Baby Massage: The Bonding Practice That Boosts Infant Development

I don’t know about you, but life’s everyday stresses often cause me to carry tension in my neck, shoulders, and back. That’s why a nice, long massage feels so good, whether it’s from a pro at a spa or my hubby at home. The many benefits of massage therapy include relief from pain, soreness, and joint inflammation, better circulation and immunity, improved sleep, and a feeling of relaxation. That’s great news for us stressed grown-ups—but it turns out that massage is good for even the youngest and smallest among us. That’s right: Baby massage is a real practice, and its benefits for your little one are significant. Here, I’ll explain more about what infant massage is, why it’s great for your baby, and how you can get started. Don’t worry—you don’t have to be an expert masseuse to make this work for your baby and you.

What is Baby Massage?

As a new parent, you’ve probably heard (or read) all about the importance of touching your newborn baby for the purposes of bonding and healthy development. That’s why so many hospitals and birthing centers emphasize beginning skin-to-skin contact (or kangaroo care) right in the delivery room, at least when possible. Skin-to-skin is when your baby lies on your bare chest, usually covered by a little blanket. This promotes maternal-child bonding and may encourage your baby to breastfeed. Dads can get it on it too, so be sure to give your partner a turn—it’s a nice break for you!

Daddy and mommy massaging the baby's body,

This promotes maternal-child bonding. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Quick note: I know this topic can make new moms feel bad about their birth experiences if they weren’t able to do skin-to-skin for a few hours or even days. Birth emergencies happen, and you don’t need to beat yourself up if circumstances didn’t allow you to hold your baby right after delivery.  I just want to share with you that two of my three babies went immediately from the OR to the NICU, and we’ve still bonded like crazy. My kids are always climbing into bed with me for snuggles now. You’re a great mom, and everything will be okay!

In addition to kangaroo care, cuddles, and light bouncing, you can give your baby a soothing massage whenever he or she needs a little extra TLC. If you’ve ever given a massage to a grown-up, it’s the same idea—just much softer and gentler, of course! You can start massaging your baby from the day he or she is born, and you can make it a daily habit if it works for both of you. It’s something you can do at any time and just about anywhere—at least while your little one is still small enough to fit in your lap!

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The Benefits of Baby Massage: Bonding and More!

Giving your baby a gentle rubdown has many nice benefits—most of them for your little one, but some for you too! Here are some of the best reasons to give your baby a massage today:

It Promotes Bonding

Touch, talk, and eye contact are all ways you can bond with your little guy or gal. In those first few weeks, you and your baby are still getting to know each other. This is a great activity to bring you closer and establish a lifelong loving relationship. (Wondering how to talk to your baby? Here are some great tips!) It’s also a good way to help you feel more confident holding and handling your baby, which is especially important if you’re a brand-new parent.

woman playing with her little baby

A good way to help you feel confident holding your baby. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

It Eases Tummy Troubles

A gentle baby tummy massage can help relieve issues like gas, cramps, and constipation, which can make your little one absolutely miserable. When I had my second baby, he didn’t tolerate his food terribly well and was often fussy as a result. Even with gas drops and sensitive formula, his tummy bothered him for his first several months. If I’d known about baby massage for gas, I definitely would have experimented with it!

It May Help Your Baby Sleep

I know that in the early days of parenthood, the more my baby slept, the better I felt the next day. Massaging your baby may help them to relax and enjoy better sleep, which is amazing news for both of you. Give it a try thirty minutes before your baby’s bedtime to see if it helps them unwind and sleep more peacefully.

Massaging your baby may help them to sleep better. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

An Infant Massage How-To

I don’t know about you, but when I brought my first baby home, I was terrified to touch him. He just seemed so tiny and fragile, with that big bobblehead with its soft spots (fontanelles) and unsteady neck. Some irrational and very protective part of me always breathed a sigh of relief when I got a onesie over his head without it popping off. (Note to expecting mothers and new parents: This doesn’t actually happen!) If I’d known what baby massage was back then, I can guarantee I would have been too nervous to try it.

The good news is that gentle infant massage is safe for your baby, and he or she will let you know if what you’re doing doesn’t feel great. Check out this great and informative video on baby massage from a pediatric physical therapist at the renowned Cleveland Clinic, complete with massage techniques for the whole body. It’s intended for parents of NICU patients, so you can be sure the emphasis is on safe and gentle touch.

The video brings up some great points, like using grapeseed oil as part of your massage and planning it forty-five minutes before or after a feeding session. (This should help you to avoid upsetting baby’s tummy!) You can find grapeseed oil at your local supermarket or drugstore or on sites like Amazon.

The first few months of life with a new baby can be extremely draining, both physically and emotionally. Establishing a daily routine that includes a nice long baby massage can help you and your baby to relax, grow closer, and develop a beautiful parent-child bond that will last a lifetime. Give it a try today, and you may even get some extra sleep tonight!