How To Do Infant Massage (And Why It's Beneficial) - Baby Chick
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How To Do Infant Massage (And Why It’s Beneficial)

Discover the benefits of infant massage for babies and parents and learn how to massage your baby, including what materials you'll need.

Updated May 13, 2024

by Nina Spears

The Baby Chick®: Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum Expert
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The power of touch is profound. It can strengthen connections, heal, communicate, influence, and soothe when done lovingly. Our skin is our largest organ and the pathway for touch — one of our most powerful and important functions.1 For long-term well-being, touch is as important as food and security.2 It’s a powerful means of communication, the first sense we develop and the first language we learn.3 If done appropriately, massage has a profound capacity to nurture our relationships and our overall well-being. This is why infant massage has incredible results when performed on babies!4 In this article, I’ll share the benefits of infant massage and explain how to massage your baby properly, including what materials you’ll need.

The Benefits of Infant Massage

While completing my birth doula and postpartum doula certifications, I also enrolled in massage school. When attending births and supporting women through their labors, I discovered how impactful touch can be during labor, birth, and after delivery. Touch is such a powerful tool! During massage school, I also learned the amazing benefits of infant massage:

Benefits of Infant Massage for Baby

Here are the benefits that baby can experience through infant massage:4,5,6

  • Creates a loving, intimate communication
  • Enhances bonding and attachment
  • Helps with their development (social, emotional, and cognitive)
  • Promotes relaxation and quality sleep
  • Lowers irritability and colic (excessive crying)
  • Decreases gas and helps with intestinal problems
  • Relegates organ systems (respiratory, circulatory, nervous, digestive, and more)

Benefits of Infant Massage for Parents

Parents can also experience benefits when massaging their baby:4,6

  • Practice handling skills and build baby’s trust
  • Listen to and recognize their infant’s cues (what they like/don’t like)
  • Relax and reduce stress while connecting with baby
  • Have a special time to bond through one-on-one interaction
  • Increase vocalization and direct eye contact with baby

Benefits of Infant Massage for Premature Babies and Babies in the NICU

There are benefits of doing infant massage on premies and babies in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) as well:4,7,8,9,10,11,12,13

  • Promotes weight gain in preterm newborns
  • Reduces stress hormones and pain
  • Increases stable state organization
  • Improves immune system function and gastric motility
  • Helps with more mature motor behavior
  • Improves their developmental scores
  • Can help shorten baby’s hospital stay
  • Allows for greater parental involvement, particularly for fathers

After learning these benefits, I realized that every parent should learn how to massage their baby. I received my certification as an infant massage instructor in 2013 and am excited to share the art of infant massage with you!

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What You Need for Infant Massage

Before you can get started, there are certain things you’ll need to massage your baby:

1. Quiet Alert State

The best time to massage your baby is when your baby is in the Quiet Alert State.14 This is when your baby is awake, quiet, alert, and looking around. They are ready to engage with you and learn something new!15

2. Materials You Will Need

First, you’ll need a natural-based oil. Using natural oils on the skin helps avoid friction during massage.16 Natural, cold-pressed, or organic oils such as sweet almond, apricot, sesame, sunflower, or grape seed oil nourish your baby’s skin and give it a smooth and pleasant feeling. Do not use mineral oil-based lotions, peanut oil, or baby powder for infant massage. Unscented oil is preferred because babies put their hands in their mouths and also need to recognize their parent’s scent.17 If you suspect an allergy, you may want to perform a patch test by placing a small amount of oil on your infant’s wrist and leaving it for 20-30 minutes. Redness may indicate a reaction.

Here are the other materials you will need for infant massage:

  • An extra diaper and wipes: It’s common for babies to release their bowels during a massage, especially during the tummy massage routine and leg exercises.18
  • A bottle (or boob) ready to feed: It’s also common for babies to get hungry during or right after a massage.19
  • A soft blanket: Since baby will be sans clothes, have a soft blanket to wrap around them and keep them warm during the routine.

3. Comfortable Environment

It’s best to be in a room with good lighting and a warm and comfortable temperature. (You need to see what you’re doing during the massage, and we don’t want baby to get cold!) It’s also nice to have soothing music or white noise in the background. If possible, try to remove any distracting or loud noises.

4. Position

It’s important to choose the correct position for massage. I recommend the floor because it’s the safest place to perform the massage, and your baby can move around if needed.20 Spread your blanket in front of you and position your baby for good eye contact.

Now, you are ready to give your baby a massage!

How To Massage Your Baby

Here are a few infant massage moves to get you started. For the whole routine, watch the video at the end of this article:

1. Legs and Feet

It’s best to start the massage on baby’s legs since they are the furthest away from their face and the place that will cause them to be the least startled. Hold your baby’s heel in one hand; with your other hand, start at the top of the thigh and slowly stroke down to the ankle, gently squeezing the leg (medium pressure — not too light that would tickle your baby, but not too firmly either) as you go down it.

Then, rub the feet with your thumbs in a circular motion, gently uncurling and stroking the toes. Reverse the gliding motion and go up from the ankle to the thigh before you switch legs.

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2. Arms and Hands

Next, you can do the same routine and strokes we did for the legs and feet on the arms and hands.

3. Chest

Place your hands together (fingers are facing forward) on your baby’s chest and sternum, then push out to the sides, over the shoulders, and down the arms. Then, after a few of those strokes, move your right hand to baby’s right hip and glide it across the abdomen and chest to baby’s left shoulder. Do the same with the left hand on the left hip and glide it up to baby’s right shoulder. Work your way down and up to the shoulders and hips, creating an “X.”

4. Tummy

Have your hands in a paddle motion and sweep the palms of your hands on baby’s abdomen, making a scooping stroke downward. Start it from just below the ribs and stop just above the pubic bone. With your fingertips, move your fingers around your baby’s belly button in a circle. Move clockwise to follow the natural path of digestion.

5. Back

Stroke baby’s back from side to side and then up and down. Don’t put too much pressure on the spine.

6. Face

Place your hands around baby’s head and put your thumbs on the midline of their forehead. Then, press down and stroke outward toward baby’s ears. Work your way down to the eyebrows, continuing to press out toward baby’s ears. Next, use your thumbs to draw a smile on their face by stroking from one cheek across the upper lip to the other cheek. Repeat on the lower lip.

7. Head

Start with your hands on both sides of your baby’s head. Then, draw tiny circles on your baby’s head with your fingertips. Note: Ensure you don’t pressure baby’s fontanels or soft spots.21

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I hope you enjoy this massage routine with your baby and that your baby likes it, too! Again, for the whole routine, see the video below. Happy massaging! 🙂

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Nina Spears The Baby Chick®: Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum Expert
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Nina is The Baby Chick® & Editor-in-Chief of Baby Chick®. She received her baby planning certification in early 2011 and began attending births that same year. Since then, Nina has… Read more

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