Giving your baby a soothing massage is a great way to deepen and strengthen the social and emotional relationship with your child in early infancy. Studies have shown that baby massage intensifies emotional expression through touch and eye contact and helps infants gain weight, maintain body temperature, improve sleep, lessen tension and fussiness and aid in digestion by providing relief from gas and colic.
Below are some basic techniques to get started:
- Prepare for the massage by creating a warm and quiet space. Position the baby on a blanket in front of you and place the baby on his or her back so you can maintain eye contact when you begin the massage. Undress your baby.
- Use a gentle touch, being careful not to tickle your baby. As your baby grows and becomes accustomed to being massaged, you can use a bit firmer touch.
- Slowly stoke and knead each part of your baby’s body. Begin with the head, move to their hands, arms, feet and legs and then the chest or back. Spend about one minute rubbing different areas, flex the baby’s arms and legs and then switch the baby to the other side and repeat these motions. When massaging the chest, belly and back, move your hands from the center outward and away from the heart.
- Stay relaxed and speak in a calming tone. You might sing softly or tell your baby a story while you are giving the massage.
- Watch how your baby responds to your touch. If your baby seems happy and is moving his or her arms and legs, he or she is likely enjoying the massage and you can continue. If your baby seems restless, begins to cry or turns his or her head away from you, stop the massage and perhaps try again later.
As you get to know your infant better, you will come to learn what he or she or likes and when the best time of day is to give a massage.
“Massages can be given any time of the day or night and we suggest massaging the baby for 15 to 30 minutes – but the baby will likely tell you when they’ve had enough! It is perfectly fine to massage your baby after feeding as it may help stimulate their appetite and massages can be done whenever the baby is in an alert state. As parents become more attune to their baby’s needs, incorporating massage into their daily routine can be a way for parents to prepare baby for sleep or to soothe them during fussy times,” said Jody Charles, clinical nurse manager for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at El Camino Health’s Mountain View hospital.
For parents of premature babies, providing their baby with a massage is a way for them to feel they are actively participating in the caregiving of their infant, rather than just visiting them in the NICU. “Premature babies can be given massages at about 32 weeks of age when the baby is better able to tolerate longer periods of touch and have become acclimated to their surroundings,” shared Jody. She recommends using lavender scented oil for the massage as lavender has calming properties and oil is easier to apply than lotion; but either one will do the job.
El Camino Health offers infant massage classes once a month for parents of full-term babies. In the NICU, parents are taught when to begin doing massages and how best to do them as it is a bit more complicated when the babies are smaller in size, connected to monitors and have other delicate factors to consider.