Massaging your baby strengthens the parent-infant bond and contributes to your little one’s development.
The benefits of baby massage
Baby massage is beneficial for both infants and their parents. In fact, many professionals and researchers say that massaging your baby helps bring you closer together and contributes to their development. Consider these advantages:
Massaging your baby is a great way to bond. Physical contact stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone linked to attachment. In addition, massages help you build a relationship with your baby, making your interactions easier and more natural.
Massages have a positive effect on babies’ sleep. They promote relaxation, which gradually helps infants sleep for longer periods. Their bodies also secrete more melatonin, the sleep hormone, after a massage, which improves their sleep-wake cycle.
Massages are very soothing and have been shown to help babies feel calmer.
Massages are believed to promote weight gain in newborns, improve digestion, and relieve gas.
They stimulate the senses, especially touch, which promotes infant brain development.
They foster better communication between parent and baby. During a massage, the parent must be attentive to their little one’s vocalizations and non-verbal cues.
They stimulate babies’ blood circulation, which helps with oxygen transport and body temperature regulation.
They’ve been shown to help parents feel less stressed and more confident in their parenting abilities.
Preparing to massage your baby
It’s safe to massage your baby from the day they’re born. However, if they were born premature or have any health problems, remember to consult a nurse or doctor first.
- Choose a time when your baby is alert and relaxed. This could be before a nap, before you put them down for the night, or after bath time. Avoid massaging your baby while they’re sleeping, if they’re crying or agitated, or immediately before or after a feeding.
- Find a quiet, dimly lit room. You can lay your baby on a blanket on the floor or on your bed; make sure to keep an eye on them at all times. If you prefer to stand, lay them on the changing table instead.
- Remove your baby’s clothes so you can massage their bare skin. Make sure the room is warm enough for them.
- Use vegetable oil (e.g., canola oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil) to massage your baby. You can also use a moisturizer. However, avoid strongly scented oils, massage oils, and nut- or petroleum-based products (e.g., Vaseline).
- Remove any rings or bracelets you have on, as these could irritate your baby’s skin or injure them.
How to massage your baby
Baby massage can help you get to know your little one. For example, you might notice that they like having their legs massaged, but not their arms, or vice versa.
If you want to massage your baby, here are a few tips:
- Start by massaging them for a few minutes. This is meant to be an enjoyable experience, so pay attention to how your baby reacts and make adjustments if needed. Stop if they turn their head, stiffen, or seem upset or agitated. If they respond well and you feel comfortable, you can continue.
If your baby is cold, place a soft blanket over them and uncover only the limb you’re massaging.
- Start by massaging your baby’s arms, legs, and back. Since they’re used to being touched in these areas, they should enjoy how it feels. You can begin by holding their ankles or wrists and making small circles with your thumb and index finger. You can also cup your hand around their wrist in a C shape and slide your hand up to their shoulder.
Once your baby is used to being massaged, you can gradually start massaging their face, their torso, and the back of their neck.
- Speak or sing softly to your baby while you massage them. Pay attention to how they “answer.”
- If your baby enjoys being massaged, consider making it a part of their daily routine. For example, you can set aside 15 minutes for a massage, at a time of day when they’re very calm (e.g., after you give them their bath or put them down for the night).
Massage books and courses
You don’t necessarily have to take a 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. Online massage courses are also available.
Do all babies like massages?
Some babies don’t like being massaged at first. If your baby starts to cry when you massage them, try doing the following:
Gently stroke their skin
Talk to them in a gentle voice
Sing or read them a story to help them relax
Some babies don’t enjoy being massaged, no matter who’s massaging them.
If this doesn’t calm your baby down, try again later. They may be upset because being massaged is a new experience. They could also not want to be massaged because they’re tired or because they’re hungry or full.
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 enjoy physical contact.
Things to keep in mind
Massage is a special way to deepen your relationship with your baby.
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: Marilyn Aita, nurse, Ph.D., full professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the Université de Montréal
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: July 2023
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.
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