Massaging your baby strengthens the parent-infant bond and contributes to your little one’s development.
Many health professionals say that massaging your baby helps you bond with them and contributes to their development.
It’s safe to begin performing massage while your baby is a newborn. However, if they were born premature or have any health problems, you should consult a nurse or doctor first.
What are the benefits of baby massage?
Massaging your baby is a good way to develop your bond with them. Physical contact stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone linked to parent-infant bonding.
Massage has a positive effect on an baby’s sleep. It helps babies relax, which gradually helps them sleep for longer. In addition, babies produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone) following massage, so their sleep-wake cycle is improved.
Since massages are very relaxing, they may help babies feel less stressed.
Massages are believed to promote weight gain in newborns and contribute to good digestion. They may also help relieve gas.
Massage promotes communication with your baby because you have to be more attentive to their non-verbal cues when massaging them.
It stimulates blood circulation, which helps with oxygen transport and the regulation of body temperature.
How should you massage your baby?
When you massage your baby, you also get to know them. For example, you might notice that they like having their legs massaged, but not their arms. You’ll then adapt to their needs to make them more comfortable.
If you want to massage your baby, here are a few tips.
- Start by massaging them for a few minutes. Be attentive and adapt to your baby’s needs and reactions. Stop if they turn their head, stiffen up, or seem upset or agitated. If they respond well and you feel comfortable, you can continue.
- Massage your baby’s arms, legs, and back. Since they’re used to being touched in these areas, this type of massage shouldn’t be stressful for them. Next, massage your little one’s face, their torso, and the back of their neck. You can also try the following:
- Hold their wrists or ankles and make small circles with your thumb and index finger
- Encircle their wrist with your hand (in a C shape) and slide your hand up to their shoulder
- Speak or sing softly to your baby while you massage them. Pay attention to how they “answer.”
Massage books and courses
You don’t necessarily have to take a training course if you want to learn other baby massage techniques, as there are many books on the topic. However, the massage courses offered by some CLSCs and various organizations are a good opportunity to talk to other parents and gain confidence.
Practical tips for massaging your baby
Here are some tips to help you perfect your massages.
- Choose a time when your baby is alert and relaxed. This might be before bedtime, after bath time, or before feedings, for example. Avoid massaging your baby while they’re sleeping of if they’re crying or agitated.
If your baby is cold, cover them with a soft blanket and uncover only the limb you are massaging.
Since your baby will only be wearing a diaper during the massage, make sure the room is warm enough for them. The room should also be quiet and not too bright.
- Lay your baby on a blanket on the floor or on your bed. If you prefer to stand, lay them on the changing table instead.
- Use vegetable oil (e.g., canola oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil) to massage your baby. You can also use a moisturizer. However, avoid massage oils and petroleum-based products (e.g., Vaseline).
- Don’t wear jewelry, as it might scratch your baby’s skin.
If your baby enjoys being massaged, you can add a massage to their daily routine. For example, you can set aside 15 minutes for a massage at a time of day when they’re most calm.
Do all babies like massages?
Some babies don’t like being massaged the first time. If your baby starts to cry when you massage them, try doing the following:
Some babies don’t enjoy being massaged, no matter how skilled the massager.
Gently stroke their skin
Speak to them very softly
Sing to help them relax
If this doesn’t calm them down, try again later. They may be upset simply because massage is a new experience for them. If your baby is tired or hungry (or, conversely, has a full belly), they may not want to be massaged.
Other babies are more sensitive to touch, and massages make them uncomfortable. If this is the case with your baby, wait a few weeks before trying again.
Some babies also prefer that their parents simply place their hands on them. Holding your baby skin-to-skin is also a good way to have physical contact with them.
Things to keep in mind
Massage is a special way to get to know your baby better.
If your baby seems tense or agitated during a massage, it’s best to try again later.
Baby massage should be done in a calm environment.
Scientific review: Audrey Larone Juneau, nursing executive, CHU Sainte-Justine
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: June 2017
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Agarwal, K. N., et al. “Effects of massage & use of oil on growth, blood flow & sleep pattern in infants.” The Indian Journal of Medical Research, December 2000, no. 112, pp. 212–217.
Ferber, S. G., et al. “Massage therapy by mothers enhances the adjustment of circadian rhythms to the nocturnal period in full-term infants.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, vol. 23, no. 6, December 2002, pp. 410–415.
PasseportSanté. “Massage pour bébé.” www.passeportsante.net