How To Give Your Baby a Massage
A chubby little smile from your baby may melt your heart. And moments of bonding like this can be some of the most enjoyable aspects of parenthood. They also set the stage for your child to forge healthy relationships throughout the rest of their life. Equally beneficial to bonding are routines, since their predictability provides your baby with a sense of security. Another way to strengthen your bond can be by adding something like baby massage to your regular activities. It does just that—and much more.
In addition to sounding adorable, baby massage has numerous benefits. It can help foster healthy emotional, biological, and behavioral development in a range of ways. In fact, infants who receive regular massages make eye contact with their parents up to 50% more often, smile and vocalize more, and are three times more likely to express themselves in positive manners. Incredible, right?
And that’s just scraping the surface. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of infant massage and, most importantly, how to do six of our favorite baby massage techniques. Your baby’s tummy will thank you.
Why Is Infant Massage Important?
As we mentioned, the number of advantages that come from regularly giving your infant a massage reach far and wide. Some of the most common questions parents ask are: can massages help a baby with digestion and can massage help with colic. They also often wonder: do massages help babies with gas. The answers to all three are yes, yes, and yes!
When you massage your baby, you stimulate the nerves, which can help improve digestion, relieve constipation, and get rid of gas. Interestingly enough, massaging your infant anywhere can have a positive impact on their digestive system. So, it may be one way you can help your baby’s digestion. Massage benefits other areas as well, such as learning, brain development, and even motor skills. Perhaps best of all, massage provides a sense of relaxation for you and your baby, both while and after your fingers are moving. And, as we know, less stress can equal better sleep.
Massage is also an excellent time to use baby talk with them—simplified, melodic, expressive conversation. It may come almost naturally to do so, but aside from priming their language skills, it also helps parent-baby bonding. The stimulation they feel from touch, combined with the protection they feel when you talk to them, is vital to their brain development. And it makes them feel loved, safe, and comfortable. Plus, babies hear a lot of sounds around them. They not only like listening to (and watching) baby talk, it also serves as a cue that you’re focusing on and talking specifically to them.
While massaging your baby anywhere can be a blissful experience for you both, for our purposes here, we’re going to focus on one of the most adorable parts of your baby—their chubby little belly (we are Mylicon, after all). But before we get into how to actually do a baby belly massage, we should also note that while many babies enjoy having their tummies massaged, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. If your baby looks uncomfortable or gets fussy while you're giving them a massage, don’t force it on them. It might be better to try another time, or it just may not be for them. If they enjoy it, then you now have a fun, healthy, positive activity to do together. Let’s get started!
How Do You Massage a Baby’s Stomach?
The following techniques focus specifically on the digestive system to help promote healthy digestion, and help relieve gas, constipation, and colic. Just be sure not to do them too soon after your baby has eaten. (You don’t want them to backfire and end up giving your baby an upset tummy.) We recommend waiting at least 45 minutes after a feeding before you do a massage.
In order to follow natural digestive movement, most strokes are done from their rib cage down. Likewise, for circular strokes, it’s best to use a clockwise motion (starting at “midnight”), with your right hand in the lead and your left following behind. For each method, place your baby down on their back right in front of you. Repeat each sequence a few times in 15-minute massage sessions. We’ll get into the frequency in a bit.
Stomach massage #1: Hands of the clock
This technique mimics the hands of a clock in order to follow the intestinal tract. Place your right hand on your baby’s belly at midnight, flattening your fingers against it. Apply gentle pressure, and fan your hand out clockwise in a half-circle around their tummy, from midnight to six o’clock. Then, repeat this motion and follow your right hand with your left. At six o’clock, lift your right hand, and let the left continue all the way around the clock in a full circle.
Stomach massage #2: Paddling
As the name suggests, this technique involves “paddling” your fingers in a massaging motion, similar to a water wheel. With your fingers flat, starting at your baby’s rib cage, use gentle, sweeping strokes in a downward motion. Alternate your right hand with your left until you get to the top of their pelvis, then repeat.
Stomach massage #3: I Love You
Show your baby’s tummy some love with this next one—literally. With your fingertips, draw the letter “I” down the right side (from your perspective) of their belly. Then, draw an upside-down “L-L-O-V-E,” going across their belly, from your left to your right. Follow it up by drawing an upside-down “U-Y-O-U.” As you spell these, gently say, “I love you.”
Stomach massage #4: Rockabye
Place your hand horizontally on your baby’s belly. Then, gently rock it back and forth from side to side.
You can even sing the “Rockabye Baby” song softly to your infant as you massage. (We should note, however, that if your baby’s umbilical cord hasn't healed yet, save this one for a later date.)
Stomach massage #5: Moonwalk
You may even be able to feel gas bubbles moving with this one. Gently “walk” your fingers across your baby’s belly, from your left to your right, just above their belly button (just be careful not to poke). Brush your fingertips as you go.
Stomach massage #6: Knee Tummy Press
This last one may really get things moving, so be prepared. Place your hands on your baby’s calves, near their knees. Now, gently push their knees toward their tummy. Hold for three to five seconds, then release. Repeat three to five times.
How Long and How Often Can You Massage Your Baby?
The answer: It depends. Every baby is different, so there are no rules for what the duration or frequency of your massages should be. As you and your little one get to know each other, you’ll become more familiar with their temperament and body language. Pay attention to them while massaging them. If your baby tends to get fussy with some of the above techniques, try another time, or scrap those ones altogether. We all have our preferences. But if your baby enjoys some or all of them, make them part of your regular routine. (Which in and of itself is beneficial—it gives them a sense of comfort and safety.)
In short, let your baby be the one who tells you how long or often to massage them. We want our children to ultimately listen to us as they grow up. So start by returning the favor.
Next: Looking for more ways to help soothe your baby? Read our article How To Calm a Crying & Fussy Baby.