newborn care massage enrichment
Babies love to have their feet massaged

 

Regular massage helps baby develop better sleep and will build a strong bond

Crying and Colic 

If you have been a parent for more than 24 hours, you are probably familiar with the utter feeling of hopelessness when your otherwise healthy baby is crying and won’t stop.  You run through your go-to list of the obvious culprits. Feeding, diaper duty, and gas. You may have even resorted to the binky. It’s frustrating when you have gone over the basics like an old vacuum on a shag rug, and don’t feel any closer to finding your way to the volume button. 

fussy crying colic baby
Your fussy baby might just be asking for a massage

What’s more, a crying baby can be a daily event. Quite commonly it happens in the afternoon. This is often referred to as “Sundowners” or “Afternoon colic”.  It commonly occurs between mid-afternoon until early evening.  There is little consensus for the underlying causes. But whatever you call it and for whatever reason it happens, it’s just plain miserable for you and most of your neighborhood.

Daily massage can help

But there is hope! Fortunately, gentle massage, can be a great way to calm a bored or cranky baby.  And you don’t need to be an expert.  In this article, we will walk through the benefits of baby massage and a few surprisingly simple techniques to get your baby to happy in no time.

mom baby colic crying cuddling fussy
Sometimes just cuddling can settle a fussy baby.

Massaging your well baby has so many benefits

Beyond the important goal of comforting your baby so they stop crying, there are many other benefits for you and baby.  If the baby is well, massage will:

  • Improve baby’s sleep.  If done daily, it can help regulate baby’s sleep cycle.
  • Help eliminate gas
  • Help you and your baby bond. enjoy each other’s touch.
  • Be a fun group effort when other family members join in
  • Enhance baby’s physical emotional well being
  • Be a great all over body check.  Diaper rash which is an ever lurking menace will cause irritation if It gets the upper hand, but food and milk irritants hidden in skin folds such as near the neck can be overlooked sometimes.
  • Hone your parental instincts about knowing if your baby really is sick or has some unmet need.  Out of that will be to grow your confidence.

Gentle massage can start at 3 weeks

baby massage hands feet
You can start massaging your baby after three weeks

Before getting started, make sure baby is ready:

  • Your baby is at least one month old. There’s at least two reasons why waiting a month is important.  (be patient, brand-new moms and dads!)
  • Your baby’s skin continues to develop after she is born.  The skin isn’t water tight until 15 days after birth, so to be safe, wait until 3 weeks after she is born.

Happy Belly Buttons

Also, your baby’s belly button needs to be happy, healthy, and healed. By one month, the umbilical cord will have dropped off, but some belly buttons take longer to heal.  Make sure the skin has healed and the navel is dry. For my first baby, her cord came off by day three.

Is the time right, right now?  Baby should not be too hungry or too full.  Let your baby have 15 minutes after a large feed.  Having said that, my daughter wanted to feed all the time, so if your baby also prefers frequent small meals, you can probably start sooner.  Just be sure to first help your baby burp and spit up if he needs to first.

Everyday ok?

Is it ok to do it every day?  Absolutely.  Just keep watching for signs of skin irritation for the first few days.

Pass the oil test

When using a new oil, dab a little of the oil in a small spot of the baby’s skin first and check after half an hour for any irritation.

oil for massage
Use a light cold-pressed oil

There are a lot of strong opinions out there on what oil to use on baby, but as long as you stick with a light, natural oil, that’s not too heavy, that should work well.  Coconut, Jojoba or grapeseed oil are often recommended, but if baby oil is all you have on hand, that’s ok too.  Olive oil, might be ok, but it is a little thick, so you’re better off not using it.

If you and your baby are ready to give massage a try, here’s what to do.

Massage prep and how to ask baby for permission

  • Step one: undress your baby down to her diaper and lay her face up on a blanket.  Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature and there are no drafts.
  • Step two: “Ask” her if she would like a massage.  Do that by a light stroke on her chest while looking into her eyes,  Go ahead and ask her the question.  If she is in the mood for a massage, she will reach out to you and make eye contact.  Though most babies, will be open to massage, some babies take a few times to get used to it.  If your baby is a little reluctant for the first time or two, you may still try a brief session where you go through the steps but spend only a minute or two.  Generally even babies that need a few days to get comfortable with massage will learn to enjoy it.  If baby is very distressed, wait for another time to try again.
  • Step three: Prep the oil: take a dime-sized drop of a light oil such as coconut oil on your palm.  Only use the minimum amount. Baby’s skin produced its own oils, so only a little is needed.  Then warm the oil by rubbing your hands together.

If you made it this far, you’re both ready to start!  

Begin with arms.  Support your baby’s arm while gently stroking from the shoulder out.  Gently massage hands and fingers too if you and she like.

Same idea for the legs. holding her foot while stroking down the outside of the leg toward the foot.

One at a time, hold the foot, and use your thumbs to press gently heel to toe on the bottom of the foot.

Abdomen:  Remember: I Love U

baby massage
baby massage technique I Love U
  • There’s three steps. Each step building on the last. The steps follow the pattern “I Love U” whereby the first letter is the key to the motion that you will be making for each step.
  • The Letter “I” designates a movement that is a single stroke downward.  First draw a straight line down her left side from the top of her chest towards her hip.  Repeat 4-5 times.
  • The letter “L” designates the next movement.  What you do for this one is to “draw” an upside down “L” starting at the top right chest, over, and then down to the straight line.  Repeat.
  • The letter “U” is the third step. And next, on to make an upside down U, starting on lower right side, up, over and down.  Repeat this too if baby is enjoying the technique.

Wrap it up

  • Do the face last and only if your hands have almost no oil left.  Oil on baby’s face should be avoided.
  • Last, turn her on to her tummy and gently massage her back avoiding her spine.

Getting past the perfect picture.  Regular sessions foster understanding and confidence

The important thing to keep in mind is that you and baby are learning about each other and growing your relationship.  Don’t worry if you feel awkward about getting started.  And don’t worry if your baby doesn’t initially respond consistently positively.  A lot of videos on YouTube show an idealized version of baby massage, with cherubic infants smiling away without a moment of fussing.  The reality for you and your baby could be quite different for a lot of reasons.  Your baby might have some health challenges or simply respond to life in their own way.  It might just be a bad day.  Just try to find a regular time to fit a few minutes of massage into your busy schedule.  The important thing is to create opportunities daily to connect with your baby.  The more you make this a daily ritual, the more confidence you will get.  Your baby will sense your growing confidence and will, in turn, relax knowing that he is in good hands.

Bath-time

Unless you decide to use a large amount of oil, you do not need to feel like you have to give your baby a bath.  If baby does still feel greasy more than 15 minutes after her massage, she probably could use a quick bath.

Would love to hear from you

Have you and your baby have tried massage?  Please share your best practices in the comment section below.

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My mission is to learn and share the best information that enriches babies' lives from day one.

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