Infant Massage Basics

Written by NPN Guest on June 14th, 2011

Holistic Health, Nurturing Touch
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We have a new bedtime amenity for the kids in our house. At least I would call it an amenity if I was receiving it! Each of the boys relaxes for bed with a little massage. I used to often massage Kellan’s legs at nap time to help calm him down, or sometimes scratch Everett’s back before he went to sleep, but after interviewing Elizabeth Muraski,1 licensed massage therapist, I decided to make it a regular part of our bedtime routines.

Elizabeth explained her style of massage to me as one in which she gives a client what she needs, not necessarily what the client thinks she needs. She believes in following her intuition. She listens to what her client says, then uses her experience and knowledge to listen to her client’s body as she works (speaking as one of her clients, I have to say Elizabeth certainly has a gift for this). Infant massage should be no different. Since one of the benefits of infant massage is that you become more familiar with your baby’s body, this shouldn’t be a difficult task.

There is a myriad of benefits that accompany regular massage sessions. Just as it does for adults, massage stimulates circulation and eases anxiety and stress. It is rehabilitating and healing. But even for infants it can provide for specific needs. For the infant who needs to gain weight, massage promotes higher weight gain. For infants with GI problems or at the introduction of new foods, massage can ease digestion. Massage can even help the colicky baby! Research indicates that massage for infants improves neurological development, motor skills development, and even immune function. Furthermore, infants who receive regular massage show more alertness. My favorite benefit is the bonding experience it creates, especially (as Elizabeth pointed out) for working parents, adoptive parents, or parents of children with a history of abuse.

With a list of benefits like this, who wouldn’t want to introduce massage into their baby’s life? I certainly did, but I wanted to know how and where to start. Elizabeth met my request for tips with a one-on-one demonstration and complete how-to.

Time and Environment

First, we talked about the ideal time and environment. I was envisioning quiet times like bed or nap, with a darkened room with candles and calming music, similar to my own massage experiences. Elizabeth surprised me when she said that massage is great anytime and that the most important criteria for environment is that you are both comfortable. She suggests that you find a time that easily fits into your routine; bath time would be great, for example, because baby is already undressed. She also pointed out that you don’t have to give a full body massage every time. Changing his diaper is an opportunity to massage and stimulate his hips and legs. A good time to rub his belly is 15-20 minutes after he eats. If you work it into each day about the same time, baby begins to anticipate it as a normal part of his day.

When you are ready to begin a massage, lie baby down on a soft surface, on top of your extended legs, or between them. If he doesn’t want to lie down, allow him to sit up. Just be sure that you are both comfortable. Using lotion works fine, but Elizabeth recommends a natural oil (such as grapeseed or almond) because oil doesn’t absorb into the skin as quickly as lotion. Lights and music vary depending on the purpose of the massage: stimulating or relaxing.

The Massage

First, ask for acceptance by making eye contact and gently moving your fingertips in circular motions around his head. If he’s calm and willing, proceed. If not, look for another opportunity later. Throughout the massage, focus the motions of stroking, kneading, twisting and pressing. All of them gentle, yet firm.

If you are doing a full body massage, begin with the legs, one at a time. Hold baby’s ankle for support with one hand and hip with the other hand, moving his hip gently and rhythmically to stimulate the joint. Then make a C-shape with both hands and cup them around his leg at the hip, slowly moving toward his toes as you twist your hands in a wringing motion. Be careful around the knee, and repeat this about three times. Once at his foot, place your thumbs on the pad and use circular motions to knead and press. If he curls his toes, just hold the foot until he naturally uncurls them. Press and wiggle each toe individually between your fingers. Then, hold his ankle and begin moving back up the leg with long, fluid strokes that stimulate blood flow towards the heart. Repeat with his other leg.

If you are beginning a massage at his belly, first warm your hands and connect by placing them on his skin. Use your whole hand to keep even pressure as you press and rub in a clockwise direction from the top center of his belly, then down and around. Elizabeth notes that generally when a baby’s digestion backs up it is on the left side, so this would be a good area to concentrate on if you’re trying to help alleviate any digestive problems. Also, as you become more familiar with your baby’s anatomy through giving massages and/or looking at diagrams, you can sense where his organs are and begin making more of a question mark-shaped path with your movements that follows the true path of digestion.

At his chest, simply run your fingertips lightly down his sternum to massage the breathing muscles located there. Do take extra care, however, along any bony surface such as the sternum, clavicles, or shoulder blades. For his arms, simply repeat the same techniques used on his legs.

Continuing on to his back during the full body massage (or beginning with his back during tummy time), simply use long, gentle strokes towards the heart. Infant massage doesn’t include any of the detailed prodding or rubbing that we are used to experiencing during an adult back massage. A general soft rubbing along his back muscles up to the heart, or down his shoulders and neck toward the heart, will stimulate circulation and relax him.

Lastly, reaching his head, use your fingertips to make slow, circular movements. Pause along the ridges where tension might build up from muscle use in the face and neck, and be especially careful around baby’s fontanels.

Repeat and Learn

A the end of the massage Elizabeth explained that as you work with your baby’s body, becoming familiar with it and familiar with the techniques, you will learn what specifically feels good to your baby. She also suggests looking at pictures of the body’s musculature to learn more about the muscles and to improve massage techniques. She believes that building your knowledge on infant massage is important and recommends the following sources for more information:

The International Loving Touch Foundation’s Infant massage instructor community

The Touch Research Institute: dedicated to studying the effects of touch therapy

Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents by Vimala Schneider McClure

Photo Credit: Author

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Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.

  1. Elizabeth Muraski is a licensed massage therapist. She graduated with an Associates Degree from Heritage College in Kansas City, Missouri. After coming to her senses and finding her way out of the corporate massage world, she is building her own practice while working as an office assistant at the Waldo Chiropractic Group in Kansas City.

2 Responses to Infant Massage Basics

  1. Tabetha Smelser  

    Wow! My husband went to school for massage therapy so it’s really neat to be able to read this and be able to use the stuff he taught me to understand why you do certain things. I really like how you ask for acceptance first.

  2. Acacia Moore

    I’m glad you are able to use the techniques and appreciate them in a new way! I learned so much from this demonstration and was, myself, amazed with just how much infants benefit from a simple massage.

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