Written by our midwife Sophie
Making baby massage part of your daily routine can ease common discomforts and help you develop a stronger, loving bond with your baby.
Don't worry if they only like being massaged in a few areas. Every baby is different and they won't all like the same things, so work out what their favourites are and focus on those.
Getting started with baby massage
You will need:
- your baby to be calm but alert, for example after a bath and before bedtime to help form part of your routine
- a warm room with dimmed lighting
- a comfortable surface for your baby to lay on e.g a changing mat, soft towel or blanket
- baby-safe massage oil, (pure, non-scented vegetable oil for example
- to remove all rings/bracelets
- smooth nails and clean hands.
The benefits of baby massage
Studies have found that baby massage is able to:
- relax both parent and baby
- assist with parent and baby bonding
- stimulate the "happy hormone" (oxytocin), which has calming and pain relieving effects
- help with some ailments, for example teething, constipation or colic
- lowers stress and enables deeper sleep
- stimulates babies co-ordination, digestion, breathing, language development and learning ability
- help to boost baby's immune system.
Baby massages for each area of the body
The legs are a good place to start with baby massage as they tend to be the least sensitive part of the body.
Massaging the legs is good for easing tension, increasing blood flow circulation and flexibility.
- Gently hold your baby's ankle in one hand.
- With your other hand, lightly stroke from the ankle upwards.
- Move up the inside of the leg, towards the body, applying only slight pressure on the underside of the leg with your thumb.
- When you get to the top of the thigh, rotate to the outside of the leg and move back down towards the ankle again.
- Repeat this motion 4 times before moving onto the other leg.
Always avoid putting pressure on the knee joint.
Massaging your baby's tummy helps to stimulate their digestive system, which can help them get rid of trapped wind and help prevent constipation.
Remember that there is a lot going on in a baby's tummy area, so always be gentle with these motions.
- Always work in a clockwise direction.
- All strokes should be on the tummy and not go onto the rib cage.
- Always lighten the pressure over the bladder area.
- Using the pads of your three middle fingers and a flat palm, make a large clockwise, circular motion around the baby's tummy.
- Repeat this motion 5 times.
- Then move onto gently stroking from underneath baby's rib cage, lightly with the palms of your hands.
- Stroke downwards towards the tops of the legs in one downwards motion - moving one hand over the other.
- Try this for 5 strokes of each hand.
Not all babies will like their feet being touched because it can be quite tickly. If your baby doesn't like this, try another area.
- Support one of baby's legs by the ankle with both hands.
- Place one thumb on the heel and gently stroke upwards towards the toes.
- When you reach baby's toes, do the same with your other thumb.
- Repeat this thumb-over-thumb motion, stroking from heel to toe, up to 10 times.
- Move onto the front of the foot by placing one thumb on top of the foot, at the base of the toes, and gently stroking up towards the ankle, in the same thumb over thumb motion.
- Again, repeat this up to 10 times on both feet, or more if your baby likes it.
Arms and hands
Most babies find arm and hand massages very relaxing. It can also help to improve their circulation and stimulates their reflex points.
- Support baby's hand at the wrist with both of your hands.
- With both thumbs, make small, circular motions around the wrist.
- Repeat 3-4 times.
- Next, place one thumb on top of baby's hand, stroking downwards toward the fingers in a thumb over thumb motion.
- Repear 10 times (5 times with each thumb).
Don't put pressure on baby's elbow or wrist joints.
Massaging the back can be as relaxing for a baby as it is for you or I. It can release tension and can improve your baby's posture as they grow.
Back massages can also be done in many positions – with baby laying on their front, over your shoulder, or even sitting up once they are a little older.
- Lay your baby on its front for some tummy time.
- Start with the lower back by placing both your palms above the buttocks and sweep upwards towards the shoulders.
- When you reach the shoulders, move your hands up and over the shoulder blades and sweep back down towards the bottom, massaging the outer edges of baby's back.
- Repeat 3 times, or more if baby is enjoying it.
- Next, try sweeping the palms of each of your hands from the back of the head, down to the tips of the toes.
Never put pressure on baby's spine.
Facial massage can be really helpful for easing pain caused by teething, colic and wind.
For teething relief, try:
- Putting your forefinger into baby's mouth and make small circular motions along the gums where teeth are trying to break through.
- Do this for as long as your baby is happy.
- Next, place the pads of your forefingers together above baby's top lip (under the nose) and gently sweep both fingers around the edges of the mouth, meeting just underneath the lower lip.
Make sure you use the pad, not the tip, of your fingers during these motions for a more gentle touch and always work in a clockwise motions.
How to find a baby massage class
If you want more guidance, finding baby massage classes near you is easy. Ask your midwife or health visitor, check local notice boards in your GP surgery or children's centre, or by searching online.