Baby massage 101: Techniques for colic, gas, and relaxation

So you carried a baby for nine months. You then birthed this baby. And now you’re feeding them and dealing with their poop around the clock. Yet we have the audacity to suggest that they’re the ones in need of a relaxing massage?!

Hear us out here. 

There are loads of benefits to baby massage – for your baby AND for you. Seriously. Here’s what you need to know about why you should consider it, and how to massage a newborn baby.

The benefits of baby massage

Baby massage isn’t some sort of woo-woo, new age thing. It’s been used for centuries across many different cultures because of its wide range of benefits. 

For your baby:

  • It can help them relax and sleep better.
  • It can ease intestinal difficulties.
  • It’s been shown to assist with weight gain and infection prevention.
  • It can enhance their development.

For you (mom):

  • It may be linked to a boost in mood.
  • It may improve mom-baby interaction for moms with postnatal depression.
  • It can help you recognize your baby’s cues.
  • It can help increase your confidence as a mom.
  • It can help you relax and listen to your baby.

Yeah, these are some big claims! While these benefits are known amongst age-old cultural practices, in terms of cold hard evidence, it’s thin. The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing notes that while benefits have been noted in small-scale studies, further research should be done to provide more solid evidence. (See our sources below to delve into some of the research.)

When should you give your baby a massage?

This is totally up to you! Some parents like to work it into a relaxing bedtime routine, in place of or after giving a bath. Some prefer to do it as a bonding activity when their baby is happy and relaxed.

There are, however, times when you SHOULDN’T perform a baby massage, including:

  • Within 40 minutes of a feed. They may projectile vom in your face, so it’s best to burp them thoroughly and let their tummies settle first.
  • When they’re beside-themselves upset. Being poked and stroked may upset them more.
  • When YOU’RE upset. You may be a lil’ more aggressive than you’d like, and it probably won’t be a great experience for anyone.

How to give a baby massage

Time to embrace your calling as a baby masseuse. The Raising Children Network offers some useful visual guidance on how to massage a baby

Source: Raising Children Network

A step-by-step baby massage

  1. Start with a soothing baby feet massage – Use firm, gentle, slow strokes from heel to toe.

  2. Move to legs and hips – Massage from the ankle, up the thigh and over your baby’s hip. Holding their leg behind the knee and gently pressing it towards the tummy can be an effective baby massage for gas.

  3. Massage their arms – Stroke from your baby’s shoulders in towards the chest, and stroke down their arms towards the wrist.

  4. Try a gentle baby massage for constipation – Stroke your hand in a clockwise motion over your baby’s tummy. A baby tummy massage like this can help kick their digestive system into gear so they can pass wind (or poop) more effectively.

  5. Upgrade it to a facial – A relaxing baby head massage can help to soothe and relax them. Use your fingers to gently stroke from the middle of their forehead around to their cheeks. Massage the scalp in small circles too.

BONUS: A useful baby massage for colic is the ‘Paddlewheel’ technique. Lay your baby on their back and gently but firmly rake your hand down their body from chest to groin. When your hand is halfway down, start again with the other hand for constant stimulation.

Utter. Baby. Bliss.

When it comes to baby massage, follow your mama instinct and get a feel for what your little one likes (and what they definitely do NOT like). Try new techniques, and with or without baby massage oil.

Can you use baby oil for massage? (And should you?)

Baby massage oil can be great, but it’s not necessary. Some parents like that it reduces friction and helps you massage more smoothly, but others find it messy and icky.

If you do decide to give it a try, the best baby massage oils are odorless and edible (because your babe is no doubt going to get some in their mouth). Do a patch test on their skin before dousing them in it, to check for any skin reactions.

Tips for massaging your baby

  • Do it in a calm, relaxing environment.
  • Don’t do it directly after a feed. (Vomit warning.)
  • Cut your nails and remove jewelry – otherwise ouch.
  • Don’t do it if they’re excessively upset.
  • Don’t do it if you’re upset. (Instead, hand the baby to your partner and go get a massage yourself.)
  • Watch how your baby responds – try to identify what they like.
  • Sing and talk to your baby while you massage them. It’s such a beautiful way to connect!

No one deserves a relaxing massage more than you, mama. But know that giving your baby a massage might be just as blissful. Give it a try. And get more sweet baby hacks here.

The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, A Meta-Analysis of Preterm Infant Massage

The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, A CASE STUDY OF Infant Massage Outcomes

The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, Interventions to Improve Maternal-Infant Relationships in Mothers With Postpartum Mood Disorders

BBC, How a simple tummy-rub can change babies’ lives

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, The many benefits of infant massage

British Journal of Midwifery, Infant massage: The practice and evidence-base to support it

The Raising Children Network, Baby massage: in pictures

Mayo Clinic, Infant massage: Understand this soothing therapy

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