Baby Massage Tips

by William Sears, M.d.

Baby Massage Tips

Answers to common questions about baby massage and how new moms can bond with their babies and improve their babies’ immune systems.

Massage is one of life’s simple pleasures, and research has shown that baby massage can help babies grow better and behave better. (Even colicky ones!) The skin-to-skin connection helps parents and baby better communicate too — without saying a word. It’s also a great way for dad to get in on the baby-bonding act.


Massage was a sanity-saver during the time of day that my wife, Martha, and I dubbed “happy hour.” It was usually late afternoon when our daughter Hayden seemed to be the fussiest (and our parental reserves their lowest).


We pediatricians actually have a descriptive term for this skin-to-skin contact: therapeutic touch. But don’t let our terminology fool you. This is one of the simplest ways to calm your baby — and perhaps even you.


Why Massage Your New Baby?


To help him breathe more rhythmically  Infants often have irregular breathing patterns, but because the skin is the largest organ of the human body and it’s rich in nerve endings, massage can help.


To stimulate growth-promoting hormones  Pediatricians have long known that babies who are touched a lot thrive. Thriving doesn’t just mean growing bigger, it means growing to your fullest potential — physically, intellectually and emotionally. A study by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that premature babies receiving three 15-minute massages per day for five days showed a 53 percent greater daily weight gain than unmassaged babies.


To build his brain Studies show that newborns receiving extra touch experience enhanced neurological development. Since the brain grows fastest in the first year, that’s the time when it’s smart to give your child extra touch.


To boost his immunity  A study of human infants 10 weeks old showed that infants whose backs were massaged by their mothers experienced fewer colds and fewer occurrences of diarrhea. Conversely, touch deprivation negatively affects the immune system. Touch enhances secretion of digestive hormones and helps the baby’s digestive system work more efficiently. 


To relieve stress  Researchers believe that one cause of colic is sensory overload. A stressed baby will cry. Infant massage can significantly reduce this stress by reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  



Get Ready ?

Choose a comfortable place and limit distractions. Look baby in the eye, grasp his legs and bicycle them while speaking softly, “Relax, relax ?” Cover your baby in an edible oil, such as almond or avocado. Younger babies like to lie in the cradle formed when you sit cross-legged. When baby grows out of your leg cradle, stretch out your legs alongside baby.


? Go!

Arms and legs  Rub using a gentle twisting or “milking” motion. Roll the arms and legs between your hands, and press your thumbs gently into his body. Finish with light strokes to the leg.

Slide both hands along the rib cage from center to sides and back again, like flattening the pages in a book.