Babies—they’re just like us! They get cranky when they’re tired, they hate being hungry, and they love a good massage.
If you don’t already give your baby a massage as part of their bedtime or naptime routine, we highly recommend it. The lead-up to bedtime (or naptime) is important, as it lets your baby know that it’s time for sleep, and helps them build associations between certain activities and sleep. Just like reading a story, soft music or lullabies, or a warm bath, massage can help your baby make the transition into sleep mode. Of course, it’s fine to give your baby a massage any time. But if you choose to make it part of their bedtime routine, we suggest you keep it consistent.
It’s safe to give your baby a massage starting when they’re one to two months old. Before that their skin is still too delicate. Massage can help them sleep better and cry less, soothe stress, and may even ease gas and other tummy troubles. It’s a great way to bond with your baby, too.
Plus, it’s super-easy. No need to run out and buy a miniature folding massage-table or fancy oils. All you need are your hands, and a sturdy but soft surface—a changing table or mat, or a towel on the floor work just fine. Using a little oil on your hands can help down on the friction when you rub your baby’s skin, but isn’t necessary. If you do use oil, choose a vegetable-based oil, like sesame, grapeseed or olive oil, in case it gets in your baby’s mouth or eyes by mistake. If your baby has very sensitive skin, ask their pediatrician what they recommend first.
There’s no single “right” way to give your baby a massage, but here are some general tips to get you started!
Set the mood.
Do the massage in a quiet, comfortable place, away from loud noises and distractions. Tell your baby that it’s massage time, so they feel comfortable and at ease. Maintain eye contact when you can. Make sure whatever space you’re in isn’t too cold (around 70-72 degrees is ideal), so your baby won’t be chilly wearing nothing but a diaper (or nothing at all—either way works).
Watch for their cues
If your baby is fussy, cranky, or fidgety, it may not be a good time for a massage. As you do the massage, pay attention to their expressions, sounds and body language. Different things feel good to different people, even the very tiniest ones, so you’ll have to follow your baby’s lead.
Stay in communication.
Start by saying something like, “Time for a massage!” in a reassuring tone to put your baby at ease. As you go, try to maintain eye contact with your baby, smile, talk to them, use their name, let them know what’s happening. This will help your baby—and you!—stay relaxed and happy.
While a hurts-so-good, deep-tissue massage might feel great to grownups, babies need a much softer touch. Light but not tickly strokes with your fingertips and palms and gentle squeezes are all it takes. As your baby gets older, they may be OK with a slightly firmer touch. Just take it slow!
Give a little love to each part of the body.
There are approximately five zillion different techniques for baby massage (ask the Internet and you’ll see what we mean), and there’s no one right way to do it. But here are some things you can try:
Place your baby on their back. Start with the feet and legs, since these may be less sensitive than other parts of their body. Gently massage the soles of their feet, one at a time, with your thumbs. Give each toe a gentle pinch. Then take your time stroking and gently squeezing your baby’s legs from thigh to ankle. Do the same thing with their hands and arms—palms, fingers, and then strokes from shoulders to wrists.
Then, place your palms in the center your baby’s chest and slide them very gently outward, repeating a few times. Then place your palms up at at the top of their chest and slide them downward toward their belly. Next, use your palms or first two or three fingers to gently trace a large circle around your baby’s belly button, in a clockwise motion.
Some babies like having their face and head massaged, too. Try putting your hands on either side of your baby’s face and massage their cheeks in a circular motion. Use your fingertips to lightly massage their scalp as if you’re washing their hair, and give their earlobes a gentle pinch.
Finally, if your baby is still in the zone, you can lay them on their tummy and lightly rub and stroke their back.
After your baby’s massage, if you’ve used oil, you can give your baby a bath if you like, washing their skin with a washcloth and mild soap or baby wash.
Have you perfected the art of baby massage? Do you find it helps your baby relax and sleep better? Any tips or ideas to share? Let us know over on Instagram!