Baby massage: the benefits and best techniques

Specialist paediatric physiotherapist Kath Frame shares her magic on how to get started with baby massage.

5 min read 100%

Baby massage: the benefits and best techniques

Specialist paediatric physiotherapist Kath Frame shares her magic on how to get started with baby massage.

5 min read 100%

What are the benefits of baby massage?

Think about it. Your newborn has been used to being in your womb for nine months and being outside of it will seem strange. Being touched will remind them of being rocked and cradled inside you. Don’t forget, a baby’s sense of touch is already well developed at birth and so they should naturally respond well to massage.

But there’s more to it than just familiarity. Health issues affecting your newborn can be improved with baby massage. For example, baby massage is good for colic, wind or gas, while also aiding the circulatory and lymphatic systems. On top of that, baby massage is beneficial to your baby’s breathing and some of the movements can help the digestive systems.

How to massage a baby

It’s never too early to start. Find a class or qualified expert near you via International Association of Infant Massage or get stuck in right now with specialist paediatric physiotherapist Kath Frame’s tips..

Aim for a short massage every day

Every day or a couple of times a week is fine if that’s all you can manage. Think about this as being an activity that’s ‘with’ your baby, not ‘for’ your baby. Get your partner involved too.

Be sure it’s a good time

If your baby is too hungry, too full, too tired or too fractious, reschedule. Choose a time that suits you both, like just before bath time, when your baby will be relaxed but alert enough to appreciate it.

Create the right atmosphere

Your room needs to be warm (at least 24°C) and quiet. Dim the lights, play gentle music. Some babies don’t like too much skin to skin at first, try it over a vest or baby grow.

Get them in the right position

Lay them somewhere safe such as the floor, or in the middle of the bed, with a folded towel beneath. Don’t forget to turn your baby onto their tummy too, which helps them get used to different positions, is good for colic and helps with development. There’s also nothing more gorgeous than seeing their little bottoms and perfect backs!

Always remember to do a patch test

Remember: when using any cream or lotion on your baby’s skin, always do a small patch test the day before. This will ensure you don’t run into any baby skin care issues.

Handling your own tiny baby can be daunting, so the biggest joy I get out of teaching newborn massage is seeing a parent bond with their baby. Massage gives you confidence to hold and change their squirming body.
Physiotherapist Kath Frame

Baby massage techniques to try

There are plenty of ways to massage your baby, and some they may enjoy more than others! Try the following baby massage techniques until you find one that works for both of you. If your baby loves them all, you can try changing techniques every so often. After all, each technique not only helps with bonding, but can also have specific health benefits.

Knees up and down

The move: holding your baby’s knees, gently push them towards the tummy, then straighten the legs out again.

Good for: helps improve the circulation and sends oxygen rushing around your baby’s body, relaxing muscles and helping remove waste products from the lymphatic system.

The Butterfly

The move: start with one hand at the lower end of your baby’s ribs on the right, then gently slide it up to the shoulder on the other side. Squeeze the shoulder. Repeat on the other side, do each side four times.

Good for: if your baby has a cold or is congested, this can get rid of mucus from the lungs.

The Waterwheel

The move: Stroke downwards over the tummy area just from the bottom of the ribs to the thighs. Do the right side, then the left and repeat six times.

Good for: this baby tummy massage is great for colic, helping soothe colic by relaxing your baby's intestines.

Sun and Moon

The move: Working clockwise, make a full circle on your little one’s stomach with your left hand. The right hand then makes a semicircle from the left to the right-hand side. Repeat this six times.

Good for: this is a great baby massage for wind relief, as the clockwise motion moves it through the intestines.

The magic touch: Kath's top baby massage tips

  • Be aware of how your baby is feeling and stop if they are unsettled or crying.

  • If sick, or after immunisations, your baby might not enjoy a massage. Stop until they feel better.

  • Keep your baby warm; wrap them up in a warm towel and just uncover the portions of the body you need to.

  • Always move your hands in a clockwise direction.

  • Be gentle; don’t press too hard or move your baby’s limbs in unnatural directions.

  • Baby not keen? It may take a few tries for them to get used to massage, so pick it up again two days later.

What to use for baby massage

The NCT recommends you don’t use any oils until your baby is at least a month old. Then, try a cold-pressed oil, a mineral oil or a petroleum-based ointment but NOT cooking oil, olive oil, mustard or peanut oil. Sunflower, almond or grapeseed oils are good bases and ingredients such as chamomile and lavender may help your baby sleep. Although you could use a simple oil to massage your baby, there are some lovely products out there specifically for babies, i.e., Weleda Baby Calendula Oil.

This content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment.
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