The magic and power of baby massage

The magic and power of baby massage

“Do babies really need massaging?” is a question we have been asked, as well as “Do babies need to relax or need help with their stress?” If we approach massage with this adult motivation, it may seem a strange notion to massage an infant, and it’s true that babies do not carry the adult stresses of life like paying the bills or juggling jobs and parenthood. However, they can benefit hugely from as little as 10 minutes of massage daily, because not only is it relaxing, but it also runs far deeper and has long-lasting benefits.

Forming a connection and a bond for life

Attachment and bonding are an important part of the early relationship between parent and baby, but not all parents get a gush of love or feel an instant bond with their baby. Sometimes it takes a while for the love to grow. There can be a delay in bonding for many reasons, such as a premature or difficult birth, illness, disability, adoption, lack of support, or postnatal illness. Massage can be a wonderful tool for helping build trust and connection.

Immediately after birth you can start positive touch by placing your baby’s naked body on your bare chest. This is known as kangaroo care and it can become the first stage of massage. Skin-toskin can be enough to start the bonding process. Your body and your baby’s will relax, releasing wonderful hormones such as oxytocin, which helps facilitate bonding, as well as dopamine and serotonin, which are both considered ‘happy’ hormones and are released when we are doing something we enjoy. The kangaroo method is very effective with fussy or colicky babies, whatever their age.

You can progress to some active massage strokes when your baby is ready. The timing of this step may not be the same for every baby, and if your baby has a medical condition you should always seek professional advice before beginning.

We held a learning day for the South West Neonatal Network last year, talking to them about using baby massage within their NICUs. We hope that one day all units across the country will be using massage to help babies and parents start the important bonding and healing process.

Massage is ageless

It is never too late to start massaging your child. If you have an older baby or child who has never received a massage before, beginning by simply massaging their hands and feet might be appropriate, or perhaps making some strokes across their head and face, progressing to the rest of the body when they are ready.

When starting massage with older babies or children, you can incorporate songs or stories to encourage eye contact, as this helps build the connection between you.

Learning together

If you are massaging a well and healthy baby, first find a comfortable position for you both and lay your baby down on the floor in front of you. Always ask permission to start. Even if your baby can’t understand your words yet, before you begin use non-verbal communication such as rubbing your oiled hands together and asking if they would like a massage. Use a food-grade oil and start with some simple strokes. It is important that you stop when your baby has had enough or doesn’t like a particular stroke. You want massage to be something your baby enjoys and can relax into, knowing you are respecting their mood, emotions and personal space.

As you massage your child, observe their body language: notice how they are moving and holding their body. Is your child making eye contact? What noises are they making? All these things will help you get to know your child and help you feel confident in this new skill.

Massaging to help sleep

You can’t make your baby or child fall asleep. To encourage more sleep you can provide love and trust so that they feel safe. You also need to set the right environment and habits conducive to sleep. Then, when your child is developmentally able, they will sleep.

Massage supports sleep by giving your baby one-to-one connection time, which is especially important if you have been apart during the day. Babies can wake during the night for many reasons, and wanting to feel connected to you can be a contributing factor. The optimal environment for massage is dim light, calm and quiet. The relaxing physical benefits of massage make it the perfect activity before bed.

It often seems that the more stressed you feel, the more your child will resist going to bed, at any age! If you can provide a regular calming activity such as massage before bedtime, you will find that it helps to calm you both.

Some babies may find massage stimulating rather than calming, so for them massage might be better as part of a daytime activity. Alternatively, just have a short session involving massaging your baby’s legs and feet, followed by a few strokes across their head and face, to keep the stimulation to a minimum.

Touch can grow and shape a child’s brain

Your baby’s brain development starts in utero, but the majority of its growing will occur after birth. The amount and type of stimulation and experiences your child has had by the age of about 3 will impact the growth in each region of their brain. Your baby’s experiences literally shape their brain.

When babies are born they have billions of brain cells, many of them not yet connected. Those connections are made through their experiences. The more times they experience something, the stronger that connection gets. Massage is a positive, respectful and fun way to stimulate the growth of your baby’s brain. When you are massaging your baby, you are engaging their entire body and senses with different types of touch, smell, sight and sound.

Touch is talked about as being the most developed sense at birth, and it is critical for healthy development. Touch via massage is a wonderful way to show your baby that you love and care about them.


Emma Haverson is a holistic sleep coach and mother’s mentor. Anna Mapson is a nutritional therapist and baby weaning consultant. They both teach baby massage courses to groups and individuals in the Bristol area. 


Published in issue 63. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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