You can spend quality time with your little one by gently massaging their body yourself or get help from a professional infant massage specialist. Infant massage doesn’t just create relaxation and bonding for parents and children, it also provides health benefits, especially for babies born prematurely.
Benefits of Infant Massage
Infant massage can improve your baby’s health and quality of life in several ways:
- Encourages your baby to interact with you and others
- Promotes relaxation and healthy sleep
- Lowers stress hormones
- Relieves gas pains
- Reduces crying
- Improves digestion
- Helps babies grow quicker and healthier
Research has shown when massage therapists and parents used moderate pressure to massage preterm infants, these children grew faster and developed higher bone density than preterm babies who were not massaged regularly. When parents and practitioners massaged preterm babies with coconut and safflower oil, researchers observed higher weight gain and triglyceride counts. These health benefits reduced hospital stay times, allowing parents and children to go home sooner and pay less money in hospital costs.
Infant Massage Precautions
Start a massage when your little one is content, calm, and clear-eyed. If they turn away or stiffen up during a massage, they may not feel like a massage at that time. Be sure to wait about 45 minutes after feeding your baby before attempting a massage. If you massage your baby right after a meal, they may be more likely to vomit.
You may want to experiment with using oils to massage your infant. Some parents find this reduces friction and makes their babies happier during massage; others find it too difficult and messy. It is best to use an odorless oil that is safe to ingest (experts recommend organic safflower, extra virgin olive, and coconut oils). If your baby has allergies or sensitive skin, be sure to test their reaction to your massage oil by putting just a tiny amount on their skin and observing any reaction over several hours.
Talk with your doctor about infant massage before giving it a try, especially if your baby has any health challenges. Your physician may recommend a professional infant massage therapist who can teach you how best to massage your baby and account for any medical needs.
Keep the massage brief, especially at first. Over time, you can turn the massage time into a safe and happy bonding time for parent and child. Massage can be a special daily habit or bedtime ritual for both of you.
Infant Massage Therapists
If you like (or your doctor recommends it), you can visit a certified infant massage practitioner to learn techniques and give your baby a caring and therapeutic experience. Be sure to ask your potential therapist about their courses of study, certification, experience, and doctor referrals.
Infant Massage at Home
Here are some tips and steps to take when starting a massage routine with your infant at home:
- Create a soothing environment – Massage your baby in a comfortable, quiet, and warm setting. You can massage them in a bed, on a changing table, or on a soft blanket outside on a nice day. Lay your baby on their back and give them lots of eye contact during the massage.
- Maintain a connection – Talk with them throughout the massage. (Leave the diaper on, just in case your massage rapidly aids the baby’s digestion.) You can say their name, sing to them, and tell stories. You may even want to use words and phrases like “massage time” and “relax” to encourage them to associate this experience with good feelings and stress release.
- Use a gentle touch – Be sure to remove any jewelry before massaging your baby, so the massage won’t cause any scratches or nicks. Use the gentlest touches you can, without tickling (and exciting) your little one. You can use slightly firmer motions as your baby grows.
- Standard massage – Lay your baby down on their stomach and briefly massage each body part: upper back, neck, head, shoulders, hands, feet, waist, and thighs. For extra interaction, repeat the name of each body part as you massage it.
- Flexibility massage – You can turn your baby onto their back and gently extend their arms and legs one at a time. If they enjoy this, you can help them flex and extend both legs at the same time. Afterward, be sure to “warm down” with a few more minutes of massage while they’re on their belly.
- Gas relief massage – With one hand, make gentle clockwise motions on your baby’s abdomen. Bring their knees to their abdomen and circle their knees lightly (again, in a clockwise direction). Press one leg at a time up into their lower abdomen and hold it in position for a few seconds. Keep going until your baby no longer tolerates the massage, releases gas, or has a bowel movement.
- Bishop, W. (2015). How to relieve infant gas via massage. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/215732-how-to-relieve-infant-gas-via-massage/
- Cohen, J., Blethen, S., Kuntze, J., Smith, S., Lomax, K., & Mathew, P. (2014). Managing the child with severe primary insulin-like growth factor-1 deficiency (IGFD): IGFD diagnosis and management. Drugs in R&D, 14(1): 25–29. doi:10.1007/s40268-014-0039-7
- Field, T., Diego, M., Maria Hernandez-Reif, M. (2010). Preterm infant massage therapy research: a review. Infant Behavior and Development, 33(2), 115–124. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.12.004
- Mayo Clinic Staff (2015). Infant massage: Understand this soothing therapy. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/infant-massage/art-20047151
- Porges, S., Doussard-Roosevelt J., Maiti, A. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2-3), 167-186.