You’ve heard all about infant massage and the incredible benefits, but maybe you don’t know how to begin. We’ll discuss 5 techniques to get you and your baby started and reap the many rewards. First, let’s go over the basic principles and discuss the optimal times, as well as necessary equipment to begin.
What do you need?
The great news is it does not take much to begin infant massage. All that is needed is two towels (or a towel and a blanket), ideally a pillow, some massage oil, and that’s it! You first want a soft comfortable towel on the floor for baby to lay down on that you don’t mind getting oil on. The second towel or blanket is to cover baby, should they feel cold. Ideally you will have the room preheated so baby is comfortable in only a diaper. It is not recommended that you place baby on a table as they may slide off and you may not be able to grab them if your hands are oily. Lastly, grab a pillow to help tilt her up comfortably. The idea is for baby to look up into your eyes and you into hers. Infant massage is meant to be interactive.
There are many massage oils on the market, but the best are simple cold-pressed food grade oils you may already have in your pantry. Babies love to put their fingers and toes in their mouths, and you don’t need to worry about additives and fragrances with food grade oil. By giving a quick sniff you can tell if your oil is rancid. If it smells metallic or off, it could possibly be. When in doubt, throw it out.
Olive oil tends to be drying, avocado oil can be irritating, coconut can be a great choice, plain vegetable oil is a great choice. Virgin sunflower has anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe eczema prone skin. A little goes a long way so having a little bit prepped in a cup or a lotion bottle for easy access will help without a giant pour out from the original bottle.
Baby’s State of Mind
Knowing when your baby is in the right mood is key to enjoying and making the most out of infant massage. Quite alert is the right state of mind for your baby: eyes wide open, face bright, calm body, and a content baby. You don’t want a baby who is hungry (due to feed soon), sleepy, or has a soiled diaper. You should be stress free and happy to engage, as well as baby.
It may seem strange to ask your infant permission to massage her. After all, she can’t talk and she will just go along with it anyway. However, studies show children between the ages of 15-18 months can show signs of autonomy and confidence in their own decision making when their autonomy is supported. Supporting your child’s autonomy helps with critical thinking, encourages intrinsic motivation and confidence. While it is true your child may not be saying the words, they can give you signs that they are open and ready to take part. A baby who is crying, kicking, looking away or moaning is most likely not in the mood for a massage.
You can get permission by holding your oiled hands up for baby to see and asking, “Are you ready for your massage?” This lets baby not only know what is about to happen, but also that you respect him or her.
5 Infant Massage Techniques
1. Hands on
Hands on is the simplest technique to get you started. After your baby is laying down, you have shown your open oiled hands, and she has given you permission, you are simply going to lay your hands (fingers closed) down firmly on baby’s tummy. Look deep into her eyes and say, “Can you feel my hands on you? Do you like that? Is that warm?” After a minute or two, lift your hands and lay them on her legs. Again, look into her eyes and watch her reactions. Discuss with her what you are doing and respond to her replies while looking into her eyes. It’s that easy!
2. Quick Hand Massage
Touch feels so good, and this simple hand massage is no exception. Take baby’s hand in yours and use your thumb to stroke over the top of baby’s hand. Do this for one minute. Next, take baby’s hand and hold the wrist in one hand while gently pulling each finger out with your other. Do this going going from pinky to thumb, and then back from thumb to pinky. Lastly, hold baby’s hand with your fingers on the top and your thumb in the palm; now knead all over for a minute or two.
3. Foot relief
Eastern Medicine has long known the connection between foot care and gut health. Babies are no exception. Next time your baby is constipated or struggling with an upset tummy or gas, keep this infant massage technique in mind. With baby on her back, take up the left leg and hold the ankle in both hands. Now take both of your thumbs and run them on the top of the foot, from the ankle to the toes. Do this at least five times. Next, take your thumbs and press on the sole of the foot going from heel up to under the toes. Do this five times. Make conscious movements and talk to baby. Check in with your baby’s response. Are they ticklish? Are they releasing gas? Don’t forget to look into baby’s eyes. Repeat on the right side.
4. I Love You
This classic massage stroke is great for aiding in digestion. Have baby laying on her back with her shirt off. Starting on the left side under baby’s rib cage, you’re going to take your three fingers – index, middle, and ring finger and stroke straight down three times to where baby’s diaper meets. This is the ‘I’ stroke. From there you’re going to take those same three fingers and starting on the left side, right under the ribcage, move horizontally to the right side and then run straight down again to the diaper line. That is the ‘L’, albeit it is flipped up across the stomach. Do that three times as well. Finally, take your three fingers again and starting on the left side above the diaper line run up and around and over like a rainbow staying under the rib cage and finishing on the right side. Do this for three times. That is the You or ‘U’ of I love You. This is an excellent stroke for your baby’s tummy, gas, and colic. Remember to look into baby’s eyes, talk about what you are doing and react to her reactions.
5. Swedish Milking
Swedish Milking can be done on both the arms and the legs. Let’s start with the left foot. Hold baby’s leg up with both hands, encircle baby’s ankle and with your dominant hand firmly pull down with slight twisting. You will be pulling down and twisting to where the leg meets the hip, as low as you can go. Do this three or four times. Repeat on the right side. You will do this on the arms as well, starting from the wrist and working to the armpit. This is similar to how you would milk a cow, pulling down with a slight twist.
Keep in mind that anytime you need to re-oil, do so. While you do not want your hands to be overly greasy and have no grip, you also don’t want them dry and cause irritation or friction.
Your baby may at first seem resistant to being massaged. Take your time in incorporating infant massage into her day. While it would be great to start every morning with a 20 minute massage routine, your baby may need time to be comfortable to work up to that. Even if you incorporate small amounts throughout the day, your baby will come to love it and you both will reap the benefits.
About The Author
Nancy M. has worked with children for over 25 years, with all ages and stages. She has been a Nursery/Pre-school teacher, an international and domestic travel as well as live-in Nanny, and House Manager. Nancy is an Advanced Newborn Care Expert, Certified Lactation Counselor, Postpartum Doula, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She is Mom to one daughter and volunteer foster Mom at her local animal shelter.