A gentle massage can calm your baby, aid in their development, and even help them sleep better. Daily baby massage is also a great way to bond with your little one.

Touch symbolizes many things for your baby. There is a certain power in touch that babies leverage to communicate and interact with the world. Maybe this is why they love cuddling up with a parent when they are upset or when they need to feel secure.

If there is a way you can use touch as a means to soothe, calm, and strengthen your baby, then it is through massage.

The experts at Mustela are here to explain the ins and outs of baby massage 101 — from what a baby massage is to the proper techniques and touches.

What Is Baby Massage?

happy baby propped up on elbows as parent gently massages lower back

Baby massage is the gentle action of a parent stroking their baby’s body with the use of safe and effective massage oil or lotion specifically made for babies.

As we mentioned, baby massage proves to be soothing for your little one while also providing an avenue for you to deeply bond with your baby.

Benefits Of Baby Massage

Improved Muscle Tone

By moving and circulating your little one’s muscles, you can prevent atrophy and help them to develop strength and motor skills.

Reduced Gas In Colicky Infants

An abdominal baby massage can aid in digestion and help your little one’s body move the contents of their intestines along the journey through their colon.

Better Brain Development

When you massage your baby, you will increase their awareness of their body’s position and movement. This allows their body to become more physically integrated.

Improved Focus

With bonding and regular massage, your baby gets to practice eye contact. What’s more is that maintaining eye contact while massaging an overstimulated baby helps them stay present in the moment.

Healthier Immune System

Believe it or not, baby massage can help cut down on colds. Massage increases your little one’s white blood cell count, thus improving immune response. It also assists in lymphatic flow, which can help fight off infections.

Better Sleep

Over time, babies begin to anticipate scheduled activities. If you incorporate baby massage into the mix, it can lead to an understanding that first comes bath, then story, then massage, then nursing, then bed.

Social Development

According to a 2012 report by Asian Nursing Research Journal, stimulation of your baby’s sense of touch has a positive effect on their psychological and social development.

Improved Mood

Your little one may be smiling after a baby massage thanks to endorphins. These hormones are released in response to therapeutic touch. At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced, allowing the relaxation response to be stimulated.

And it doesn’t end there. The list of benefits of baby massage goes on and includes deeper bonding, neuromuscular connections, and more.

When Can You Begin Baby Massage?

baby lying on tummy while parent gently performs a baby massage

Baby massage is fine to begin right after birth, as soon as your baby is medically cleared to be handled. And, sometimes, sooner is actually better.

The best time to start infant massage is within the first three months of age as your baby begins to develop important physical and intellectual abilities. Infant massage techniques are very light and gentle. The goal is to get your baby comfortable and familiar with your touch.

How To Give A Baby Massage

There are many baby massage techniques, each depending on your area of focus. When it comes to baby massage, practice makes perfect and you will soon get the hang of it — and only you as the parent, or other close loved ones, should administer the massage (because of the deep level of bonding).

Be Gentle

Compared to adult massages, baby massages are extremely gentle. Infants are very delicate and have sensitive skin, so these massage techniques are about gentle touching, stroking, stretching, and loving.

For massage pressure, imagine massaging a cotton ball. Since your baby’s physical structure is fragile, a super-light massage is all that’s needed to be effective.

Apply Massage Oil

It’s perfectly fine to use a baby massage oil (designed specifically for infants) to help your fingers glide on your little one’s skin more easily.

Opt for a completely safe and natural baby massage oil or cream, such as Mustela’s Baby Oil. Mustela’s oil moisturizes your baby’s skin and helps stimulate their senses to relax and prepare them for bedtime — making it perfect to use during a pre-bedtime baby massage.

mother and baby holding a bottle of baby oil which can be used for baby massage

Pay Attention To Technique & Time

Make the massage strokes gentle, as mentioned above, but firm and not ticklish. Always remember to pay attention to your little one. Follow your baby's signals about when to stop. A massage can last 10 minutes or 30 minutes, depending on your child’s mood.

Baby Massage Techniques

mother leaning over and smiling at her baby while gently holding her feet

Setup For Baby Massage

Start your baby massage with the following setup:

1. Sit on a bed or soft carpeted floor with a towel in front of you. You can also place a towel on a table to massage your little one while you stand. The towel helps absorb excess massage oil that you may be using.

2. Maintain a comfortable room temperature. During winter, ensure that the room is warm, and during summer, make sure that there is ample circulation of cool and fresh air in the room.

3. Lighting in the room is also important. Use as much natural light as possible.

4. You can choose to massage your baby with or without their diaper on, but you can loosen it when massaging their tummy. Massaging without a diaper may increase the risk of accidental soiling, but it also ensures that you massage every part of your little one’s body.

For A Body Massage

baby lying on his back as parent massages arms and legs

Start by massaging your little one’s forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, lips, chin, ears, and the back of their scalp. Then go up and down the front and back of their neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, and stomach area, followed by their arms, lower back, hips, butt, legs, and feet. Work from head to toe.

To Help Develop Motor Skills

Touch your baby’s left hand to her right foot and vice versa.

To Relax Your Baby

Bring on a state of relaxation, such as when preparing for sleep, by gently running your fingers down your baby’s arms and legs, in the direction away from their heart.

To Increase Energy

Softly massage your baby’s muscles toward their heart to stimulate wakefulness or to bring on increased energy. Massaging toward the heart helps increase blood flow throughout your little one’s body, thus igniting extra energy and alertness.

For Better Sleep

Massage the front and back of your baby’s ears. This activates the vagus nerve, which causes their body to relax.

For Improved Digestion

happy baby eating mashed avocado in a high chair with Mustela's cleansing wipes nearby

Lightly stroke your little one’s tummy in a circular motion. Clockwise strokes will help alleviate constipation, whereas counterclockwise strokes will help with diarrhea. These directions follow the natural path of the intestinal tract in the human body.

You should initially begin by stroking the side areas of your baby’s tummy. Once your baby is comfortable, you can begin working their whole belly. Avoid the umbilical cord stump to prevent yanking.

For Better Range Of Motion

baby lying on white towels as parent holds both hands

Make small circles with your baby’s arms and legs. This helps improve motor skills and increases blood flow to muscles, ultimately strengthening your baby.

Get Massaging

The benefits of a gentle baby massage are very evident! Incorporate massage into your baby’s daily schedule to help aid in their healthy growth and development.