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Baby Massage

Who can resist caressing a baby's deliciously soft skin? All the better that mounting evidence suggests regular massage can be beneficial to infants  -- speeding preemies' weight gain, reducing colic, even bolstering young immune systems. Besides, it's a fun soother for both parent and child. Here's how to do it, head to toe.

Getting Started

Always wash your hands before beginning the massage, and remove any jewelry that may get in the way. To avoid scratching your baby's skin, trim your nails or use the balls of your fingers.

  • If needed, turn up the heat so that your baby remains warm enough throughout.
  • Experts recommend giving a full-body massage, starting at either the baby's head or feet, depending on what makes her feel more comfortable.
  • Baby oil isn't necessary, though it may help make your motions smoother. But don't use it on your infant's face.
  • For preemies and babies under 4 months, 10-minute sessions are long enough. Increase to 20 minutes as your baby develops.
  • Massage lightly but with enough pressure so that the baby isn't tickled  -- you don't want her to laugh so much as smile.

FACE TIME

Gently use the fingertips of both hands to make small circles, starting at the center of your baby's forehead and stroking outward. Move on to the cheeks, nose, jaw.

Massage the ears by rubbing your forefinger and thumb from the bottom of the lobe to the top of the ear.

TAKING IT FROM THE TOP

For a baby under 4 months: Cup her head with one hand and massage the scalp and the back of the head (avoiding the soft spots at the top of the head and the temples) with the index and middle fingers of the other hand, using a circular shampooing motion. When the baby is 4 months or older and can control her own head and neck, use both hands to massage.

BACK BASICS

A back massage can turn a wild thing into a cooing sleepyhead in minutes. Put your baby on her stomach, making sure she has room to breathe. Starting at the shoulder, gently massage the same way you would an adult. Then, using your fingertips, massage the length of the back, without touching the spine.

HAND AND FOOT

While holding your baby's ankle with both hands, rub the soles of the feet, making X's with your thumbs.

Massage tiny hands by stroking from the palm  -- with a circular motion  -- up to the base of the fingers. Massage fingers by pressing between your forefinger and your thumb.

AN ARM AND A LEG

Massage your baby's legs and arms, gently squeezing the muscles just as you would bread dough. Be extra careful on the elbow and knee joints, so the baby won't get hurt.

RUB-A-TUM-TUM

Use a hand-over-hand paddling motion below the belly button  -- this can relieve gas pains and may improve her digestion. It's best to wait more than an hour after meals. For newborns, the ideal moment is midway between feedings.

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