Infant massage has numerous benefits, a major one being relaxation for your baby. Research shows that infant massage reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels and improves sleep patterns and can help babies sleep more deeply (and awake well-rested). Many parents ask me to teach them specifically to help with their child’s sleep habits (or non-sleep habits, I should say!) Every baby, including my own, goes through different day & night sleep/awake phases as they grow, develop, and hit new milestones. Some parents sleep-train while others find that baby-led routines work best for them. Infant massage classes can help new parents no matter what style of parenting they choose- parents leave class with a better understanding of infant behavioral states and learn hands-on techniques for relaxation.
Here are some tips to help make the infant massage experience more relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your baby. Try them out and see if they work for you and your family!
- Use a natural, plant-based oil
We know that using an oil during massage can cuts down on friction and thus makes massage smoother and more flowing, as opposed to jarring. Studies have found that, as compared with infants who received massage without oil, infants who received massage with oil were less active, showed fewer stress behaviors and head averting, and their saliva cortisol levels decreased more.(1) Check out my article at Our Mom Spot to read more about choosing the right oil.
- Focus the massage on one body part at a time
If you don’t have much time but want to get a massage in (something that occurs in my life quite often), you may want to save time and massage two areas at the same time, as in both arms or both legs simultaneously. One great thing about attending a class and learning all of the techniques properly is that once you’re comfortable with them at home you can adjust the routine as needed. Instead of massaging two areas at once, try spending less time on each area, or only doing certain techniques. Rushing and massaging baby too much at one time could be counterproductive to the relaxing experience you’re hoping to create.
- Only one parent massages at a time
Having more than one person massage at a time may be overstimulating for the baby. It’s tempting to, for example, have mom massage the left leg followed by dad massaging baby’s right leg, but another option is to have one parent massage in the morning, and the other in the evening (or any other system that you find works for you).
- Set the mood
This isn’t always possible to do, but it may be worth a try if relaxation or deeper, more restful sleep for your baby is a goal. Think about the type of environment you enjoy when getting a massage- maybe a warm temperature, dim lighting, and soft music, and set a relaxing mood before beginning a massage.
- Relax yourself before beginning the massage
In class, we always do a relaxation exercise before beginning massage. This is a great habit to get into as your baby can sense your stress and become stressed himself. And consider this: studies have shown that when mothers and babies make eye contact, their hearts beat in sync! Imagine the effect that your actual touch can have on your infant’s systems.
- Find a comfortable position for both you and baby before beginning
Your baby (though sometimes not at first) may enjoy being massaged for 15 minutes or longer, so it’s important that you are in a comfortable position to start with. Try propping yourself up with a pillow or two to keep your bottom and lower back comfortable, and keep some water next to you.
- Follow your baby’s cues and don’t force the massage
Infant massage is all about reading your infant’s cues and meeting your baby’s needs. If your child at any point is giving you “no” signs, like fussing, crying, arching the back, or a clue that is unique to your baby, stop the massage and give your baby what she needs. You can always try again later!
- Use enough pressure to be gentle but effective
Using a pressure that is too light may tickle your baby. Always use your best judgement when applying pressure, be extra gentle around joints and knees, and stay below the ribs during tummy massage.
- Use “Resting Hands” before each massage
Resting hands is a technique taught in class that is to be used before each part of the massage begins. For example, if you are about to massage your baby’s left leg, heavily rest your hands on top of the leg before going into your strokes. This way, your baby has a moment to understand that that particular body part is going to be massaged. Using Resting Hands will help to not overstimulate or startle your baby. Touch Relaxation is another technique learned in class which over time may help to “wire” your baby for relaxation at your touch.
Infant massage is science and evidence-based, but it’s also an art. Don’t stress over perfecting the techniques- enjoy the one-on-one quality time with your baby! They’re only so little for such a short period of time.
I. Field, T., Schanberg, S., Davalos, M., & Malphurs, J. (1996). Massage with oil has more positive effects on normal infants. Pre and Perinatal Psychology Journal, 11, 75-80.