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The Benefits of Infant Massage and Better Baby Health

It is likely you know that feeding your baby the healthiest foods is important for their growing and long term health. But did you know that the benefits of infant massage can improve baby health too? Whether you are looking for ways to calm your baby, stop crying (sometimes called colic), increase growth, or to connect and bond with your baby, infant massage can help. Below you will learn when and how to give infant massage according to the experts and latest research.

In this post you will find:

  • What are the 9 known benefits of infant massage?
  • What are the nutrition-related health benefits of infant massage?
  • What are the benefits of infant massage for you, Momma?
  • When is the best time to massage my baby?
  • How do I massage my baby?
  • Should I use oil?

What are the 9 known benefits of infant massage?

Research shows that infant massage can have various health benefits (note: most research is done in babies that are born full term). In addition to health benefits, infant massage is shown to be beneficial for social and emotional growth, as well as bonding for mom and baby. Here are the 9 researched benefits of infant massage for you and your baby.

  1. Encourage interaction between you and your baby.
  2. Alleviate gassiness.
  3. Positively affect infant hormones that control stress.
  4. Reduce crying.
  5. Improve weight and growing.
  6. Longer sleep duration.
  7. Helps with colic symptoms.
  8. Lower blood bilirubin levels.
  9. Better mental health and development outcomes which include motor skills, personal and social behavior, and psychomotor development.

What are the nutrition-related health benefits of infant massage?

The benefits of infant massage for gassiness:

Does your baby grunt and strain with pooping or with possible gassiness? Some straining and grunting is normal (I mean have you ever tried to poop laying down?) because of the way your babies muscles and digestive tract is still developing. However, some babies have more discomfort and irritability with gas and constipation than others. It is best to discuss this with your pediatrician, but research does show that doing infant massage can help with gassiness

The benefits of infant massage for baby weight gain:
  • Infant massage is shown to increase weight gain by: 
  • Stimulating the vagal efferent fibers that innervate the digestive system. 
  • Gastric motility is stimulated by infant massage which is linked to an increase in weight gain

What does this mean in English? The vagal efferent fibers, nerves, and related reflexes in digestion works to relax and expand the stomach in response to the swallowing of food. The increased stimulation of these fibers, through infant massage can help with decreasing pressure in the tummy and increase how easily food is moved through the digestive tract.

In fact, infant massage has been compared to infant exercise (moving the arms and legs to increase caloric need/consumption). It is likely that combining infant exercise and massage may help most with weight gain.

The benefits of infant massage for colic:
  • Infant massage is shown to increase weight gain by: 
    • Longer stretches of sleep each day
    • Decreased total number and duration of colicky cries per day. 
    • Can be more effective than infant rocking at reducing colic symptoms

What are the health conditions that infant massage may NOT help with?

  • Infant massage is not shown to be useful in helping infant GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms
  • Infant massage may not be helpful in inducing weight gain in infants with jaundice, but research in this area is limited

What are the benefits of infant massage for you, Momma?

  • Positively affects your mood.
  • Going to classes and infant massage groups can increase feelings of support after birth and decrease feelings of isolation.
  • If you are feeling depressed or have been diagnosed with postnatal depression (don’t fret, you are one of many moms who encounter depression), doing infant massage can improve the quality of interactions with your baby. 
  • Better attachment and bonding with your baby

Bonus Momma question!>>>> Are there benefits of infant massage for premature babies?

Some studies suggest that infant massage involving moderate pressure might promote growth for premature babies (more research is needed though). You should always talk with your baby’s healthcare provider before starting any at home treatments-infant massage included, with your premature baby.

When is the best time to massage my baby?

There are no official guidelines telling us how infant massage should be performed. There are trained specialists in infant massage who can lovingly coach you and your baby through techniques of infant massage – especially if there are certain health benefits that you are looking to achieve.

