Baby massage benefits
There are few things more mutually rewarding than massaging your baby. It can be a good mood-shifter, if your baby appears cranky in the middle of the day, or you might like to incorporate it into a wind-down routine before bed. I used to massage my little girl after her evening bath and it became a lovely ritual that we both anticipated and enjoyed. After being touched and stroked all over her beautiful skin, gently exercising her limbs and joints, she seemed supremely relaxed and ready for sleep. It relaxed me too, to enjoy some precious time just to be with my baby, without needing to feed, change, wind or entertain her.
Pioneering obstetrician, Frederick Leboyer, wrote in his classic book ‘Loving Hands’.
“Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant.
Food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins. We must speak to their skins, we must speak to their backs, which thirst and hunger and cry as much as their bellies. We must gorge them with warmth and caresses just as we do with milk.”
Baby massage has become such a widespread practise that most local health centres now offer free courses for new parents. If you can’t get to one easily or you’d like some basic guidelines, try the suggestions below. (There are also videos available on YouTube if you need to see the moves in practise). These massage strokes worked for me and my baby but you should feel free to adapt them to suit yours – your baby will certainly let you know if she/he likes or dislikes what you are doing!
Make sure your baby hasn’t just fed, otherwise lying flat won’t feel comfortable for them.
As your baby will be naked, make sure the room is well heated – or cover your baby up with layers of blankets that you can peel off in sections as you massage.
You might want to dim any overhead lights so that your horizontal baby isn’t staring up into glaring light.
Have some oil to hand – it needn’t be expensive – organic sunflower or grapeseed oil from the supermarket is fine. You can warm it up in your hands before using it on your baby.
It’s best to lay a thick towel beneath your baby (in case they feel so relaxed that they empty their bladder).
Either kneel in front of your baby or place your baby flat on your own outstretched legs, whilst sitting on the floor or bed.
Remove any rings and bracelets.
Move your oiled hands gently and slowly from the centre of your baby’s chest out to the sides, following the lines of its ribs, as if smoothing an open book. Repeat this a few times.
Repeat this ‘open book’ move a little higher up the torso, to stroke over the collarbone, shoulders and tops of arms.
Move each hand in diagonal strokes upwards from hip to opposite shoulder, alternating hands as you go.
Lightly draw soothing circles over your baby’s tummy, in a clockwise direction.
‘Milk’ each arm in turn, gently squeezing the limbs in soothing, rhythmic movements.
Draw little circles around the bones of the wrists, with both your hands working simultaneously, either side of the joint.
Trace circles over the palm of your baby’s hands.
Massage each finger with rolling strokes.
Finish with stroking down the length of each arm and over the fingertips.
Repeat the rhythmic milking movements that you used on baby’s arms.
Draw circles around the ankle bones.
Stroke each toe, reaching down into each tiny crevice between the toes.
Massage the base of the foot, using your thumbs to create gentle pressure, according to your baby’s tolerance.
Smooth down the length of the leg, oiling all the folds and creases of skin, especially behind the knee.
If your baby will let you, turn him/her onto his tummy. Alternatively, try rolling them onto their side so that you can access their back.
Stroke down the length of the spine with flat palms, each hand smoothly following the next.
Walk your fingertips all over the skin in ‘raindrops’, with just the gentlest pressure.
If your baby is happy for you to continue, it’s nice to finish with carefully massaging their face. My little one always found this most curious and her expressions were just priceless!
Move your fingers from the middle of the forehead out sideways. Repeat this move several times.
Move down to the bridge of the nose and repeat this side stroke, across the cheekbones.
Carefully ‘draw’ gentle circles around the eye sockets and smooth your baby’s eyes closed.
Finally, rub a little oil into and over your baby’s head.
The whole massage should last about 10 minutes but do stop if your baby appears uncomfortable or starts crying. It can take a little while for them to get used to a full massage and there will always be some days that they’re simply not in the mood. Listen to your baby and always let them dictate the length of the session. That way it will remain a positive, relaxing experience – for you both!