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A guide to baby massage: how should you do it?

Whether you’re trying to get your little one to drift off to dreamland or soothing her gassy tummy, a gentle massage can make a big difference for your baby. Babies find the tender touch of your hand to be soothing and even therapeutic in some instances. Research has shown that touch is the most developed sense at birth, which is why massaging your baby now and then has numerous benefits.

Here is a comprehensive guide to baby massage.

Getting started

Here are some tips on how to get started.

  • Choose a warm, quiet room. Make sure your baby is content and alert – not immediately after feeding, or when she’s tired or hungry. Babies are more receptive to massages when they’re at ease.
  • You will need a skin-friendly massage oil and soft towels or pieces of cloth.
  • Strip your little one down to her diaper, and then lay her in an upwards facing position on a towel or soft cloth, with a pillow under her head.
  • Make sure the position is comfortable, giving you direct eye contact with no overhead lights.
  • Give your baby a cue by asking, “Can I give you a massage?” With time, your child will become familiar with this prompt and know that they are about to get a massage.

How to give your baby a massage

1. Legs and feet

  • Lift your little one’s right leg by the ankle and gently tap the upper thigh to relax it.
  • With one hand on her ankle and another around her upper thigh, stroke your baby gently from her thigh down to her foot. Gently apply a bit of pressure as you go.
  • If she is comfortable with this motion, gently grasp the leg at the thigh, with one hand above the other, and stroke down, rotating your hands in opposite directions as if wringing a towel.
  • Reverse this motion and go from her ankle to her thigh.
  • To massage her feet, use a thumb-over0thumb motion, moving from her heel to her toes.
  • Carefully rub the top of her foot, and then gently uncurl and stroke each toe.
  • Repeat these motions for the left leg.

2. Tummy

  • To massage the tummy, start at the base of your baby’s rib cage by stroking down her tummy with one hand, then the other.
  • Using your fingertips, draw a circle or oval shape below your tot’s belly button. Do this in a clockwise motion, to follow the natural path of the digestive tract.
  • Walk your fingertips gently from one side of your baby’s tummy to the other.
  • If your baby is gassy, hold her feet and knees together and gently press her knees up toward her abdomen. Rotate your baby’s hips around a couple of times to the right. This can help expel gas.

3. Chest

  • Place both of your hands on your child’s chest and slowly stroke outward from the center to her shoulders.
  • Beginning at the sternum, trace a heart shape, bringing both of your hands up to the baby’s shoulders, then back down together.

3. Back

  • Place your baby on her tummy with her hands in front of her.
  • Move your hands back and forth in opposite directions on the baby’s back, going from the base of the neck to her tush.
  • Use your fingertips to gently massage down one side of your baby's spine and up the other. Avoid applying direct pressure on her spine.
  • Massage her bottom gently with big circular motions, and her shoulders with small circular motions.

4. Arms

  • Massage one arm by gently stroking from her shoulder down to her wrist. With both hands, stroke her hand with both hands rotating in opposite directions.
  • Massage her palm, gently uncurling and stroking the toes.
  • Massage the wrist by moving your fingertips in circular motions.

5. Head and face

  • Cradle your baby’s head in both hands and gently massage the scalp with your fingertips as if working in shampoo. Make sure to avoid soft spots on the head.
  • Gently rub her ears between your index finger and thumb.
  • Stroke your baby’s cheeks with your thumbs.
  • Massage her jaw in circular motions using your fingertips.

What massage oils should I use?

It is important that you use massaging oil as it will make it easier for your hands to glide over your little one’s skin, and it may be more relaxing for your baby. Vegetable oils that have a high concentration of linoleic acid may be gentler on your baby's sensitive skin. Vegetable oils that have high levels of linoleic acid include grape seed oil and sunflower oil.

If your baby suffers from dry or peeling skin, avoid using vegetable oils that are high in oleic acid as they may be harsher than those that have linoleic acid or baby mineral oils. Olive oil has high levels of oleic acid, so you may want to steer clear of it if your baby’s skin is sensitive.

Perfume-free baby mineral oils are another great option for use on babies who have sensitive skin. If your baby suffers from eczema, you should stick to using her prescribed emollient or cream during massages.

What are the benefits of giving your baby a massage?

The perks of massaging your little one include:

  • Studies have found that giving your baby a full-body massage can reduce fussiness and crying, as well as help her sleep more peacefully. This is because a massage stimulates your baby’s central nervous system and triggers the brain to release more serotonin (the feel-good chemical), and less cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • A massage is a great way to bond with your baby. The affectionate touch and rhythmic movement that a massage allows can make you and your baby feel closer to each other.
  • Giving your baby a gentle rub-down can help you understand her cues and respond to them better.

Final thoughts

Paying close attention to your baby’s cues is crucial when giving a massage. Your baby will let you know when they have had enough of the massage and which techniques she enjoys or dislikes. If your baby turns away or cries during the massage, it’s time to stop, and maybe try again later when she calms down.

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