Infant Massage

Elyn Cone

Who knew your infant needed spa days too? Find out the benefits of an itty bitty massage.

If babies could talk, they might say “rub my back.” Turns out there are tons of benefits infants gain from massage, including reducing stress (it’s hard being a baby), increased weight gain, improving neurological development, facilitating parasympathetic nervous system activity, and much more, according to Neonatal Touch & Massage Certification founder Kara Ann Waitzman.

But before you go turn that changing table into a massage table, Waitzman gives us some tips to get you prepared.

Should the baby be a certain age before massaging?

Massage can be done at almost any age, but the methods change significantly with age. Initially, massage just involves long basic strokes of the back, arms, and legs with a slow, rhythmical movement. The abdominal stroke may be used to help with gas and constipation. Once these are well tolerated and the infant matures, more advanced strokes can be provided.

Are there specific oils that can or should not be used on a baby?

Oil is important to use when massaging an infant as it prevents dragging the skin and allows for a gliding that is pleasant to the infant. It is best to use oil that is green/toxic-free and scent-free. A light oil, such as grapeseed, coconut, or safflower, is best, versus mineral oils. This decreases the chance of clogging pores, having reactions, and possible long-term unknown consequences. I personally recommend Earth Mama Angel Baby Oil.

Are there any points on the baby’s body that benefit most from being massaged?

It is best to start with the least sensitive area and move toward the more sensitive areas. So, starting with long strokes down the back is a good way to start. The hands, feet, and face are the most sensitive areas. Oil should not be used on the face, and this is an area you should only do after the infant is older and demonstrates a positive response to touching.

Are there dangers in massaging an infant?

Massage should be done WITH the infant, not TO the infant. It is a dance of listening to the infant and responding likewise. If the massage is not done in this manner, the infant could become defensive and aversive to touch. Massage should not be done if the infant has a fever or active infection of any type, as massage could spread the infection. There are other specific medical conditions that massage is contraindicated for as well, but these are not typical in most infants.

How much pressure should you apply? Is there a good way to gauge?

Research shows infants respond best to gentle, but firm pressure–not too hard and not too soft! This means firmer than a light stroke that tickles or just moves hair cells, but not so firm that you are dragging the skin. Gliding with oil is important.

Find out more about Kara Waitzman and neonatal massage here.

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