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How to Massage a Baby Full Guide

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

Babies need to be touched in order to grow physically and emotionally healthy. Massaging babies boosts their immune systems, helps foster muscle development and reduces their stress. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your little one and create a relaxing environment for both of you. Knowing how and when to massage your baby will help you get the most out of this therapeutic practice. source

Giving an Effective Massage

Make the baby comfortable.

Baby massage

Plan to do the massage in a warm room with dim lighting. It’s important to make sure the temperature isn’t too cold, since the baby’s clothes will be removed during the massage. Lay the baby on their back on a soft towel or blanket placed on the floor or a safe flat surface. Put on some soft music if you wish.

  1. You can massage your baby with everything removed or just a diaper on in case of an accident. Choose the option that will make your baby more comfortable.

  2. If you want to massage your baby as a way to calm them down before going down for a nap, you might wish to use the baby’s nursery as the massage room. That way you can easily put them in their crib if they fall asleep during the massage.

Use edible oil.

Baby massage oil

If you want to use massage oil, choose olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or another edible oil, since the baby’s fingers might end up in their mouth. Don’t use mineral oil or another inedible oil, since these aren’t digestible and could hurt your baby’s stomach.

  1. Don’t use peanut oil, almond oil or other oils produced from foods that are common allergens.

  2. If the oil is cool, rub it between your hands to warm it up before applying it to your baby’s body.

Use gentle rubbing motions.

Baby massage technique

Do not massage a baby using the same force you’d use for an adult. Use your fingers to gently rub your baby’s body, never pushing too hard or kneading. The goal is not to work out knots or do a deep tissue massage, as it would be with an adult; rather, you want to use soft, circular rubbing motions to gently stimulate the baby’s skin.

You’ll want to massage the baby’s back, tummy, arms, legs, head and neck. Handle all parts of your baby’s body with gentle care.

As the baby grows, you can apply a little more pressure. A toddler can handle a slightly firmer massage than an infant.

Massage in one direction.

Massage technique in baby

The general practice is to massage the skin away from the direction of the heart. This has a calming effect on the body, so it’s a good technique to use if you want to help them get to sleep more easily. You can also massage toward the heart instead, but bear in mind this has a stimulating effect. Massage toward the heart when you want your baby to feel more active.

  1. Choose the direction depending on the time of day you massage them. If it’s playtime, a stimulating massage might make them feel like having some fun. But massaging this way right before bedtime probably won’t have the effect you want.

  2. Massaging away from the heart is a great way to calm down a baby who’s feeling fussy.

Try a milking massage.

Baby massage hand

This is a good technique to use on your baby’s arms and legs. Make a loose circle or C-shape around your baby’s arm or leg with your forefinger and thumb. Use a very gently pulling motion to pull downward toward their foot or hand, as though you were milking a cow. Repeat the motion several times.

  1. Never grip too tightly, and take care not to wrench their limbs.

  2. Continue until you’ve massaged all their limbs.

Try a rolling massage.

Baby massage hand

Your baby might enjoy the feeling of having their arms and legs “rolled.” Gently roll your hands over a limb at a time, as though you were rolling out dough. Rock the limb back and forth against the blanket or towel your baby is resting on. Repeat with all four limbs.

Don’t tickle your baby when you massage them.

Baby massage

The massage is meant to be relaxing, and this could be irritating to your baby. Help your baby come to associate massage time as a relaxing, calming bonding session. They should know what to expect, and a tickle could be shocking or overstimulating.

Choosing the Right Time for a Massage

Massage your baby before their bedtime.

Baby massage

As stated above, massage is an excellent way to help your baby calm down and get ready to go to sleep.[1] Doing it at regularly scheduled times will help them get into a good bedtime routine. Make it part of your nightly ritual following their bath and other routines your family has established. Plan to start about a half hour before their scheduled bedtime.

Massage them when they’re fussy.

Baby massage cry

Massage can be a great way to connect with your baby and help them feel less agitated any time of day. Babies often cry when they want attention, and massaging your baby lets them know you’re present. It has a deeply calming effect, and many parents find it to be an effective tool for quieting a baby during especially fussy times.

  1. Be sure their other needs are met first, so they’re comfortable during the massage. Your baby might be crying because they’re hungry, tired, or for another reason. They won’t enjoy the massage as much if they haven’t yet had dinner.

  2. Wait 45 minutes after meals. Massaging a baby right after they eat can cause them to get an upset stomach. Babies spit up quite easily, and any sort of massaging motion has the potential to make them lose their last meal. Make sure they have plenty of time to digest their food before you give them a massage.

Massage them when they’re in the mood.

Baby massage

Sometimes babies don’t feel like being massaged, and it’s important to stop if they’re exhibiting signs of distress. If they stiffen and cry, let it go for now and try massaging them another time, when they’re in the mood to be touched.

  1. If they seem as though they’re in pain when you massage them, make sure your technique is gentle enough. If your technique doesn’t seem to be the problem, you might want to take them in to see the pediatrician to see why they seem to feel pain during massage.

  2. If they’re enjoying the massage, they’ll seem relaxed and receptive to your touch.

Work up to a half-hour massage.

Baby massage when

Start by massaging for just five minutes. This will give your baby time to get used to the feeling of being massaged, and decide that they like it. Go a little longer each time until you work up to half an hour or so. This is the optimal amount of time per day to spend massaging your baby.[2]

  1. Massage benefits are myriad. Massage helps to stimulate your baby’s growth, boost the immune system, and help their digestive system stay healthy. It also reduces stress and aids in emotional development.

  2. As well, massaging your baby helps the two of you bond. It’s a great way for fathers to bond with their babies.

Focusing on Certain Body Parts

Massage their legs and feet.

Baby massage foot

Encircle the baby’s thigh with your thumb and forefinger. Gently stroke their leg from their thighs down to their feet, then rub their feet with your thumbs. Curl and uncurl their toes. Repeat with the other leg, then gently bend and unbend the knees at the same time.

You can start with any part of the baby’s body. Many like to start with the legs and feet in order to help the baby transition from play time to calm time more easily. The baby may kick and squirm, having fun as you massage their legs and feet.

Remember to be very gentle; don’t pull on their legs or exert too much pressure as you bend their knees. If they straighten their legs in protest, don’t force them to bend them.

Massage their chest and tummy.

Baby massage chest

This part of the massage has the most profound calming effect. Start by massaging their chest from the center outward, away from the heart, smoothing your hand over their skin as though you were smoothing open the pages of a book. Then, massage their tummy in a clockwise rubbing motion. This mimics the path of digestion. Keep doing this part of the massage until your baby seems calm.

Remember that if you’re massaging as part of playtime, you can make your baby feel stimulated by massaging your baby’s chest toward the heart, rather than away from it.

Be careful not to tickle your baby’s belly as you massage it.

Massage their head and face.

Baby massage head

Use your fingers to make circles on their head. Gently “walk” your fingers across their forehead and cheeks, and draw a smile on their lips Steer clear of the eyes and nose, since massaging too close to these areas might make them uncomfortable.

Massage their back.

Baby massage back

Gently turn your baby over so they’re lying on their stomach. Massage their back by smoothing your hands from the center of their back outward. Don’t grip their shoulders and knead as you would an adult’s; instead, use circular motions to rub their shoulders and lower back.

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