Stroke down the side of the body and gently, towards the tummy area. This will help stimulate the baby’s digestion and also encourage them to pass urine or stool. Stroke from a few times from each direction, once on each side, then twice down one side before changing to the other side and so on. Have plenty of wipes or tissues nearby for afterwards.
It’s very important that babies are allowed to show their personality and individuality. It shouldn’t be thought of as a battle of wills, but as an opportunity for you and your baby to learn about each other. You can use all sorts of games to help teach your baby about boundaries, such as moving objects around in front of her face. This helps her understand what will happen if she tries to grab things from you or from anyone else.
The baby tummy massage technique is used to help reduce colic and discomfort, stimulate the bowels and encourage healthy digestion and the release of gas. The massage may also improve sleep, and may help with fussiness or crying during feeding times.
How To Massage A Baby
Baby massage is a lovely way to enjoy time with your baby and it can also help you bond with them. Find out more in this article.
Before babies are able to understand language, we often communicate and comfort them through touch. If a baby cries, for example, parents will hold, cuddle or stroke them. Baby massage is part of this natural impulse.
Find out about the benefits of baby massage for you and your baby in this video.
What is baby massage?
Baby massage is the gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby’s body using your hands. As part of a massage routine, you might gently manipulate your baby’s ankles, wrists and fingers.
“You might also talk softly, hum or sing to them while massaging to create a sense of calm and reassurance for your baby”.
What are the benefits of baby massage?
Baby massage was introduced about 30 years ago in neonatal wards to support the development of premature babies in intensive care units. A study in 2004 found that babies in intensive care units who were massaged spent less time in hospital, had slightly better scores on developmental tests and slightly fewer postnatal complications.
Today, there is widespread belief that baby massage can increase a mum’s awareness of her baby’s needs and support their early bond, as well as improve her sense of well-being if she is suffering with postnatal depression or other mental health issues. The evidence is inconclusive on these points but parents do say they find baby massage a lovely way of bonding with their baby.
Many talk about the following benefits:
- Becoming more confident in handling their child and better at recognising their needs.
- Improved positive interaction with their baby.
- A great way for partners, family members and carers to bond with baby.
- Improved sleep for their baby.
When can I start baby massage?
There are no set guidelines regarding the minimum age for when to start baby massage. Although nurturing touch can be given from birth, some babies may find formal, structured massage too stimulating in the very early weeks.
When it comes to baby massage classes, some babies may find a formal class overwhelming in the early weeks. It can also be hard for parents to make it to a class on time or consistently with a newborn. As a result, many parents prefer to wait until their baby is about six weeks old when their routine is more settled and their behaviour is sometimes more predictable.
“It can also be helpful to start baby massage after your baby’s six week check so any issues with development, such as hip dysplasia, might be identified”.
Getting ready to massage your baby
Here are some tips to help you try baby massage at home:
- Choose a time when your baby is content and alert, not tired or hungry, and interested in what’s going on around them. This makes it more likely that they’ll be ready to interact with you.
- Try sitting on the floor, bed or sofa, with your baby safely on a towel in front of you.
- Find a position that’s comfortable, gives you good eye contact with no overhead lights and where your baby is warm.
- It’s up to you whether your child is nappy-free, but it can help to at least loosen their nappy when massaging the tummy.
- It can be a nice idea to introduce a massage after bath and before bed as part of a bedtime wind-down.
How to give your baby a massage
Before beginning ‘ask permission’ by rubbing a little oil between your hands near your baby’s ears, and ask ‘can I give you a massage?’ This may sound a little strange but your child will become familiar with this cue and know that massage is about to start. It also gives your baby a chance to let you know if they don’t feel like a massage.
It’s great to massage the whole of your child’s body using a range of techniques. To get you started, we describe some strokes below for the legs and feet.
- Once you have ‘asked permission’, gently hold one of your baby’s legs between your palms.
- Then, with one hand, hold your baby’s ankle securely. Mould your other hand around the top of your child’s thigh, then slide it down the leg towards the ankle.
- Swap hands and repeat. Always keep your child’s ankle supported and use slow, flowing strokes.
- Next, cradle your child’s foot in your hands and use your thumbs to stroke over the sole of the foot from heel to toes, one thumb after another. Hold your fingers in a tripod grip and gently tug each toe between thumb and finger.
- Holding your child’s foot in your hands, walk the thumbs across the middle third of the foot from one side to the other like a little caterpillar crawling on a leaf.
