Warbling lilting lullabies, reading favorite books on repeat, sharing sweet grins, rocking to sleep: There are many ways to communicate your boundless love for your little one. One sweet way to bond with your new bundle may also improve your baby’s health. Numerous studies show that infant massage can increase infants’ weight gain and digestion, reduce symptoms of colic and result in longer stretches of sleep. Ahhh…sounds like a loving gift for the entire family.
What you need:
To get started with massage, check with your local hospital or childbirth center for a parent-child class. No local instruction? You can also get going with a book—look for "Infant Massage (Fourth Edition): A Handbook for Loving Parents" by Vimala Schneider McClure (2017) or "Baby Massage: The Calming Power of Touch" by Alan Heath and Nicki Bainbridge (2004)—or a YouTube tutorial.
You don’t need to spend hours or invest in special equipment to gift your baby with the bonding and health benefits of massage. You need just a few calm, uninterrupted moments—studies show health benefits from 15-20 minutes of daily infant massage. In terms of equipment, all you need is a warm, draft-free spot on the floor, a blanket, and oil or lotion.
Avoid scented lotions or massage balms for baby. Use a simple, unscented oil such as coconut or safflower. These oils usually don’t stain, but you’ll probably want to lay down a safe-to-soil blanket or towel, just in case. You’re dealing with a diaper-free baby, after all!
When to try
Light-pressure infant massage is safe to begin with a newborn. In fact, infant massage is practiced in nearly 40 percent of neonatal intensive care units, where the most fragile new infants are cared for. (If your child uses a feeding tube, has low muscle tone, or has an underlying health condition, check with your pediatrician first.)
Choose a time when your baby is calm, alert, and relaxed. Fitting massage into a bedtime routine can be a soothing send-off to sleep, but keep in mind that massage can be stimulating to some babies. If massage wakes your baby up instead of winding him down, make time for it in the morning instead of the evening.
To alleviate gas bubbles and improve baby’s digestion, try the “I love you” stroke.
- Start with baby on her back with her feet near your lap.
- Begin by using two fingers to trace the letter ‘I’ down the right side of the belly, starting at the ribs.
- Then, working from left to right, trace an inverted ‘L,’ tracing from left to right above the belly button, then finishing the letter with a long stroke down the right side of the abdomen.
- Finally, create an upside down ‘U’ with an upward stroke on the left side of the belly, a crosswise stoke above the belly button, and downward stroke on the left side of baby’s belly.
Loving, gentle massage says “I love you” each and every day.
Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is "Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades."