The Benefits of Baby Massage


(hint: it’s not just for your baby!)

I absolutely adore running baby massage courses! It’s a little bit of oxytocin heaven 🙂 Picture this: a warm cosy room full of beautiful babies soaking up the one on one attention from their parent/s and loving the positive nurturing touch, talking and singing they are receiving in a calm, gentle environment. It is baby spa heaven – and parents also benefit greatly when giving baby massage…

Belief in the medicinal benefits of massage dates back many thousands of years with the first known written massage therapy traditions coming from India, but practice may have actually originated around 3000 BCE or earlier. Caring touch makes someone feel good and can lead to a reduction in anxiety symptoms.

It’s common sense that a baby needs touch and reassurance as they make the huge adjustment to the world outside of the womb. In the womb all their needs were met – Earthside there is so much going on such as: fluctuating temperatures, different volumes, different sights, loud sounds, strong, new smells, new textures and having to alert us when they are hungry or thirsty. It really is sensory overload being a tiny baby!

For pregnant mothers, massaging her baby starts when they are in the womb, with mothers stroking and holding their bumps.  This instinctive stroking continues once the baby is born when a mother will cuddle him close, stroking his super soft skin, downy hair and beautiful face – soothing him with her gentle touch. Loving touch is a baby’s first ‘language’ and a way a mother can communicate with her baby, letting him know she is there and that he is loved, safe and important (I’m saying ‘mother’ here, but of course this can be any close caregiver).

If you’ve ever had a massage you’ll be familiar with that lovely glow it gives you afterwards that lasts for ages! This is thanks to a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol, and a boost of feel good hormones endorphins and oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a wonderful chemical our brain produces when we feel nurtured and receive nurturing touch. Loving touch and closeness is not just a ‘nice thing’ to do for our babies, it’s actually critical for a baby’s wellbeing, helping them to feel safe, loved and able to build up trust in their caregivers.

Just in case you still need more convincing, below are some benefits of baby massage for your baby:

  • The gift of love and security
  • Helps your baby to sleep
  • Soothes your baby
  • Aids digestion
  • Improves circulation
  • Helps develop muscle tone
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Helps soothe constipation and release trapped wind
  • Can be done any time your baby is interested & is lovely as part of a bedtime routine
  • Can incorporate singing and nursery rhymes or just talk to your baby  during the massage

And for you…

  • Gives you a beautiful oxytocin hit (this stuff is addictive 🙂 )
  • Helps with bonding and can lift your mood
  • A relaxing time for both of you
  • Increases confidence in reading your baby’s cues and taking care of your baby

How do I massage my baby?

Always ask permission first. This may sound a bit daft seeing as your baby is unable to talk or understand vocabulary yet, but it’s a respect thing. Rather than just diving in and massaging them when perhaps they’re not up for this right now, instead you check in with them first.

It’s always best to massage your baby when they are in the ‘quiet alert’ state. This is when your baby is: awake, interested, calm, looking around/looking at you and still or with smooth movements. If they are turning away, tired, wriggling lots with jerky movements and agitated or crying, now is not the time for massage.

Assuming they are in the quiet-alert state, then you can rub some oil between your hands and talk to your baby – show them your hands and ask them if they’d like a massage. They’ll soon associate these cues with a lovely massage. If they’re turning away and not holding eye contact or interest then leave it until another time. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate a massage when not in the mood, they are no different.

There is no strong research around which oils are best to use and the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) – the UK’s leading authority on infant massage – do not recommend any specific vegetable oil. As IAIM practitioners, we use cold pressed organic sunflower oil as this is simply picked and pressed – so no nasties added in and there is no strong odour to interfere with bonding. It is nourishing, contains vitamins and minerals and the skin recognises it as digestible food.

Synthetic oils are made in a laboratory and mineral oils are petroleum based. They can leave the skin feeling slippery and greasy, have no nutritional value and often have added scent. The IAIM strongly recommends avoiding the use of essential oils in infant massage oil.

If you’ve not done a formal baby massage course simply stroke your baby’s limbs, hands, feet back and tummy. Always go in a clockwise motion on the tummy – picture a clock on your baby’s tummy and massage clockwise. Lots of eye contact, talk to them telling them what you’re doing, sing to them. Look out for signs of tiring or disinterest and always stop when this or crying occurs.

Enjoy and have fun with it! Your baby will love this one to one time with just you as you are their most important person in the whole world and, most importantly, you’ll be helping to build a healthy brain for your little one.

Jackie is a NCT, hypnobirthing teacher and reflexologist who trained with the IAIM and offers baby massage and baby reflexology courses in and around South London. For more info visit www.baby-bumps.net