil to rub your little one the right way, but it’ll be more pleasant for both of you if your hands glide more easily over your baby’s body. Coconut oil is a good option since it is easily absorbed into a baby’s skin — and easily digested when your little one sucks on his hands or fingers. Only use a dab and stay away from baby oil or mineral oil — they clog the pores. And nix nut oils too because of the potential for allergies.
- Pick an area that’s comfortable for both of you. Ideally, the room should be warm — at least 75 degrees F — so your nearly naked newborn doesn’t catch a chill while he’s chilling from your massage. You can massage your little one on the changing table, your bed (put a towel underneath to avoid oil stains on your comforter) even on the rug (use a towel there too). Add some soothing background music or simply use the time to talk and sing to your baby.
- Follow your baby’s cues. No one likes to be massaged when they’re not in the mood, and that’s true for your baby as well. If he turns away or frowns or cries when you lay your hands on, save the session for later. And remember, you don’t have to give a full-body massage every time. If your baby decides he’s had enough after you’ve rubbed his legs and feet, that’s okay too.
- Be gentle — and don’t apply too much pressure or it will be overpowering. Another smart tip from the infant massage playbook: Stroking away from the heart (from shoulder to wrist, for example) is relaxing, and therefore better suited for pre-nap or pre-bedtime massages. Stroking toward the heart (from wrist to shoulder) is more stimulating and better suited for when your baby will be awake and active. You can also do a combo.