The best time to do infant massage is at least 45 minutes after feeding your baby. This way there is less chance of discomfort or vomiting related to massaging too close to a feed. It is best to do infant massage when your baby is not cranky and is calm and content with a steady gaze. Signs that it may not be a good time for infant massage is when your baby turns their head away from you when you begin, or your baby becomes stiff in your arms.

To see the most benefit from infant massage you might want to give your newborn a daily massage.

When and how often you massage your baby is up to you. You might give your newborn a daily massage before a late morning feed or before a nap time. Some babies enjoy a massage at night as a soothing part of his or her bedtime routine. Generally, research shows infant massage is more effective when it is performed multiple times a day for periods between 10 and 20 minutes with medium pressure. In addition, studies testing the effects of massage only 2-3x per week or with light pressure show little effect

How do I massage my baby?

Infant massage can be added to you and your baby’s daily routine with a little planning and practicing some basic skills. For specific types of massages to relieve gas, colic, or improve sleep, consult an  infant massage specialist or you can look at techniques here..

To get started:

  • Create a calm environment. 
    • Do the massage in a warm, quiet place. 
    • Remove any jewelry that may get in the way or harm your baby. 
    • You can sit comfortably on the floor or the bed. You can also use the changing table and position your baby in front of you. 
    • Place your baby on his or her back.
    •  Before starting the infant massage, cue your baby by telling them that it is time for their massage. 
  • Use consistent touch. 
    • You should use a gentle, moderate touch. 
    • Avoid tickling your baby.
  • Slowly move from one part of the body to the other. 
    • Start by placing your baby on his or her stomach and spending one minute each rubbing different areas: head, neck, shoulders, upper back, waist, thighs, feet, and hands. 
    • Then place your baby on his or her back and spend one minute each extending and flexing your baby’s arms and legs, and then both legs at the same time. 
    • Lastly, with your baby either on his or her back or stomach, repeat the rubbing motions for another five minutes.
  • Talk to your baby. 
    •  Sing or tell a story. 
    • You can also repeat your baby’s name and the word “relax.” 
  • Follow your baby’s cues.
    • Continue the massage if your baby seems happy
    • Stop the massage if your baby turns his or her head away from you or appears restless or unhappy. 

Should I use oil?

Infant Massage can be performed with or without oil, oil may reduce friction and irritation. Some parents prefer to use oil during infant massage to prevent friction between their hands and the baby’s skin, while others find it too messy. It is best to choose oil that is less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. If your baby has sensitive skin or allergies, you can do a small patch test of the chosen oil to ensure no skin reactions occur. Test the oil first by applying a small amount to a patch of your baby’s skin and watching for a reaction.

Which oil should I use?

It’s up to you. If you choose to use oil, select one that’s odorless and edible — just in case your baby gets some in his or her mouth. A variety of oils are generally safe for infant massage including olive oil, sunflower oil, and almond oil. No research has looked into which oil is best or most effective.

Bonus Momma question! >>>>What about babies with special nutrition or health conditions?

As said above, you should always talk with your baby’s healthcare provider before starting any at home treatments-infant massage included. There are  infant massage specialists that are great for talking with to determine if infant massage is right for your baby. There are many special healthcare needs for which infant massage can provide positive impact; every baby is different, so it is best to seek out guidance to get the most benefit from infant massage.

Combining healthy infant feeding practices and infant massage can provide an amazing start to your feeding journey- and infant massage can even strengthen your bond with your baby. Just like learning to breastfeed or change a diaper, it might take a few tries before you and your baby get into a routine with infant massage. But, if you practice, and be patient, you can build the habit of healthy infant massage into your daily routine.

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Emily Sylvester

Emily Sylvester is the Founder & CEO of Mother of Fact. As a Licensed Registered Dietitian, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Mom of 3, she's helped thousands of families in many low/middle income communities feel confident and supported in their feeding journey. Her mission is to eliminate the deficit of equitable breastfeeding & formula feeding help for all households & healthcare systems.
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