Infant massage: Building connection through touch

Newborn baby having feet massaged

Building a strong bond and connection with your baby comes through a variety of different ways, and massaging your baby meets two of them: Skin to skin touch, and learning to respond to each other in a reciprocal way. If you’re interested in massaging your baby, here are some useful tips:

woman smiling and massaging newborn baby

Pick the right time – Initially you want to introduce massage at a time when your baby is awake and already calm. With practice, you baby will likely learn to associate massage with calm and it can be a useful way to settle them when cranky.

Make sure the room is warm – you’ll be taking your baby’s clothes off, you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable and cold.

Strip them down to the diaper – You could do totally naked, too. But I always preferred to leave the diaper on to avoid a biohazard incident!

Use a plant based massage oil in tiny amounts – Despite the name, baby oil is really bad for babies. Stick with a light, plant based oil without much smell. Pour a small dot in your hands, and rub your hands together to distribute and warm the oil. Because you’re going to oil up your baby don’t do this right before you give the baby a bath. (Ever play the greased watermelon game in the pool? That’s what you don’t want!)

Start with light, gentle strokes on the arms or legs – Pay attention to your baby’s cues. If they draw back or seem uncomfortable with it, stop. Once they’re used to arms and legs, you can add on hands, feet, shoulders, chest and back.

Use trial and error to find out the best way to massage this baby – Sure, you can take a class to learn strokes and techniques. That might be useful. But there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do infant massage, and playing around and watching your baby’s body language can guide you pretty well.

Talk and interact with your baby as you massage them – It doesn’t matter much what you say. Ask them if they like this. Name the body parts as you stroke. Sing little kid songs, recite simple poems, or sing classic Beatles tunes. Or just monologue about your day. Just don’t get too worked up about politics, injustice, etc. Keep it friendly and smile if it seems right. Even the tiniest of newborns can mimic your smile. With time, your baby will start babbling back at you and you can take turns.

Finish the massage when the baby cues that they are done – They might seem antsy, start rolling away, arching their back, or even cry. When they are communicating that they’re done, it’s time to stop.

Make it a regular part of your daily routine – I found that with my youngest, a half hour of massage right before her afternoon nap would make for a longer nap and a happier evening. You bet I made sure to do it every day. I *might* have even done it a few times before her morning nap to get some extra time to get things done. And it usually worked to lengthen that nap, too!

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