Wednesday, July 18, 2012

5 Tips For Infant Massage

Babies grow super fast. This is no secret. But often in the hustle and bustle of each day sometimes it can be easy to forget what this means for your baby. Imagine if you were going to the gym every day, for around 8-10 hours. No heavy impact, but lots and lots of Pilates style aerobic exercise, weight lifting, and yoga. Just think about how exhausted and sore you would be. Then as you rest, the pain of bone growth would set in. Maybe this isn't exactly how babies feel, but as one who has observed babies over and over again during their first few months, I think it is pretty close sometimes. This is just one reason why I'm such a strong believer in baby massage. Another is that as a mother of an extremely premature son I relied on the calming and relaxing effect of infant massage very often. In this post I will cover some of the best massage strokes for a calming and soothing effect on your baby.

1. Arms and legs

Starting near your little Yogi's hands, gently wrap your hand around his forearm. Then, with minimal pressure, slide your hand toward the shoulder/armpit area. To keep your baby's arm extended as you do this, you can hold your baby's hand with one of your hands, while your other hand executes the massage stroke. Repeat this stroke about 5-10 times on each limb, or as many as feels right and relaxing for you and your baby. When using this stroke on your baby's legs, hold the foot with one hand, start the stroke at the ankle, and slide until you reach the hip.

2. Chest and stomach

There are a lot of strokes that are recommended for a baby's stomach and chest. My favorite for the chest is to start with your hands together each covering one side of her rib cage. Then slowly fan your fingers out toward your baby's sides starting with your pinky fingers until your hands are splayed out across her chest. Then smoothly continue the motion down the sides of your mini-buddha's belly all the way down to her hips. Repeat this stroke between 5-10 times, or as many as feels right and relaxing to you and your baby.
On the stomach the most basic soothing stroke is a circular one that moves in a clockwise direction around your little one's belly-button. Be careful not to get too close to the belly-button, you want to be a minimum of 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) away from it at all times. This is clock-wise from YOUR perspective, meaning if you start on your babies right side (the one most easily reached by your left hand) you should first move up and over your baby's belly button, then down and under it, until you end up right where you began. The pressure should be minimal, and you can leave your baby's clothing on if it is more relaxing to do so. This stroke is best used at a minimum of 20 minutes after a feeding, and can be used as much and as often as your baby seems to enjoy it (though the first 20 minutes after eating is not the best time).

3. Back and shoulders

With your baby laying on his stomach, you can use this basic gentle stroke to help calm, and move gas out his lower exit. Starting with one hand over each shoulder blade using gentle pressure slide the heels of your palms down both sides of your little athlete's back at the same time until they reach the diaper line. Put no pressure on his spine, and be aware of trying not to tickle your baby in this position. While tickling will not hurt him, it can be counter-productive when your goal is relaxation. This stroke can be repeated anywhere between 10-20 times, as long as your baby is enjoying it and it is relaxing for both of you.
For the shoulders it is not important for your baby to be laying on his stomach, or back. Either position is fine as long as he is comfortable and relaxed. This is more of a hold than a stroke, as you cup your hands around each of your baby's shoulders and gently pull down toward his hips. I recommend you pull both shoulders at once, but you can do one at a time as well if your baby seems to like it better. No kneading or rubbing is needed for this, just gently pull, and hold for about 20-30 seconds, then release. You can repeat this hold a few times if your baby seems to be particularly calmed by it, but using it too often can cause tension, so trust your instincts and watch your baby for cue's.

4. Feet and hands

Though an open-palm massage is often soothing for an adult, infants often find it too stimulating, and even ticklish. It is much more calming for your baby to have your hand cover her fist and  gently squeeze it while it is closed. Just a small amount of pressure as you cover her fists is enough to release the clenching that she normally has to do herself, and is normally very calming. This hold can be maintained for about 20-30 seconds, and repeated as often as it is comfortable and relaxing for you and your baby.
Similarly, when massaging your little sweet-peas toes you want to avoid tickling her. So softly cover the toe-end of her feet from about the arch and all around the top and bottom at the same time. Then you will move in four directions. First up, gently stretching the toes slightly up toward her knees, then down subtly pointing her toes away from her body like a little ballerina. Next, you will rotate her feet slightly counter clockwise, very gently, and watching her for any signs of discomfort. Follow this by rotating her feet in exactly the she gentle way clockwise. The timing for this part of the massage should be about 2-5 seconds for each direction that your move her toes. When I'm doing this massage, I think to myself: "Up-two-three, down-two-three, twist left-two-three, twist right-two-three, release." Though you can repeat the foot massages often as you and your infant are finding it to be relaxing.

5. Face and ears

Massaging your baby's face can be quite soothing, but it is easy to cause stress if you are not careful where you touch. I recommend this stroke as a way to avoid most of the trigger points for feeding instincts. Starting directly above your little snuggle-pop's eyebrow on the end nearest to the nose, run your fingertips softly along the length of the eyebrow, then across the temple and around the outer edge of of his ear. Not on the ear, but on his head behind his ear. If it is easy for you to do both sides at once, this is more relaxing, but if you find it easier to stroke one side then the other, do that instead. Repeat this stroke as often as you like, using very soft pressure, and slow soothing motion.
Your baby's ears are soft, and sensitive, so vigorous massaging of any kind will most likely not be very soothing. However gently holding the large outer edge and lifting it slightly away from his head can be very soothing indeed. Again, I think of this as more of a "hold" than a stroke, and no kneading or pulling is necessary. Just a gentle grasp and lift should be enough to do the trick. Only maintain the hold for about 5-10 seconds, unless the baby seems to be especially enjoying himself. This hold, and face massage, are best used when your baby has just come in from an overly-stimulating walk, or just after leaving a noisy room with bright lights.

Though it is always important to be in tune with your little bundle's needs, when giving an infant massage it is also very important to be relaxed and grounded yourself. Listen to your instincts, watch your baby's reactions to the different strokes and holds, and if something seems to be causing stress or discomfort, discontinue it at once. Soft music, a warm room, a gently scented hypo-allergenic organic massage oil, all of these things are nice, but not essential to your ability to give an effective and relaxing infant massage.
If you have found these tips to be helpful, please share them with any new or expecting parents you know. Comments, questions, and requests are always welcome. I am working on illustrating this post, and hopefully will have something up soon. Happy parenting!

There is a NEW post from NAOMI up today! Check it out HERE.


  1. Thanks for these tips! I always massage my little one as it keeps her asleep all night :) These tips are very handy and I am excited to try these later. Thanks a lot!

    Mary, Best Massage In Los Angeles

  2. Infant massage can be performed in a safe and relaxing way. Thanks for providing these tips.

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  4. It is nice that you have a nice tips to guide you on giving a massage to infant.

  5. I had my beautiful baby boy 4 months ago and I have never thought about giving him a massage. What you said about them basically doing "Pilates style aerobic exercise, weight lifting, and yoga" made a lot of sense. It is such an easy world for us to move around in, but the are still growing and building muscle. My husband surprised me with a month of weekly massages at Holistic Happenings for Mother's day and I am excited to be pampered and relaxed. I should give my son the same opportunity and treatment. Is it best to do the five different massages everyday or should I rotate between them everyday?

    1. I like to do them all if I have time, and the little sweetheart is willing to let me. But even one or two after bath time or around bedtime can be beneficial.

  6. Thanks for sharing very useful tips for massage. I was seeking for a good Massage murray utah studio, found your post interesting one to read. Thank you.