The ultimate guide to baby massage
Baby massage: discover how & why to do it right
Do you ever find yourself absent-mindedly stroking and touching your baby? Stroking their little leg as they feed, touching and kissing the top of their head as you carry them in the sling, soothing their back when they cry?
This is a deep and natural instinctive touch – and is the foundation of massage. This instinctive touch is your primal way of comforting, calming and communicating with your baby.
For babies, touch is the first communication they ever know outside the womb. Your gentle, loving touch tells them they are safe, loved and valued.
Every culture has some form of baby massage. Now western medicine has recognised – and researched – the deep physical, mental an emotional benefits of baby massage. And the findings are astonishing.
Find out more about the benefits of baby massage, how to do it and which oils to use, in our ultimate guide to baby massage.
Benefits of baby massage
If you’ve given your baby a massage, you’ve probably noticed how much it helps them relax. This relaxation benefit is why it’s so common to give massage after a bath and before the (hopefully!) long night’s sleep.
Yet massage is so much more than a sleep aid (although it does that too). It’s a vital tool in communicating and bonding with your baby, creating an environment of trust, safety and love.
See our infographic which summarises the key benefits of baby massage:
Find out more about each of these benefits here…
1. Baby massage helps you communicate
Obstetrician and author of Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage, Frederick Leboyer, says massage is a primal language.
“Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Dr Leboyer. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”
Baby massage and parenting expert, Dr Elaine Schneider, agrees. She calls massage “touch communication, and says, “Infants communicate through their bodies. When you engage an infant in a massage, you begin to listen to the infant; you listen to sounds, you watch movements, you listen with your eyes, your ears and your heart.”
According to Dr Schneider, nurturing touch between a parent and their baby enriches physiological, social-emotional, and mind, body and spirit connections for both the baby and parent. “Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant, food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins,” says Dr Schneider.
2. It promotes bonding and attachment
Dr Schneider believes massage is a powerful way to bond with your baby.
“Two conditions that enhance development of bonding are the ability of the parent to be sensitive in understanding and responding to his or her infant’s cues, and the amount and nature of the interactions between infant and parent,” says Dr Schneider. “It is through infant massage that bonding may be deepened.”
3. It stimulates your baby’s internal system
As well as soothing, massage can also stimulate, giving your baby’s internal systems a good workout. The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) says baby massage can help stimulate your baby’s circulatory and digestive systems, and their hormonal and immune systems. It can also help stimulate learning and concentration, and muscular development and growth.
Massage is even found to boost a baby’s levels of serotonin – known as the “feel good” hormone. Serotonin is also linked with SIDS – babies with SIDS have been found to have lower levels of serotonin in their brains.
4. It helps relieve common baby pains
So much of a baby’s first few months is dealing with digestion. Colic and constipation can cause great pain – to the baby and the worried parents.
Massage is proven to help relief these issues, allowing your baby to feed and sleep more peacefully. According to the IAIM, baby massage can relieve:
- gas and colic
- constipation and elimination
- growing pains and muscular tension
- teething discomfort
5. It helps your baby sleep
Ahh!, sleep. As parents of babies, we crave it. We become obsessed with it. And for those of us with babies who seem to fight sleep with every fibre of their being, we’d do almost anything to get it.
Massage is proven to help babies sleep. Research in 20011 found that sleep problems in babies decreased following massage therapy.
In the research study, babies and toddlers who struggled to fall asleep (known as sleep onset) were given daily massages by their parents for 15 minutes prior to bedtime for one month. Another group were simply read bedtime stories.
By the end of the study, the massaged babies had fewer sleep delay problems, and fell asleep faster.
6. Baby massage is good for premmies
Much of the research around baby massage has focused on the benefits for preterm babies. A 1990 study2 found that preterm infants who received massage averaged a 21% greater weight gain per day compared to the control group who weren’t massaged. They were also discharged five days earlier, and were more active during stimulation sessions.
How to massage your baby
OK, so hopefully we’ve sold you on the benefits of massage, and you’re itching to get started, but maybe you’re worried you mightn’t do it right.
Don’t worry, you don’t need years of training. Start simply, and with a little guidance and practice, you’ll be an expert on massaging your own baby.
Here’s some expert guidance on how to massage your baby:
1. The Raising Children Network has a great guide in pictures: go here. It’s an easy-to-follow one page guide to getting started.
2. For an easy how-to video, watch massage therapist Susan Salvo demonstrate baby massage here.
3. The Mayo Clinic in the US, one of the most respected sources of health information online, gives some easy instructions here.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends waiting at least 45 minutes after a feed before you massage.
Which oil is best for baby massage?
While you don’t need massage oil to massage your baby, using a good natural baby massage oil can certainly help.
The right oils can reduce friction, and allow more nutrients absorb into your baby’s skin, helping to nourish and protect.
Plus, research has shown that babies who are massaged with oils show fewer signs of stress, and have lower cortisol levels than those massaged without oil.
Try to use plant-based oils, and avoid mineral oils. Mineral oils might sound natural, but they’re actually made from petroleum products ( see our recent blog on The most dangerous chemicals to avoid in baby skincare products).
Choose a baby massage oil that’s high in linoleic acid and low in oleic acid. Linoleic acid can help protect your baby’s skin, while oleic acid can be harsh on the skin. Olive oil, for example, is high in oleic acid, while sunflower oil is high in linoleic acid. Recently research has found that olive oil can break down your baby’s fragile skin barrier. That’s why olive oil is useful in cradle cap, because it helps break down the hard scaly kin.
Lovekins Baby Massage Oil uses a mix of protective and healing oil, including:
- sweet almond oil: a mild, hypoallergenic oil rich in Vitamin E that moisturises the skin without irritating skin conditions such as eczema
- Sunflower oil, for its high linoleic acid content
- Lavender oil for its calming effects
- Geranium oil for its relaxing, stress relieving properties
Massage for toddlers
Once your little one starts walking and climbing, you might find it harder to get them to stay still for massage.
However, the importance of loving touch is still there.
Find ways during the day to stroke and maintain touch. At bedtime, you’ll find they love it when you stroke their back or their heads as they fall asleep (if you don’t have to attend to other little ones at the same time!)
Massage is also a great way to help relieve those chesty coughs that seem to last for months in toddlers.
And, in those moments after a toddler tantrum, a soothing massage along the back can help your toddler regain calm, and show them they are safe and loved.
Want to find out more about Lovekins’ Baby Massage Oil? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Field, T., & Hernandez-Reif, M., (2001). Sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 168, 95-104.↩
2. Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M. & Field, T. (2007). Preterm infants show reduced stress behaviours and activity after 5 days of massage therapy. Infant Behavior & Development, 30, 557-561.↩