There is no substitute for a parent’s loving touch. Through touch, babies first learn the comfort and security of loving and of being loved.
Numerous studies have found that massage plays a significant role in promoting the proper growth and healthy development of infants. Physically, massage stimulates the nerves, increases blood flow and strengthens the immune system. It can relieve a host of childhood complaints from colic to constipation. A daily rubdown on a baby’s belly, for example, helps work out gas and regulates digestion. Massaging the chest may ease congestion. Gently stroking an infant’s face can improve her ability to suck. Most of all, massage is good for parent-child bonding.
The best time to massage your baby is at bathtime or bedtime – massaged babies fall asleep right away, so it’s better not to massage immediately after a feeding or when a baby is hungry.
• Choose a room that is warm and draft-free where you can sit on the floor or a bed with the baby in front of you on a padded pillow or blanket.
• Take a few deep breaths to relax before you begin. Stretch and shake the tension from your body.
• Make sure your hands are clean and warm, remove jewelry and be sure to rub in a way that your nails don’t scratch the baby’s skin.
• Use some cold-pressed, natural oil – such as coconut or canola oil – to prevent friction and to allow for deeper stroking. Refrain from using mineral oil, which clogs the pores, and nut oils, in case of allergies. Choosing something unscented lets your baby bond with your scent first. Keep your hands well-oiled throughout.
• Begin with the legs and feet using slow, gentle strokes. Babies are delicate, but too light a touch can be ticklish and aggravating, advises Karen Wright, a certified infant massage instructor. If your baby splays her fingers or toes, or avoids your gaze and looks away, she’s telling you that she’s stressed or that you’re using too much pressure, Wright says. If your baby clenches her fists in front of her chest, don’t try to pull her arms apart. This is a stance that the baby isn’t ready to be touched there. Some infants are extremely sensitive and can’t deal with a lot of touching at first. Maintain eye contact and observe your baby’s body language.
• Massage your baby for about 15 minutes, stroking both sides of his body symmetrically. Think of the massage as a gentle, warm communication. Go slowly at the beginning so your baby can get used to the new sensations gradually.
• Stop if your baby cries. You cannot force a baby to relax. Try again when the baby is more receptive.
“There are no mistakes in terms of technique,” says Wright. “Follow your baby’s cues. Massage is supposed to be enjoyable for both of you.”
Try these different strokes with your baby and talk to him lovingly as you rub:
• Milking – Support your baby’s foot with one hand and grasp the top of the thigh with your other hand. Stroke from buttock to heel squeezing the leg in a milking motion. Reverse the motion going from the heel toward the buttock.
• I Love You – Make a single “I”-shaped stroke with your right hand on the left side of your baby’s belly. Then, make a backward, sideways “L” going from your left to right. Make an upside down “U,” going from your left to right. (This is one of the trickier strokes to master, but the idea is to follow the direction of the colon and large intestine, and to move clockwise.)
• Open Book – With both hands together at the center of your baby’s chest, push out to the sides, following the rib cage, as if smoothing out the pages of a book. Without lifting your hands from your baby’s body, bring them around in a heart-shaped motion to the center again.
• Get Cheeky – With your thumbs, stroke across the upper lip and then across the lower lip and into the cheek as if drawing a smile on your baby’s face. This helps soothe the muscles used for sucking.
• Infant Massage: A Gift of Love, 2000. Certified massage therapist Cheryl Brenman teaches a practical and enjoyable massage for infants and even older children.
• Infant Massage: The Power of Touch, 1995. Step-by-step lessons in baby massage techniques, including customized strokes and a question/answer segment with a registered nurse and childbirth instructor.
• Baby Massage: Parent-Child Bonding Through Touch, by Amelia D. Auckett, HarperCollins, 1989. Explains the benefits of infant massage to baby and caregiver, and includes a complete how-to section with pictures and illustrations.
• , by Peter Walker, St. Martin’s, 1996. Provides easy-to-learn massage routines with detailed illustrations and photographs. Check the section on common childhood ailments and how they can be alleviated with touch.
• Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala Schneider McClure, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2000. Illustrates each step of the process and offers specific instructions for premature infants and babies with special needs.
• The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development, by Sharon Heller, Henry Holt, 1997. Draws upon cross-cultural examples to highlight the power of closeness and shows parents how to share more of it.
• American Massage Therapy Association, Evanston, Ill.
• International Association of Infant Massage, Ventura, Calif.;
Read more about the benefits of baby massage.