Massage is wonderful to add to daily routines with your baby as this loving touch may have many benefits for you both.
At a recent Earthskills Gathering, I attended an infant massage class led by Michele Gee LMBT, CD (DONA) licensed massage bodywork therapist and doula. We learned the benefits of adding massage to a baby's daily routine and had the chance to try out several techniques on our own little ones.
I added infant massage as part of my newborn's nightly ritual, and even though we have only shared the practice for a few days, I feel a deeper connection with him. I have also noticed less tension in his body as I move his tiny arms and legs. Infant massage may also help calm a baby during fussy times, lead to better sleep, relieve gas, and reduce gas pains.
Another benefit? Infants love routine.
I look forward to our new nightly ritual and it seems my son does too. There have been a few nights where we have skipped the massage. Michelle recommends that caregivers ask infants for consent prior to starting. I begin by singing a song to my son and then ask if he is ready for his night-night massage (a physical cue such as rubbing your hands together can be done too). If he seems alert and calm we proceed. If he appears hungry or uncomfortable we skip it. You could certainly consider adding massage at other times, such as upon waking or before naps.
Related: Ask the Expert: How do Babies Benefit from Infant Massage
There are a few considerations...
Choose a gentle massage oil. Oils that are organic and cold-pressed are best. Michele recommends coconut, grapeseed, jojoba, sunflower, or olive oil. Avoid nut oils.
Firm, yet gentle, pressure is best. I learned that too light of a touch can "tickle" and overstimulate young babies.
Be patient. Older babes wiggle a lot! Follow your little one's cues and don't get discouraged if you have to stop. Keep the experience peaceful! There was an older infant in our class and his mother ended up practicing massage with him in various positions.
Keep in mind that your little one might be hungrier after the massage because of increased circulation.
Avoid massage during illness. If you have concerns, speak with your healthcare provider.
Related: DIY Sinus Massage for Stuffy Children
If you are interested, here are a few of Michele's techniques to try:
The Knee Press: This technique works wonders for relieving any gas discomfort my son has. Alternate pressing one knee at a time into your baby's belly.
Milking: With oil, squeeze from your baby's thigh down to his or her ankle.
Foot Thumb Glide: It seems foot massage is my son's favorite! I also add this move when he is nursing. To practice, glide your thumb on the bottom of your little one's foot, from heel to toes.
Inner Foot Circles: I learned this touch is helpful for calming fussy infants. On the inside of your baby's foot, make tiny circles with your thumb, from his or her toe down to their heel.
Squeeze & Twist: With oil, gently squeeze while twisting from shoulder to wrist.
Tummy Wringing: This move is also great for developing your little one's coordination. At first my son had some resistance with this one, but now he seems to enjoy it! Bring your babe's left knee and right shoulder to their midline and then alternate.
Ear Pull: Lightly tug earlobes out and away from baby's head.
Lower Back Butterfly: This technique also helps with gas pains. Starting at the diaper line, stroke your thumbs upward, to the side, and down (like butterfly wings).
Scalp Massage: My absolute favorite during a massage, so I treat my little guy to this one too!
A photo from our infant massage class!