- You could also do circles on the palms of their hands singing ‘Round and round the garden like a teddy bear’. Continue with finger and thumb tugs.
- Finish by repeating the stroking action in the opposite direction, i.e. from ankle to thigh.
- You can repeat each stroke a few times, always responding to what your child seems to enjoy.
What oils/products should I use for baby massage?
While using oil can make massage easier for parents and more relaxing for their baby, there is limited evidence on what oil is best to use for baby massage.
Most research into the use of oils on a baby’s skin has not focussed on their use for baby massage but for skincare issues, such as dry skin or eczema. This is important to note because there may be a difference in the effect of using oils in baby massage once a week compared to every day for skincare reasons or for more frequent massage.
The NHS also recommends parents do not use any oils or lotions until their baby is one month old. This is because at birth, the top layer of a baby’s skin is very thin and easily damaged. Over the first month (or longer in premature babies), a baby’s skin matures and develops its own natural protective barrier.
Here is a list of oils and what is know about them:
- Cold-pressed oil – while there is a lack of evidence on its benefits, some parents prefer to use a cold pressed oil, which is manufactured differently to cooking oils and has fewer impurities.
- Mineral oils or petroleum-based ointments are an option if your baby has dry or broken skin, as they have been found to be effective and safe for treating skin problems, such as dermatitis and eczema.
- Mustard oil can have a toxic effect on the skin barrier, causing irritation and potential damage to delicate baby skin.
- Olive oil is not recommended for baby massage because of its high oleic acid content. This can make some layers of a baby’s skin dryer.
- Other oils, such as grapeseed oil or coconut oil – these have not been effectively tested in research trials so there isn’t much information about their effectiveness or risks.
- Peanut oil contains proteins that may sensitise a baby to an allergic reaction to peanuts or cause a reaction on a baby’s skin.
- Sunflower oil is often recommended for baby massage but recent research has suggested it might have adverse effects on a baby’s later skin barrier function. This was only a small trial though and more research is needed to establish the exact risk.
- Vegetable oils high in polyunsaturated fats may be gentler on your baby’s skin.
What Age Should You Stop Baby Massage
There are no set guidelines regarding when to start baby massage. However, some experts recommend waiting between 10 days and two weeks before starting with an oil or lotion massage on your baby.
Also, while babies thrive on a loving touch and skin-to-skin contact, some may not be ready to enjoy long structured oil massages in the very early days.
In many homes, it’s a tradition to give your baby a daily massage right from the time you bring her home for the first time. But a newborn’s skin barrier is not fully developed yet, which makes her skin vulnerable to getting dry or reacting to a substance you might apply on it during the massage.
Waiting a few days before you start with oil massages gives the skin barrier time to develop. This also allows time for your baby’s umbilical stump to dry and fall off, which usually takes between five and 15 days. Any residual oil on your baby’s stump after her massage could increase the risk of an infection in the area.
If you or your family members want to give your baby an oil massage right from birth, choose an oil or lotion suitable for babies. Not all oils, even natural ones, are gentle enough for your baby’s delicate skin. Learn more about which oils are good for your baby’s massage.
Remember to steer clear of the stomach and umbilical stump during the massage. Wait until the umbilical stump falls off to give a complete body massage.
If you have a premature baby, follow your doctor’s advice for baby massage and daily routines. If you want to use oil, ask your paediatrician if your baby’s skin is ready for this, and what type to use.
Doctors recommend that it’s best that you, your husband or your baby’s grandmother massage your premature baby. So, hold off hiring a japa maid or maalishwali for your preterm baby’s massage.
Most families give a daily massage to their baby for the first year. Many families continue giving massages, though less frequently, until their child is five years or six years of age.
There is no age limit to giving a massage or stopping them. You can continue giving massages to your baby for as long as you wish. See how it fits into your routine and family traditions and how your child responds to them.
As your baby grows and starts getting mobile, it might be hard to keep her still, long enough for a full body massage. Even if your baby loves a massage, she may become impatient if she needs to lie for the massage for long. Keep massages short. As soon as she starts to fidget and you see that she’s ready for the next step, you can take her for her bath.
As she gets older, you might even need to experiment with giving her a massage as she stands or sits. You may end up massaging her occasionally or only on weekends. Or, like some mums you may choose to only stick with regular head massages.
Once your child is old enough, you can even teach her to massage herself. It will not be the same kind of body massage that you have been giving her, but it can become part of her bathing routine to either oil her skin before a bath or moisturise it with cream afterwards. This might help keep her skin well moisturised.