Baby Massage: Benefits & Tips for Mums and Dads
At Rainbow Smiles nursery in Weston-Super-Mare we believe touch is incredibly important for babies. They might not be able to understand you yet, when you’re trying to talk to them, but holding them close and rocking them gently will get the message across.
Before babies can process language, they bond with you through touch. You might already have noticed this yourself—distressed babies can be soothed when you hug them to your chest, while they can burst out crying again when you put them down. In fact, many hospitals encourage mums to rest babies on their chest or tummy for maximum skin contact.
Aside from regularly hugging and holding your baby, an effective way to incorporate more loving touch is to give a baby massage. If massages are so relaxing for us adults, then it has a similar effect on babies. As with regular massages, you’ll be stroking and rubbing your baby’s skin with the help of an oil or moisturiser. However, your motions will be much gentler, and you’ll be starting with less sensitive areas like your baby’s feet, legs, wrists, and hands.
Especially when it’s done by their mum or dad, a massage can be immensely comforting and helpful for babies. Let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
Benefits of a Baby Massage
A baby massage has positive effects on your child’s emotional and physical wellbeing, and it strengthens the child-parent bond. Let’s dive deeper into these main benefits:
Calming and Soothing
When you cuddle with someone you love, your body naturally releases oxytocin, which is the hormone that’s responsible for that warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s the same for babies who receive a massage. Aside from increased oxytocin, their cortisol or stress hormone levels also go down. This is great for you and your baby because it means that they’ll be less likely to cry.
As their heart rate and breathing rate slow down, they won’t be as fussy or easily startled. You can even schedule a massage before your baby’s bedtime. This will activate more melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone, in your baby, and they’ll fall asleep more peacefully, giving you extra time to rest.
Improved Physical Development
Aside from making babies calmer and happier, massage can also improve their physical health. The physical stimulation from massage activates their central nervous system, which helps in the development of their motor skills. Because your baby feels better and experiences less stress, their immune system can become stronger. Studies have actually found that regular massage and physical contact speeds up a baby’s recovery from conditions like jaundice or even common digestive issues like constipation and colic. By giving your baby regular massages and affectionate touch, you’ll be contributing to both their short- and long-term health.
It’s not only your baby who will reap benefits from massage—you’ll grow too as a parent, and you’ll deepen the bond between you and your child. Loving touch fosters emotional closeness with your baby, and when you add the rhythmic movements from massage, your baby will come to associate safety and comfort with your presence. Since your body will be releasing oxytocin too when you’re holding your baby, you’ll experience the same feel-good effects.
Mums who massage their babies tend to feel happier, while dads get to spend more time with their baby and build self-confidence in caring for their child. Because a good massage requires sensitivity to your baby’s reactions, you’ll become more in tune with your child’s body language, and you’ll also feel more empowered as a parent.
How a Baby Massage Works
Before giving your baby a massage, make sure to consult with someone who’s qualified. You can take a baby massage course in child centres and clinics or even join a group so you’ll be supervised the first time you do it.
Here are the general steps for a baby massage routine:
Warm up your baby first by gently rubbing oil or cream behind their ears and on their tummy. Only proceed with the massage if your baby reacts positively. Otherwise, wait for a better time.
For your first session, focus on the extremities such as the legs and feet so your baby can get used to it. You can start by rubbing the feet first, then stroking from ankle to thigh then back
Do similar gentle motions with your baby’s arms and hands.
Once your baby’s used to receiving massages, lay them on their back with hands reaching to the front, and lightly stroke from their upper back to buttocks
The chest and stomach are much more sensitive, so work on these only when your baby’s already comfortable with the previous steps
Tips and Common Questions
How old does my baby have to be?
It’s safer to wait until your baby’s six weeks old or beyond. Before six weeks, their skin might still be very delicate and they’d still have their umbilical cord stub.
When’s a good time to massage?
Your baby must be in an alert but relaxed mood, so in between feeding (around 45 minutes after) is a good time. You can do it before their nap or as a pre-bath ritual. It won’t take long, either, since a typical massage lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
How do I give a good massage?
Be as mindful as possible when you’re massaging your baby and give them your full attention. Notice your baby’s reactions—chances are, they’ll be more receptive if you smile and coo at them. Your strokes and movements should also be light and gentle. Don’t forget to support your baby’s leg or arm when you’re massaging that part of their body.
What oils should I use?
Oils and moisturisers are optional, but if you’re using an oil, it’s best to go with those that are edible and safe for your baby’s skin. These usually include safflower oil, virgin coconut oil, or sunflower oil. Test it out first on a small patch of your baby’s skin! Afterwards, wipe away the oil from your baby’s hands so it doesn’t get accidentally ingested.
Massage Benefits Both You and Your Baby
Because a massage will be something new for your baby, go slowly and give your baby the time to get used to it. A baby massage is a simple and effective way for you to bond even more with your child, and both mums and dads can do it. Not only will you be more in tune with each other, your baby’s physical and emotional wellbeing will also benefit from your loving touch and attention.