Baby, Oh, Baby, We Love A Massage! – How To Give A Baby A Massage
Everyone loves a massage! Massage releases tension in our bodies, eases stressors from our mind and brings us back to a sweeter connection with our self. For babies, massage offers an opportunity to connect channels in the mind to the body, stimulate physical development, assist with discomfort such as colic/gas, reflux, and emotional distress, and, to bond with the loving person giving them the massage. Much more than a luxurious fluff, babies benefit greatly from massage.
Often I find that parents are intimidated by massaging their new baby. It can feel awkward and you might worry if you are doing it right. The thing I encourage most of all is that babies respond positively to loving touch – they thrive on it, so there really is no “wrong” way to massage your baby as long as you are touching them gently and with care, which, you are doing all the time anyhow, and just not thinking of it as a massage. That said, there are certain techniques for specific results; for instance massaging to help a baby relax and sleep, or, massaging to ease digestive issues. For specific instruction, you might try looking into infant massage classes at your local birthing center, through parent mixer groups, or local hospitals/alternative care clinics. I list local places that sometimes offer classes like this, and books/resources I’ve used at the end of this post.
It is easiest to give infants a massage, though it is possible to massage your crawler, toddler, and preschooler as well. The trick with older wee ones is finding the right time to do it and letting go of attachment that kid massage looks like adult massage. It may not, and that is ok! No matter how or when you do it, massaging children is a wonderful lesson for them, which teaches that our hands are used for healing and caring. They will also learn to be in touch with what feels good to them and how to properly, kindly touch someone else. Lessons to last a lifetime, taught through bonding with a loving parent – how fabulous!
Here I have outlined a few tried and true techniques in hopes that you feel empowered while exploring this fairly simple modality. You can adapt them all to the age and desire of your child. Happy bonding …
- Start as you would want a massage therapist to start with you: intentionally. I like saying this little rhyme: “Open your heart to me. Open your spirit. I love you with all of me, through my hands you will feel it!”
- Take a few deep, slow breaths in your own body to be as calm and kind as possible. Breathing into the belly is more relaxing and releases physical tension more than breathing into the chest/shoulders. Expand the belly outward as you inhale and pull it backward as you exhale to engage the diaphragm and relax.
- Warm your hands before touching baby! You can simply rub your hands together creating friction to achieve warm hands. Yogically speaking, rubbing hands together activates both sides of your brain, connecting your strong and soft qualities of body and brings a sense of balance, which allows you to connect more fully with your baby.
- Softly rest hands on baby’s chest/tummy, palms down, and feel them breathe. You can gaze into their eyes and breathe gently while doing this, setting the tone for what is to come.
- When working with the youngest babies, it can be nice to do massage just after a warm bath so they’ve played and splashed and gotten relaxed all at once and they are ready to settle down a bit. Baths help stimulate sensory learning in babies so they are open to what is coming through massage. Perhaps lower the lights and, if you really want to go for it, use a few drops of pure essential lavender oil mixed with some olive or jojoba oil on your hands*. If you have time, this can be a sweet element added to your baby’s bedtime routine.
- Crawling, sitting and rolling babies still enjoy massage; you just may find that you’ll need to be a little more patient and detached from a long massage. They definitely benefit from it as they are developing new muscle movements all the time and keeping those muscles long and at ease feels best as they grow. You can try any of the below-mentioned massage techniques/routines in pieces and they can be done with baby seated or lying on your lap – on their tummy for working on their back-body or with their back against your stomach for working on their front (like you are hugging them from behind).
- If baby is unsettled and you want to help them calm down before massaging them, try Helen Garabedian the founder of Itsy Bitsy Yoga’s approach for relaxing their nervous system and lay baby over your bent legs, with their head toward your knees, and gently tap their sacrum with your fingertips. This is BRILLIANT! You’ll be AMAZED!
- Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy massage at bedtime, too! My 3 year old little girl requests a “Jody Push” every night. This is named after my friend and colleague, Jody, who is a yoga teacher and massage therapist. She saw Jody lay her hands on me at the start of a massage and gently apply pressure from my shoulders down my whole body and now I must imitate this (without nearly the finesse!) nightly! As your baby grows, you will become more aware of the type of touch they prefer. Some young children prefer “tickles” – tiny little fingertip rubs all over their back or body while others prefer you to use the flat of your palm and gently caress them. Scratching is usually too stimulating and not recommended. Deep pressure applied to their muscles is also not recommended and usually not well received, as normally developing young children do not carry the same type of stiffness as adults.
- With toddlers and up who are unsettled, you could try Lisa Flynn of ChildLight Yoga’s approach – it is based on the above-mentioned one from Helen Garabedian: have a child rest in Child’s Pose (or just lay on their tummy if they are in bed) and position hands hand over hand with fingers interlaced and knuckles pointed upward, toward their head, using the heel of your hand, apply a gentle amount of pressure as you slightly pull their sacrum downward toward the floor and their feet. Remember to be gentle! … This is another one I do almost nightly, by request with my little girl as she settles in for bedtime.
