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Baby Massage 101: How To Massage Your Baby

Updated on June 13, 2024
07a97d99e017631fef916fa4b3339659 - Mustela USA - 1

A parent’s touch can soothe a baby like nothing else! Even more than just a touch, 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?

Mom about to give new born a baby massage

You probably snuggle your sweet baby and kiss their soft skin often! But massaging your baby goes further than that. 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.

Also, specific massage techniques serve specific purposes such as relaxing your little one, increasing energy and focus, improving digestion, or helping your baby develop motor skills.

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.

Before we talk about when and how to give your baby a massage, let’s go over some of the benefits of doing so. We think you’ll be convinced pretty quickly!

Benefits Of Baby Massage

Weight Gain

baby being weighed

Monitoring baby weight gain is important to parents of newborns and especially to parents of preterm infants. It turns out that baby massage can help increase weight gain.

While the exact reason is unknown, studies have shown that baby massages can help preterm babies gain weight.

One study gave babies three 15-minute massages for five to 10 days. Similarly, another study did three 10-minute sessions of “either tactile or kinesthetic stimulation” for five days.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much time to reap the benefits of baby massage!

That being said, if you have a preterm baby, talk to your pediatrician about how your little one should be handled and if massage will benefit them. Your doctor knows you and your baby best!

Improved Muscle Tone

Strengthening your baby’s tiny muscles is fundamental to helping them reach milestones like rolling over, crawling, and walking. Tummy time is one way to help your baby improve muscle tone. Baby massage is another.

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

Reduced Gas In Colicky Infants

Giving your baby a massage is not only about helping them relax or strengthening their body. The right baby massage can also help you deal with a gassy or colicky baby.

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.

But it’s not just about body position and movement. There is also a link between physical touch and brain development. This means massages, cuddles, and skin-to-skin contact are in order.

Good thing that snuggles are so fun to give!

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.

A baby massage can help your little one stay more alert, too. And an alert baby is a baby who is taking the world in and learning!

Healthier Immune System

You’d do anything to help your baby stay healthy all year long. 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

sleeping child after having a baby massage

Over time, babies begin to anticipate scheduled activities, and a consistent bedtime routine can help your baby clue into the fact that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep.

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.

To help your baby sleep even more soundly, dress them in our Stelatopia Skin Soothing Pajamas. Using microcapsule technology, these 100% cotton pajamas deliver skin-soothing moisture to the skin throughout the night so your little one can snooze comfortably.

Social Development

Just like physical touch can aid in brain development, the same applies to your baby’s 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?

parent using Mustela product for baby massage

Your brand new baby feels so tiny and fragile! But that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to carefully massage your newborn. So when is it safe to begin massaging your little one?

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. That way, you and your little one can take full advantage of all the benefits that massages offer!

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.

All of that being said, let’s jump straight into how to give a baby massage.

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).

Below, we’ll offer a few general tips for giving a great baby massage, and then we’ll talk about techniques for specific purposes.

Talk To Your Pediatrician

Newborn at doctors appointment

First things first: talk to your pediatrician. Done well, baby massages are typically a great way to nurture your little one. But it’s best to talk to your pediatrician first and ask if they have any concerns or tips.

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.

In fact, using the right oil not only makes the massage easier, but it can also provide great benefits to your baby’s skin.

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.

This hypoallergenic oil is composed of 99% plant-based ingredients and enriched with an elixir of Pomegranate Seed Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, and Avocado Oil. Not only is it loaded with natural ingredients, but it’s also free of parabens, phthalates, and phenoxyethanol.

And it’s gentle enough to use on newborns, so you can start massaging right away!

When you use baby oil during a baby massage, just be careful to keep the oil away from their eyes. If you prefer, you can skip the baby oil entirely when you get to your little one’s face.

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

Use Lotion

If you don’t have baby oil or don’t want to use it for one reason or another, lotion is another good option for massages. This is especially true if you’re giving your baby a massage right after bath time when you’re probably lathering them up with lotion anyway!

Treat your baby’s skin to the best of the best with Mustela’s EWG-verified Organic Hydrating Cream with Olive Oil and Aloe. It’s a lightweight, restorative cream for the face and body, leaving skin soft, supple, and hydrated.

This lotion is safe enough for babies and effective enough for the whole family to use!

We also recommend our Melting Massage Balm, which is designed to moisturize and nourish your baby’s skin, leaving it supple and soft.

Pay Attention To Technique And 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 be as short as five or 10 minutes or last up to 30 minutes, depending on your child’s mood.

Choose The Right Time Of Day

Choosing the right time of day is another crucial part of giving a good baby massage. It’s important that your baby is awake and happy and that their tummy is not too full.

The two times you want to avoid giving your baby a massage: when they are sleepy or right after they’ve eaten. Instead, allow time to let your baby’s food settle in their tummy before giving a massage.

We love making baby massage part of the bedtime routine or the post-bath routine. Another good time to give your baby a massage may be when you change their diaper.

Baby Massage Techniques

With those general guidelines in mind, here are some tips and techniques for massaging your baby!

Mom playing with her baby

Setup For Baby Massage

No matter what sort of massage you’re aiming for, start your baby massage with the following setup.

1) Place Your Baby On A Towel

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.

If your baby is on the bed, table, or any other raised surface, keep a hand on them at all times! You don’t want them to decide to roll over and take a tumble.

If you forget baby oil, your little one’s pajamas, or any other item, take your baby with you to get what you need.

2) Check The Temperature

Since your baby will be in their birthday suit or just a diaper, you don’t want them to get cold during the massage.

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) Adjust The Lighting

Lighting in the room is also important. Use as much natural light as possible. And, if you’re giving your baby a massage at bed time, lower the lights to help your little one wind down.

4) Massage With Or Without A Diaper

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.

Additionally, if your baby struggles with diaper rash or irritation, spending some time without a diaper on might be just the thing to help keep their bum dry and irritation-free.

Then, when you finish the massage and diaper your little one, apply Mustela’s Diaper Cream with Olive Oil and Aloe.

This talc-free and fragrance-free formula leaves a moisturizing layer on your baby’s skin to soothe and diminish redness at every diaper change!

5) Bond With Your Baby

No matter what sort of massage technique you use, take advantage of this time to bond with your baby! Chat with your little one, tell them a story, sing or hum, and make eye contact.

To turn the massage into a learning experience, narrate what you’re doing and tell your baby the names of their body parts.

For A Body Massage

baby lying on his back as parent massages arms and legs

For a generic, full-body massage, 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

Whether your baby is dealing with constipation or diarrhea, there’s a massage technique for that!

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! It can help your little one sleep better, improve their focus, and aid in brain and social development, among other benefits. Incorporate massage into your baby’s daily schedule to help aid in their healthy growth and development.

Start with a safe and natural oil, like Mustela’s Baby Oil, and then follow the tips and techniques we listed in this article to give your baby a great massage. You can check out our video here for a visual tutorial.

With practice and consistency, a baby massage will become a no-brainer part of your routine with your little one and you’ll both reap the benefits!

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