Massage for Baby

Baby’s First Massage


Benefits of massage for your newborn


            *  Feedings are digested better, which may help the baby gain weight easier and grow at faster pace.

            * Simulating the nervous system through the skin may help build muscle tone, coordination and brain functioning.

            * The baby receives special attention from you, which helps you grow closer to each other.

            * Circulation is improved , which may speed healing of birth related trauma.

            * Massage has a claiming effect which leads to deeper, more restful sleep.

            * The immune system is stimulated through the skin by at least five minutes of rubbing daily.


When not to massage:

            If your baby was born prematurely. It is a good idea to wait until he or she is at least 32 weeks gestation and medically stable. This means your baby is in an open crib and is taking feedings – generally baby needs to weigh at least 3.5 lbs.  Massage can actually assist the prematurely born or healing baby is given very carefully.

            Don’t massage when your baby has a fever over 100 F

            Don’t massage over any fracture or incision… But DO massage around it gently.

            Ask your doctor if massage is O.K. if you baby as any of the following:


                                    A malignancy

                                    A birth defect causing internal organs to be exposed.


Getting started:

            Newborns have special considerations while healing from the birth experience and settling into life outside the uterus.  For the first time, they are using energy to breathe, they have to keep warm and to digest food.  Mom did all that before!  So help them by protecting their available energy.  Keep them warm.


            If your baby is working hard to keep warm, then do the strokes over top of clothing. (No need for oils!)  Keep them comfortable.  Keep their cord clean and free of oil or cornstarch.  Newborns are unusually sleepy the first few days , but may be massaged even if asleep.


            These strokes turn on the digestive system. If you do these simple stokes before feeding, digestion will be improved.  If you are breastfeeding, you can stroke the baby right after feeding.  If you are feeding the baby formula, either stroke before the feedings, or wait 30 minutes afterwards.


            Take your time; this pleasurable for you and baby.  Let this be a restful experience for you while you are healing, too.  After you gather the necessary items and have washed your hands, find a comfortable place to sit down.


            You will need a cold-pressed vegetable, nut oil, or cornstarch as a lubricant.  Some light oils that feel nice on the skin are almond, sunflower, sesame, pecan, hazelnut and safflower.  Do not any perfumes on your infant’s skin.


            Remember: if you baby is cold (some newborns take a little time to be able to keep themselves warm) do the strokes over the top of clothing without any lubricant.


            You will need a pillow or thick blanket to support the baby…soft enough to be comforting and supporting but not smothering. Keep your baby wrapped in a lightweight blanket during the massage for warmth and a sense of security.  If necessary, change the baby’s diaper before you being.


            Repeat a stroke several times in each area.  Apply gentle pressure, using the pads of your fingers, gliding over the baby’s skin without pulling on it.


            Stroke more slowly / gently in any tender area, but do so as this may speed the healing process.


            Always keep one hand on the baby’s body while you do the strokes.  Your baby will feel more secure and will accept the stroking much more readily.


            Remember: there is no “perfect” way to massage a baby.  The important thing is to touch and stroke the baby so that he or she can feel your love and claming influence.  


            If the baby starts crying or fussing, stop stroking and use the calming techniques does not calm them back down, wait until baby is settled down before you start again.



A few words about crying:

            Crying is one of your infant’s most powerful ways to let you know he or she needs your help.  One thing we don’t know how to teach are the specifics about each and every cry.  Your baby is an individual and will teach you what each of her/his cries mean.


            In three or four weeks, you will be an expert with this, so relax.  You might want to go to a library ans ask about books on crying, or talk to someone you respect in how they have parented their children.


            There are basically two kinds of cries:  “Help me, someone!” And “Please listen to me!”

If your baby wants you to listen, you listen; look at your baby and make nice little reassuring sounds back to him or her;  when the baby is “talked out” they’ll go to sleep, and sleep very well knowing they have been heard. 

            The “I need help” cry is very easy to spot.  All you have to do is figure out what your baby needs and help with it!  It could be hunger, needing a burp, or a diaper change; too tight clothing, thirst, being overly tired or sleepy; gas and whatever else you can think of…

            A talking cry sounds like this:  wah-wah-wah / breath / wah-wah-wah.   Each cry is like the one before it.

