Guest written by Kim Walls, Activist and Founder of BEB Organic skincare products.
Baby massage abounds with amazing evidence-based benefits: from improving sleep to enhancing immunity, circulation, and digestion; to supporting brain function and parent-child bonding. When your preemie’s skin can handle it, baby massage will help them grow.
The gentle, loving strokes of infant massage are completely safe, with a couple of exceptions: babies who are sick or have heart problems shouldn’t get massage unless under doctor’s order, and vulnerable preemies need to be ready, even for extra-gentle massage and slow movements.
Always check with your doctor before adding baby massage to your routine.
GET READY FOR BABY MASSAGE
Most babies love and benefit from regular massage, so select the same time of day for this special pleasure and bonding moment. The best times are usually morning, after a bath or before bed.
- Set aside enough time so you aren’t interrupted
- Turn off your phone’s ringer
- Close your computer
- Keep your nails trimmed
- Remove any jewelry
- Play soothing music or sing quietly
THE DO’S OF BABY MASSAGE
It’s your touch, voice, eye contact and movement that soothe and delight your baby.
Gather everything you’ll need for a safe and sweet massage:
- a firm mat, if necessary
- a blanket
- massage oil
- clean diapers
- baby clothes or pajamas
The room should be warm, at least 75 degrees F. Choose a firm, not hard, surface that is secure and comfortable for your back — like the floor or a changing table. Either too high or too low can quickly make your back ache. Use quality oils that nourish skin while they help your hands glide easily over baby’s skin. Oils should be natural, unscented, and edible, like our BEB Organic Nourishing Oil. To prevent a reaction with delicate preemie skin, test first: put the oil on a small spot and check it for any reaction after a day.
THE DON’TS OF BABY MASSAGE
- Don’t start a massage if your baby is hungry, full, sleepy, fussy, sick, or not alert. Never use a soft surface such as a bed or couch.
- If your baby is uncomfortable or distressed, stop. If your baby is easily overstimulated, don’t talk, sing, or play music during the massage. Instead, use eye contact and whisper your ideas of love and encouragement to inspire connection.
- Deep-tissue massage can hurt your baby. Light pressure and slow, gentle movements are the most calming and soothing…and fun.
- Prevent massage oil getting into the eyes, nose, or ears. Don’t massage directly over the spine or the soft spot on baby’s head.
BABY MASSAGE TECHNIQUES
Always let your baby’s signals tell you when to stop, since their mood and receptivity may vary day-to-day.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues and listen for verbal ones. Positive signs that say “I like this” are smiling, cooing, sucking, tongue extension, body movement, and placing hand to mouth. But frowning, crying, coughing, spitting up, hiccups, changing color, change in breathing, throwing arms and legs about, stiffening or arching the back say, “Take a break” or even, “Stop.”
Undress your baby but keep preemies and newborns covered – only uncover the part you are massaging.
Relax with a few deep breaths before you begin, allowing tension to dissolve on each out-breath.
Put a little healthy oil in your hands and rub them together for a few seconds to warm the oil.
Start by putting your baby on their back, head propped on a pillow so you can easily see facial expressions. Show your baby you are about to begin by holding up your hands, rubbing lotion between your palms, or simply using your words. Using the same signal each time teaches your baby to connect it to massage and helps with relaxation.
Use smooth, light strokes with your palms or fingers, but not so light that it tickles. Downward strokes are usually calming, so are great for babies. Remember to watch for cues about the pressure.
Use your fingertips for:
Your palms are best for the rest of the body.
In each session, massage the entire body, following these age-specific guidelines (unless your child shows signs of discomfort):
- For your preemie, even a 5-minute massage may be too much right now. Start with two minutes, see if your preemie can handle it, then gradually build up the massage length.
- Many newborns like a 5-minute massage to start.
- After a month, increase the time to 10 minutes.
- After two months, massage for 15 minutes.
- At six months, massage 20 to 30 minutes.
At first, limit newborn massage to the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
- After a month add stomach and chest massage.
- After two months add head, face and back massage.
SIMPLE MASSAGE TECHNIQUES UNIVERSALLY LOVED BY BABIES
Arms and Legs:
Always massage both sides of the body, not just one arm or one leg, and use light pressure when massaging joints.
The “milking” stroke for the arms and legs:
- Use your thumb and fingers of one hand to encircle your baby’s hand or leg at the shoulder or hip.
- Move downward to the hand or foot with a gentle squeezing action similar to milking.
- Just before your hand reaches the wrist or ankle, begin this action with your opposite hand at the same shoulder or hip.
Or, try the “rolling” stroke by lightly rolling your baby’s arm or leg between both your hands.
Finish by massaging the palms and feet between your hands or with your fingers.
Chest, Abdomen, Back and Buttocks:
Use either gentle, circular movements with your open palms or fingers, or long, sweeping strokes with your palms.
- Start at baby’s chest and stroke gently outward, toward the shoulders
- Massage the abdomen with your fingertips in a gentle clockwise motion
- Avoid the genitalia
To massage the back, place baby on their tummy with hands in front of them rather than at the sides.
- Massage shoulders by making small circles with your fingertips.
- Use the same motion to massage down one side of the spine and up the other.
- Don’t press on the spine directly.
- “Rake” your fingers in soft strokes down the back.
- Use a larger circular motion on the buttocks.
Face and Head:
- Using thumb or fingertip, stroke from the bridge of the nose out over the cheeks
- Stroke from inside the eyebrows to the outside
- Use small circles to massage the jaw
- Massage ears between your thumb and index finger
Holding your baby’s head with both hands, massage the scalp with your fingertips, but avoid the soft spot at the top of the head.
To end, start at your baby’s head and gently slide your hands down the body to toes, then go back to shoulders and stroke down the arms to fingers. Voila!
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- Solanki K, Matnani M, Kale M, Joshi K, Bavdekar A, Bhave S, et al. Transcutaneous absorption of topically massaged oil in neonates. Indian Pediatr. 1987; 24: 1111-1116.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Walls, Activist and Founder of BEB Organic skincare products, has spent years sourcing the purest, most healthful ingredients for her organic newborn skincare line, especially designed with delicate preemie skin in mind.