- Babies with a fever will not enjoy massage. Their skin is too sensitive and uncomfortable, so this would be a time to avoid massaging them.
- Be sure baby is warm during the entire massage so they can be as relaxed and present as possible.
- Baby massage can be a totally quiet time, but to add to the learning opportunity, you may find it lovely to describe everything you are doing to baby in concise, clear words and a peaceful tone. You can say things like, “These are circles I am making with my thumb.” / “I am going to stroke your back now, is that ok?” You can ask baby if they like it, or, comment on it when you can see that they do. Describing what is happening / what we see is a simple yet effective way to enrich a baby’s ability to absorb language. In addition to this, I find verbal communication with a baby incredibly respectful – they understand so much, if not all we say and do before they can verbally communicate it back to us. Your baby will enjoy hearing your voice – it will put them at ease and give them something familiar to focus on when massage is new to them.
*Lavender is very relaxing and safe for baby’s skin and olive and jojoba oils are naturally moisturizing and won’t clog baby’s pores. These are incredibly unlikely to cause any rash or irritation. Jojoba oil is the closest oil found in nature to that of the oil produced by our skin cells, so it mimics them and is a wonderful replacement when our skin is dry. Choose all natural, pure oil, and you should be fine.
I like to think of starting with love and ending with love when I massage babies and this is usually what we do in our Bring The Baby™ classes when we do some baby massage. It’s just so hot-chocolatey scrumptious for both parents and babies!
1.) Palms rest on baby’s lower belly, thumbs and index fingers touching.
2.) Rub hands upward toward baby’s chest, then separate them and continue the stroke out to each shoulder. Stroke out through baby’s sides/ribs and gently glide them back down to belly button, bringing hands together again. You’ve just made a heart shape with your hands!
3.) Repeat this stroke fluidly 5-10 times while breathing slow, deep breaths into your body and cooing with baby at the start and end of each massage session.
1.) After setting the tone for massage and performing the “With Love” technique, gently glide hands up to baby’s shoulders and give a gentle squeeze right on the meatiest points around the deltoid muscle. From there, softly squeeze all the way down baby’s arms to wrist and into hands. You can repeat this a few times.
2.) Focusing on hands for a moment, apply gentle pressure in baby’s palms with your thumbs and then swirl your thumbs around in circles. Pausing to allow baby to grasp your hand if they choose to. You can describe to baby what they are doing and how impressive their grasp is. You may also like to gently rub their hands together and then stretch their arms out to the sides by softly pulling them open. It is also nice to cross baby’s arms over their chest twice, alternating which arm is above and which arm is below (one is closer to chin and one is closer to belly button).
3.) To massage baby’s back, gently slide your hands behind their upper back, below the neck and on either side of the spine with your palms facing up (touching their back with your fingertips). Softly slide your hands outward toward the shoulders, along the rib bones. Avoid applying pressure directly to the vertebrae. Repeat this stroke all the way down the back. If baby is not wearing a diaper, massage his/her bum with fingertips in the same manner by sliding them outward to the outer edges of their hips.
4.) From hips, softly grasp baby’s thighs and squeeze gently all the way down the leg to the ankles. You can repeat this a few times.
5.) Focusing on the feet for a moment, apply gentle pressure in baby’s soles with your thumbs and then swirl your thumbs around in circles. Their toes will curl up a bit. Pick up baby’s feet and give some good smooches to those soles! Then, gently rub their feet together. Stretch open their legs by gently pulling them away from one another.
6.) One leg at a time, softly twist baby’s legs to the opposite side, curling up abdomen a tad. Bring baby back to neutral softly.
7.) To massage baby’s face, very lightly place the fingertips of your index and middle fingers just above the bridge of their nose, near their third eye. Softly glide the hands up the center of the forehead to the hairline and then spread the gliding motion out to the left and right. Avoid the temples. Do a couple strokes outward along the cheekbones from under the eyes toward the ears and then make some squishy circles with the cheeks. Circle in both directions.
8.) Gently place hands back on the belly, on the bottom right side of the low abdomen. Softly palpating fingertips, move in a clockwise motion up and around the belly button from far out (closer to the hips) in concentric circles inward (closer to the belly button). This motion is excellent for releasing pent up gas and can be really relieve for a sore baby! (Be prepared for toots!)
9.) Finish with another “With Love” and quietly chant “OM” into baby’s belly. They will love the vibration this creates and it’s just silly enough to be considered playing!
“STROKE & TAP” / “MOMMY’S (or, Daddy’s, etc.) TALKING”:
This is a nice little massage technique that stimulates* baby gently, and is a nice way to begin yoga with baby. It is also handy to do while you are carrying on a conversation and want baby to still feel your love and attention through your hands, when you cannot give them your undivided attention. We do this at Bring The Baby™ classes sometimes when we are going around the room and hearing from all the grown-ups about what’s new with baby since we last saw each other. This keeps baby occupied and makes them feel a part of the group.
