Your guide to baby massage

Thought of trying baby massage to settle or bond with your baby? We take a look at this technique and guide you on where to start.

Research on baby massage is yet to demonstrate clear health benefits. But Heidi McLoughlin, founder and director of the Infant Massage Information Service, says it may benefit babies in a number of ways. 

“Many parents try massage to aid their infants’ sleep, to calm down crying babies or in an attempt to settle things like wind, colic, constipation and reflux,” she says.

In saying that, if your baby has wind, colic or constipation, massage may do more harm than good if you’re not sure what you’re doing. So, McLoughlin suggests checking in with a qualified professional before you get started to learn about techniques that are safe, effective and specific to your baby. 
But if you’d like to give baby massage a try, even if just to bond with your bub , here’s McLoughlin’s step-by-step guide:  

1.  Time it right 

Choose a time when your baby is awake and calm, and you’re not rushing around – you want this to be an enjoyable and enriching experience for you both. And it may help to wait at least 20 minutes after a feed.

2.  Use natural oils 

McLoughlin recommends using a pure cold-pressed organic, vegetable, nut, seed or fruit oil, which she says is easily absorbed by the skin. She suggests avoiding mineral and olive oil as the texture is too thick and won’t absorb as easily.

3.  Work your way up 

Babies tend to be most comfortable having their legs massaged as they’re used to them being touched during nappy changes, so start from their feet. Use long, slow, firm strokes – light, feathery massage may irritate your baby. From there, work your way to the lower half of their torso, then down their arms, on their chest, arms, face, head and neck.
baby's feet being massaged

4.  Go clockwise on the tummy 

When you get to your bub’s tummy, only massage the lower half and massage in a clockwise direction (from your left to right). 

“When massaging the abdomen, the goal is to stimulate the small and large intestine,” McLoughlin says. “Stimulation can help with bowel and wind movement.” 

It’s best to avoid the upper half of the tummy because pressing your baby’s diaphragm (just under the ribs) can feel uncomfortable and make them nauseous or affect their breathing.

5.  Watch for reactions to chest massage 

Many babies will find it intrusive to be touched on the chest. A baby is naturally protective of their chest – their heart and lungs are there,” McLoughlin explains. “Lying on their back with their arms open, exposing the chest is a very vulnerable position.” 

Stop massaging their chest if they cover your hands with theirs or move their arms in and out or up and down − they’re probably telling you they’re uncomfortable.

6.  Go gentle on the scalp 

When it comes to their scalp, McLoughlin says you don’t need to avoid the fontanels (the soft spots on a baby’s head): 

“Use gentle, circular movements all over the head to help the oil absorb into the skin and moisturise the scalp. Doing this can also help reduce cradle cap.”

7.  Follow your baby’s cues 

Watch your bub during the massage. If it seems like he/she enjoys it and you’re happy to continue, keep going. If not, then stop. It’s far more effective to massage when your baby is happy. And not every baby likes being massaged, so don’t persist if you don’t think it’s for them.
It’s not just babies who get something out of baby massage. 
“Research suggests that people who provide massage to infants may experience improved mood and self-esteem when compared to receiving massage themselves,” says McLoughlin.
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