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10 Minutes to a Blissful Baby

There's lots to like about baby massage: Just a little time each day can make your infant calmer and happier, with fewer stress hormones and better immune function. And there's sweet news for tired moms: A few simple strokes can lull your baby into a deeper, longer, more restful sleep. "A massage just before bedtime is more effective than rocking at helping your baby fall asleep and stay asleep," says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, which has published more than 90 massage studies. This seven-step, ten-minute massage developed by the institute can be a lovely part of your baby's presleep ritual. Don't have ten minutes? Even just a bit of stroking can make a difference. Be sure to:

  • Always massage your baby on a flat surface, such as a crib, bed, or changing table.

  • Use a small amount of baby oil on your hands to reduce friction. Olive oil is fine too.

  • Be firm. Moderate pressure stimulates different nerve receptors than does a gentler touch. "If you stroke too lightly, you'll tickle, which is the opposite of calming," says Field.

  • Follow your baby's cues. Each child's response to touch is individual; be respectful and mindful. If he's calm and relaxed, all is well. But stop if he cries, grimaces, turns his head away, tenses up, flails his arms, or arches his back.

  • Do each of the steps for 30 to 60 seconds, unless indicated otherwise. Use the pads of your fingers  -- not the whole palm  -- for the first five steps.

    Massage, Step by Step

    This plan is meant for healthy babies from over 2 weeks old to 18 months. If your baby is a preemie or has a medical problem, call your doctor first.

    Step 1:

    With your baby lying stomach down, start at his forehead and use your fingers to make a very slow stroking motion over the top of his head until you reach the nape of the neck.

    Step 2:

    Starting from the nape of the neck, slowly stroke across each shoulder with one hand, first to the right, then to the left.

    Step 3:

    Starting at the nape of the neck again, slowly stroke with both hands all the way down both sides of your baby's back, covering as large an area as possible. Be careful not to touch the spine.

    Step 4:

    Using both hands, slowly stroke down the back of each leg simultaneously, from the buttocks down to the feet, then back up again.

    Step 5:

    Slowly stroke down the back of each arm simultaneously, from the shoulder to the hand, then back up again.

    Step 6:

    With your baby on his back, gently bend his arm at the elbow and then straighten it; do this six times. Repeat with the opposite arm six times.

    Step 7:

    Gently bend his leg at the knee and then straighten it; do this six times. Repeat with the opposite leg six times, then flex and extend both legs six times, as if he were pedaling a tiny bicycle. Now you can  -- shh  -- put your baby to bed.

    More Calming Moves

    From Maria Mathias, codirector of the International Institute of Infant Massage, in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

    For a newborn:
    This simplified leg technique is especially enjoyed by infants before they can walk on their own. With your baby on her back, encircle the thigh with your entire hand, then gently slide your hand all the way down one leg. Now do the same thing with the other hand on the same leg. Continue "milking" the leg by alternating hands in this way for a few more strokes. Switch legs and begin the process over again.

    For a baby who's irritable or overstimulated:
    While holding her foot with one hand, use the thumb pad of the other to press gently but firmly on the sole for a second or two  -- then release. If this calms your baby, continue pressing and releasing a little longer, then switch feet and repeat.

    For a gassy baby:
    Using just the pads of your fingers, gently and very slowly rub the tummy in a clockwise motion.

    Royce Flippin, the author of Fit Again, writes about health for national magazines. This is his first feature for PARENTING.

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