Lay baby across your lap, on their tummy. If this applies too much pressure to their tummy, try laying them long-ways on your thighs with their head toward your knees – this could be useful for refluxing babies who don’t prefer tummy-time as they are less “upside down” when they inevitably relax their head. If baby prefers to be a little upright in this position, simply bend your knees comfortably.
1.) Gently stroke their back with your hands, palms down, alternating rubbing from side to side, from neck to bum and back up again. Repeat this many, many times.
2.) When baby seems done with their back rub, begin “milking” their arms from shoulders to wrists and back up again. Milking is just a gentle squeeze that grasps baby’s whole section of arm. Repeat this 3-5 times.
3.) Move onto “milking” baby’s legs from hips to ankles and back up again. Milking is just a gentle squeeze that grasps baby’s whole section of leg. Repeat this 3-5 times.
If baby is getting tired of his/her position on their tummy, this is a good time to sit them up, resting their back against your tummy.
4.) Gently tap fingers on their trapezius muscles (between the neck and shoulders) as if you were lightly tapping them on a table/desk.
5.) Continue tapping gently all over baby now. Move from trapezius muscles to arms and then to legs and belly. To be playful, you could even do some gentle tapping on their head being mindful of soft spots.
6.) To finish up, gently stroke your palms all over baby, the way you did as you began on their back. Naturally slow the strokes down and allow them to become soft tickles while giving baby some kisses and whispering sweet nothings into their ears. It’s a good idea to whisper into both ears so as to stimulate both sides of their brain. As you finish up, rest your thumbs into baby’s palms applying a soft pressure and then do the same in the arches of their feet.
*This massage is a stimulating one and is recommended for use before play/yoga time rather than as a bedtime calming one. The tapping gently stimulates pressure points in the body which can help boost the immune system and can be used in conjunction with you stating positive affirmations as a way to “program” baby’s body into remembering positive thoughts since muscles have a sense of memory. You could say things like “Mommy loves me!” / “I am soooo happy!” / “Life is wonderful!” / “I am healthy!” etc. in the style of EFT (“emotional freedom technique” … google it!)
There are two bits of instruction, which are not original massage techniques of my own that we use SO often in our Kids Do Yoga Program™ Bring The Baby™ classes. They are Helen Garabedian’s “Heart-Warm Touch” and Jyothi Larson’s Full-Body Baby Massage. I intend to contact the publishers of their books to see if it might be possible to reprint these techniques on this blog post, but in the meantime, I highly recommend getting their books (listed below) and seeing for your self how useful these techniques are. Both books are readily available on Amazon, as well as at other book retailer’s sites and stores. They are both quite modern and have been written in the last 10 years.
I believe both Helen Garabedian and Jyothi Larson lead various workshops and trainings around North America in addition to teaching their regular yoga classes.
1) “Heart-Warm Touch” is a very sweet and simple 7-step process of basically resting your hands over baby and visualizing “limitless loving energy pouring out from your heart and into your hands.” You will find the instructions for this technique on page 70 of Itsy Bitsy Yoga – Poses To Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better and Grow Stronger.
2) Full-Body Massage as listed on pages 174-177 in Jyothi Larson’s book Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby is incredibly in-depth and covers, in detail, massage techniques for baby’s chest, shoulder to hip, belly, arms and hands, legs and feet, back, and face as well as outlining nice guidelines for beginning and ending the massage. These techniques were shared with Ms. Larson by a colleague of hers who teaches them to mothers; she is a licensed massage therapist and yoga instructor.
RESOURCES FOR BABY MASSAGE:
Itsy Bitsy Yoga … www.itsybitsyyoga.com
Book: Itsy Bitsy Yoga – Poses to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better, and Grow Stronger. I recommend this book as a great guide for parents of babies wanting to do yoga actually for the baby – which is something I strive for in our Bring The Baby™ classes: babies actually experiencing yoga in their own bodies, not just observing adults / older siblings doing yoga. This book is filled with sweet songs and playful approaches to yoga for babies, as well as developmentally appropriate takes on traditional yoga postures and developmental tips and guidelines that will give you confidence as you explore yoga with your baby.
Yoga Mom, Buddha Baby a book by Jyothi Larson & Ken Howard …
This was the first baby yoga book I ever found, and was my go to for inspiration in my own practice after the birth of my own baby. It is a great resource for a new mom wanting to find a way to practice at home with baby and it is supportive enough so that you don’t have to go out of your way to get to a class, which can sometimes be quite difficult with a new baby. You can simply pop open the book when you and baby are feeling up to it and voila – it’s yoga time! For more information on baby massage and yoga with baby from a seasoned teacher’s point of view, I recommend getting yourself this book!
YouTube … type in “baby massage” / “infant massage” and you’re sure to get plenty of video demonstrations!
LOCAL RESOURCES FOR THE LAS VEGAS AREA:
Well Rounded Momma … www.wellroundedmomma.com
Greenspun Womens Care Centers … www.strosehospital.org