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9 Ways to Relax a Baby with Infant Massage


After a stint of NO day naps due to teething, my kiddo now gets massaged every day after her morning bath… and we’re rewarded with a nice long afternoon nap. WOOHOO!


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.


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In-Between Parenting.

I will cloth diaper. I will breastfeed exclusively and let my baby wean herself. I can’t wait to babywear. I am having a homebirth. I have a midwife. I have a doula. I am a doula. I love infant massage. I teach infant massage. I’m having my placenta encapsulated (AND turned into art AND into a tincture AND into a broth). I enjoy a good Tibetan singing bowl cd. I like to meditate. I make my own cleaning products. I compost (sometimes). If we have a boy in the future, we won’t be circumcising. I make my own paper. I toast the pumpkin seeds of my jack-o-lanterns every October. I drink nettle infusions and pregnancy herbal tea. I only drink almond milk. My second home is Goodwill, lair of bargains. I love birth art. I love acupuncture. I collect books. And cats.


I eat sugar. I use a microwave. We are vaccinating. I use Pond’s Cold Cream. Since getting pregnant I have begun a pretty serious affair with paper plates. My cats get whatever litter is on sale. I hate green tea. We have a TV (and BASIC CABLE). I eat, and enjoy, meat. Sometimes I forget to take my prenatals, and I don’t stress over this. I ate a brownie for First Breakfast yesterday. We only buy organic when we can afford it (See: rarely). I don’t own any crystals or keep crystals in my birth bag… I don’t carry much in my birth bag at all actually, because I believe my most effective tools are my eyes, hands, and heart. I wear hand-me-downs… but some of those hand-me-downs are WalMart brand. I don’t own a Vitamix. Whole Foods is far too expensive (though being there does make me feel fancy and I will say their hot, spicy chais are worth every penny).

It seems I’m just not crunchy enough to be… crunchy.

It has been recently been made clear to me by a few “natural mothering” advocates that I am just not crunchy enough to be a part of their “clubs.” (I’m calling them clubs. They’re more like “websites”).

And I will admit, this stings a bit.

Nevermind that my hairbrush “smells like bread” according to my husband, because I decided to go shampoo-less and used a yeasty concoction of corn starch and baking soda instead. Nevermind that I am battling the aftershock of a major breakout because I so desperately wanted the oil cleansing method and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar (yes, with ‘the mother’) to work for me. Nevermind that because of me, and me alone, my husband now makes, eats and LOVES spinach, turnip, mustard, and collard greens with dinner. Nevermind I use coconut oil for everything under the sun that doesn’t involve my face. Nevermind that I truly believe my teenaged niece has “Bird Energy.” Nevermind that I support our local farmer’s market, would totally only buy fair-trade coffee and chocolate if we could afford to, and vow to someday own and operate our own hobby farm and cat rescue. I own more than 30 mason jars of varying sizes, damnit.

I’m a “everything in moderation” person. I consider myself to be a realist. I want our daughter to eat healthy, fresh, real food but also enjoy sugary cake and ice cream at birthday parties, if those foods agree with her. I love to hike, and I also love a nice drive. I’m not a natural birth advocate, but I am a respectful-birth advocate. I love birth art… I’m not a fan of chanting. I love tai chi. I don’t like yoga. I intend to follow the gist of attachment parenting but also feel I have something to learn from every parent.

And I’m so okay with all of these things. I’m not a true hippie, and I’m certainly not modern. I’m an in-between. I live in the gooey nougat center of pregnancy and parenting. We’re a middle class family on a budget, doing the best we can. Sometimes I live on beets and kale. Sometimes I eat waffles for dinner.


If you’re in a similar boat, please allow me take the pressure off of you right now. You don’t have to be crunchy. You don’t have to be not-crunchy. You can be whatever you want to be. You can wear your baby in a sling on Monday and push the baby in a carriage on Tuesday. You can feed your baby in whatever way you feel is best. You can diaper however you want to diaper.

What’s important is putting in the time to research things you have questions about, trying different things, having the right support, and then choosing what is going to be the best for you and your family. “Best” is relative and subjective. What works for your sister, friend, mom, aunt, internet pal might not be the best for you– BUT isn’t it great that we get to change our minds?

Learning, trying new things, and finding what works for us comes with what some of us deem as “failure.” Sometimes, things just don’t work out. You try a brand of clothing detergent only to find out that your kiddo has sensitive skin. You try to grow your own herb garden and then find that gardening is not your forte in any way, shape, or form. You put an expensive thingymabob on your registry that came recommended by everyone you know and your baby just flat out hates it. You choose to vaccinate or not vaccinate, and then 5 years later you meet someone who impacts you and you can’t turn back the clock. That’s not a failure, that’s just life.  Whether you consider yourself more or less crunchy than most, it’s all good. If you’re an in-between parent, that’s good, too. At the end of the day we all just want the best for our families, don’t we?

If you love and respect your child, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have, you are doing a fantastic job. This is me giving you a virtual hug. Doesn’t that feel good?

So, where do the quasi-crunchy mamas live on the internet? Where do the meat-eating vegetable lovers lay their heads at night? How do the label-less explain themselves? How do the in-betweens connect?

If you can relate to any of this, let me know. I know there are more of us out there, lurking in the pregnancy forums of the intrawebz, gasping at the price of pink Himalayan sea salt, biting our nails with anxiety as we, deep into the night, compare every stroller, baby food maker, wrap, diaper, and vitamin we’ve ever heard of.

In-between parents, UNITE!

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