            An “I need help” cry becomes higher and higher in pitch; usually, there is a lot more “feeling” with it.

            Very soon you become an expert with your baby.  You will being to notice what is normal and not normal and be able to respond correctly to your baby’s cries.. and both of you will be very pleased!


Ways to calm a baby..

                        It is very interesting how babies being to cry after the first few days.  Most babies are too tired at first, and sleep most of the time.  But your baby will wake up, and will probably be fussy at times.  Very sensitive babies often are very fussy babies and will lots of your time and attention.  Ask for some help if you are feeling overwhelmed.  Your baby seems to know when you feel upset, and will actually become more upset!  So begin with yourself… take a few deep breaths like you did in labor and calm yourself down first.


            Learn baby’s early cues of distress:

                        Arching the back

                        Spitting up or hiccupping (not related to eating)

                        Avoiding eye contact

                        Spreading his or her fingers as if to say “Stop”

                        Crying the I Need Help cry.


            Explore some causes for your baby’s fussiness, such as:



                        Needing a diaper change

                        Over stimulation

                        Overly tired


            There are some simple things to try which may calm your baby

                                    Place the baby is the fetal position with head down, arms tucked in, knees tucked in

                                    Rest your hands on baby for a few seconds without moving them.  Breathe deeply and relax.

                                    Wrap baby snugly except where you are stroking, especially arms and hands.

                                    If baby wants to suck, use a pacifier, bring the baby’s fingers to the mouth for sucking, or if breastfeeding, put baby to the breast.

                                    Stop talking or playing music

                                    One person take the baby to a darkened room

                                    Wrap your baby snugly and cradle, rock or walk your baby

                                    Place your baby on your chest up by your left shoulder; stroke from the head down to the diaper, over the clothing and blanket.


Massage strokes:


Step 1:  Opening Stretch

                                                Gently place your wrapped baby on a firm mattress or thick, folded blanket.  Keep your baby wrapped in a lightweight blanket.  Communicate with your baby and talk to him or her about what you are going to do.  You can do this simply by saying to your baby, “Are you ready for a nice massage?”

                                    Then, looking into baby’s eyes, gently place your hands under baby’s diaper with your fingertips at the top of baby’s hips.  Let your baby settle into your hands for a moment.  Begin a rolling motion with your fingers while you keep your hands in position under your baby’s bottom.  Using the rolling motion, lift your baby’s hips about 2 inches.  The motion is as if your baby was floating on an ocean wave.

                                    Repeat this stroke, and all the rest of the strokes 3 – 4 times moving slowly.


Step 2:  Being with the Legs

                                                Gently place your hands around the baby’s head or chest so that he or she can get used to your presence.  After the baby signals readiness by becoming calm, remove one of the baby’s legs from the blanket and clothing.  Leave the rest of the baby covered.  You will be doing this step on each of the baby’s legs one at a time.

                                    Warm a few drops of oil in your palm.  With one hand, hold the baby’s feet…resting your thumb on the sole and supporting the ankle with your fingers.  Be very gentle with the heel area since it may be tender from blood tests.

                                    Use your thumb and index finger to make a circle around the baby’s upper leg.  Then using a back-and-forth motion, move down.  Repeat this stroke 3 – 4 times.  Cover this leg, then uncover the other leg and repeat this stroke.



Step 3 Abdominal Reflex Stroking

                                    This unusual stroke triggers a “reflex” which is an automatic response by the nervous system.  The reflex action will increase the waves of movement in the intestines.  This causes gas and constipation to be relived.  This stroke is useful for all ages form birth ot old age.  To get the desired effect you many need to continue doing the stroke for 4 – 4 minutes. Do not put oil on the skin for this stroke.

            Use a very light, ticklish touch using the tip of your finger or fingernail.  Start alongside the cord and make a spiraling motion out to the edge of the abdomen moving in a clockwise direction.  Move quickly, without staying in the same area.  On the next repeat of the stroke, go back to the cord, and spiral outward again and againl  It may take only 3- 4 seconds to do this stroke.  Just keep repeating it over and over if your baby is gassy, colicky or constipated.


