Infant Massage Guide — More Interaction & Healthier Practice

Infant massage is another pleasurable way that you can interact with your baby. He needs your gentle touch, and massaging him produces many healthful benefits. It can help calm a crying or fussy baby, as well as relieve gas, reduce colic, improve circulation, stimulate the immune system, enhance neurological development, and tone the muscles. Massage can also promote parent-infant bonding and allow parents to synchronize their body rhythms with those of their baby.

You do not have to be an expert to perform massage on your infant, and it does not have to be complicated. It is a natural extension of the loving touch you give him every day. Many mothers naturally stroke their baby’s arms and legs while the baby nurses. Or they rub the baby gently all over with lotion following a bath. Incorporating a daily massage into your routine of caring for your baby should be easy.

When performing massage, it is best to choose a quiet, relaxed location where you can be free from distractions and where the baby is comfortable. You will want the room to be warm so that you can remove the baby’s clothing, including his diaper. (Use a waterproof pad under him.) For young babies, cover the infant with a blanket and expose only the area you are working on. The addition of soft music helps to create a calming, pleasurable atmosphere. Soft or dimmed lighting is preferable to bright lights. The use of an unscented, edible light vegetable or nut oil, such as almond, sunflower, or safflower, will reduce the friction between your hands and your baby’s skin. Place a few drops of the oil on your hands and rub your palms together to warm the oil before applying it to the baby.

The quality of your touch should be gentle, yet firm. Your baby’s smiles, coos, and wiggling will let you know that it feels good to him. Any crying, grimacing, or stiffening would signal that you are hurting him or that he is not enjoying it. Your hands should remain soft and relaxed as they move in a smooth, flowing manner over his body. Keep your movements slow and rhythmic. Avoid abrupt, jerky moves or lifting your hands from his body. Because your baby will not lie perfectly still, you should work with, not against, his movements. Never force an arm or leg to straighten out if it is bent tightly.

A good time for a full body massage is right before a bath. Your baby will already be undressed and in a warm environment. Any excess oil will wash off in the bath. A massage, followed by a warm bath, should ease him into naptime.

Make sure your nails are short and you are not wearing jewelry that could scratch your baby. Wait until he is about 1 month old before beginning the massage routines. Do not massage your baby if he is sick or received an injection within 48 hours. Wait at least 90 minutes after a feeding. It is not necessary to do a full body massage each time; you can just do specific areas. Downward strokes are soothing and calming, while upward strokes are stimulating.

Below is a sample routine for you to begin with. You will soon learn which strokes are the most enjoyable for you and your baby.

Chest and abdomen

  1. Place your baby on his back with his feet toward you.
  2. Place your fingers in the center of the chest and gently stroke outward to the sides, following the ribs.
  3. Using a clockwise motion (to relieve gas and improve the digestion), make circles around his belly with your fingers.
  4. Gently stroke the sides of the torso.
  5. Gently stroke down the torso.

Arms and hands

  1. With the baby on his back, gently stretch the arms out to the sides to form a cross. Use your thumbs to massage the palms and open the hands.
  2. Support one hand and wrist with your hand, and gently stroke up the arm from the wrist to the shoulder.
  3. Lightly knead the arm from the wrist to the shoulder.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other arm.

Legs and feet

  1. With the baby on his back, support one leg with both your hands. Gently knead the leg, beginning with the fleshy part of the thigh and working down to the ankle.
  2. Supporting the leg with one hand under the knee, stroke the leg from the ankle up the thigh and back down again.
  3. Move your supporting hand down to the ankle. Gently smooth the palm of your other hand over the top of the foot to the toes.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 with the other leg.
  5. Move your thumbs in a circular motion on the bottom of both feet.

After 2 months of age, you can begin massaging the baby’s back.

Back and buttocks

  1. Lay the baby on his stomach with his feet toward you, making sure that he can breathe easily. Use long stroking motions to distribute some oil on his back.
  2. Use the fingertips of both hands near the spine and slowly move them outward to the sides, following the ribs. Start at the shoulders and move all the way down the back to the buttocks.
  3. Cup your hands around his sides and use your thumbs to perform the same massage as in step 2.
  4. Gently knead the buttocks using a circular motion.
  5. Repeat the long stroking motions from step 1, massaging from the shoulders to the toes and including the arms.
  6. As the massage ends, open your fingers and use a progressively lighter touch with each downward stroke.

For more detailed techniques, see Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents by Vimala Schneider McClure. Or, contact the International Association of Infant Massage. This group offers training programs for parents and can inform you about training in your area.