Step 4  The abdomen… and gas relief

                        Warm a few drops of oil in your hands and rub 2 fingers gently around the area of the cord.  (Avoid getting oil on the cord).

                        Pressing in with the pads of your fingers about ½ inch, and keeping your fingers under the baby’s ribs, move in a clockwise pattern like this:

                        Like a capital “I”

                        Like an upside down “L”

                        Like an upside down “U”

            Repeat the 3 strokes at least 4 times to help remove gas from the large intestine.  Wrap snugly.



Step 5 :  The Chest…a sensitive Area

                        Warm a little more oil in your hands.  Open the baby’s clothing so you can stroke the chest. 

                        Avoid getting oil on the cord as you lay your hands gently on the baby’s chest for a few seconds.  Keep one hand steadily in place while the other hand does the stroking.

                        Using 2 or 3 fingers, stroke gently from the shoulder to the groin area.  Touch as much of the chest as you can with this movement.  The chest is very sensitive. If your baby pulls away from  your touch, just slow down your stroking.



Step 6:  The Arms

                                    Remove one of the baby’s arms from the blanket and take the clothing off the arm: leave the rest of the baby covered.  You will be doing this step on each of the baby’s arms, one at a time.

            Hold the baby’s palm with one hand while you use the other hand to do this gentle stroking.  With your thumb and index finger, circle the baby’s arm close to the shoulder.  Move down the arm to the wrist, rocking your hand back and forth.

            Leave the clothing off the arm but cover the baby with the blanket.


Step 7:  The scalp

                                    No oil is needed on the scalp.  Cradle the baby’s head with one hand.  Use your free hand to make small gentle circles all over the scalp.  Place the baby’s head down gently when you are finished.



Step 8:  The back

                        Put your baby in a comfortable position on his or her stomach.  Keeping the legs covered, remove the blanket from the back area. (and the tee shirt if you have not removed it yet.)  Keep the rest of the baby covered.

                        Warm a few drops of oil in your palms.  Gently lay your hands on the baby’s back for a few seconds, covering up as much of the back as your can.  This calms the baby.

                        While keeping one hand in place, use 2 or 3 fingers of your free hand to gently stroke from the shoulder to the buttocks, going over the entire back in the process.



Step 9:  More on the back…

                        Keeping one hand in place on one side of the back, start at the neck and make small gentle circles alongside the spine.

                        Repeat this exercise 2-3 times down each side.  Cover the baby for warmth.


Step 10:  The legs one more time…. With the baby still lying on the stomach, uncover one leg at a time.  Use your thumb and index finger to circle the leg just as your did in step 2.  Gently stroke each leg again, starting at the hip and moving down to the ankle.  Then place the blanket back over the leg you just stroked.


Step 11:  The top of the head and the face of a newborn received the most pressure at birth… and there may be swelling or bruising in areas of the head and face.  Go slowly and gently and keep on e hand along one side of the head while you stroke the other side.  No oil is needed for the face.

                        Gently touch the skin of the baby and move your fingers from the top of the head down the cheeks to the chin.  Repeat several times on each side of the face.


Step 12:  More on the face.

                        Using 2 or 3 fingers, gently stroke from the side of the nose, under the eye, up and over the ea.  Repeat the same stroke on the other side of the face.


Step 13:  The Mouth

                        Using one finger, stroke slowly around the baby’s mouth using slightly more pressure.  This stroke helps stimulate the nerves which aid digestion.  If your baby is sucking on a pacifier, skip this step Sucking provides the same benefit to the nerves inside the mouth.


            That is all there is to introducing you and our newborn baby to this gentle way of massage.  Cover your baby now to keep them warm; hold and cradle and cuddle.  With the amount of stimulation received by the nervous system to help digestion, your baby is probably ready to eat very soon.  As you can see, this gentle massage is so very simple that any family member can do it and enjoy it.


            This way of massaging your baby is really wonderful during the first 4 – 5 weeks after birth.  Then your baby will be ready for a deeper touch and a little more involved massage.

            Stroking gently feels wonderful at all ages.  Neither you nor your baby will ever be too old for nurturing touch.




International Association of Infant Massage

PO Box 6370
Ventura, CA  93006

INFANT MASSAGE, A Handbook for Loving Parents
Vimala McClure