Parenthood is a beautiful experience, but if you are a first-time parent, it can be stressful too. Apart from getting used to a new lifestyle with your bundle of joy, you also have to ensure that you are bonding with the baby properly and aiding his or her development through infancy and childhood.

Baby massages are a good way to ensure parent-baby bonding and healthy development of the baby. What’s more, massaging your baby can be a de-stressing technique for you too - more so if your baby loves being massaged and you do it the right way.

Massaging babies has been a common feature in Indian culture for centuries, and is usually done by mothers, grandmothers, aunts and nannies. However, fathers should also be encouraged to massage the baby, especially since they get few opportunities for skin-to-skin contact with the baby otherwise.

Using the right type of oil for massaging is important as it prevents friction between the baby’s skin and your hands. But it's best to not massage the baby untile he or she is at least a month old. Here’s everything you need to know about how to massage your baby.

  1. How to massage a newborn
  2. Why should fathers learn how to massage their baby?
  3. Benefits of massaging your baby
  4. When should you massage your baby?
  5. What should you massage your baby with?
  6. How to massage a baby
  7. Should you sunbathe your baby after massage?
  8. Precautions while massaging your baby
Doctors for How to massage your baby

Skin-to-skin touch is an important part of bonding with a newborn, and one of the ways to do it is by giving a massage. It’s important to remember though that massaging your baby - with or without oils, gently or firmly - should not be done before the baby is a month old. 

The reason behind this is simple. The baby grew up in your womb surrounded by amniotic fluid, which gave the baby's skin moisture and nutrition. Once the baby is born, his or her skin will need to become self-sufficient.  This is a sensitive process called skin barrier development, and usually takes two to three weeks to complete. The same process takes longer for premature babies. 

Massaging the baby’s skin is therefore not recommended during this period. You can, of course, hold the baby and gently stroke his or her skin during this period to initiate skin-to-skin contact.

Mothers have a lot of opportunities to bond with the baby, especially during breastfeeding. Fathers, however, do not have a defined role in early parenthood, and this can lead to a lack of emotional bonding with the newborn. Massaging a baby is therefore something that fathers can learn to do to deepen their relationship with the baby.

According to a study published in The Journal of Perinatal Education in 2011, while fathers may not have anatomical and physiological bonds with the baby like mothers do, they are still potentially capable of developing a successful parental relationship, especially through touch. The research recommends that fathers should be provided with caregiving education so that they can massage and bathe the baby. The study also found that fathers who massaged their babies were more expressive, warm and accepting in their relationships with the babies.

Massaging your baby has a number of benefits for both you and the baby. Here are some benefits you can reap through infant massage:

  • It encourages interaction between you and the baby because it involves the largest organs of the body - the skin.
  • New parents can become more adept at handling the baby by massaging him or her.
  • Massage helps babies sleep more deeply and comfortably, whether they are premature babies, born vaginally or through a c-section.
  • Massaging properly can also reduce stress and soothe the baby when he or she is crying.
  • Massaging premature babies stimulates their weight and cognitive development.
  • It can improve the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and reduce the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), colic, gas and constipation in babies.

It’s very important to massage the baby at the right time. You should never massage the baby after feeding, since it can lead to regurgitation. Infant massage is also not recommended when the baby is sleepy or hungry, since a massage will not soothe the baby in these situations.

The best time to massage the baby is awake, alert and calm. Once you start massaging the baby, observe his or her gaze. If he or she moves their eyes or head away, this is not a good time to give a massage. 

You can fix your baby’s massage time depending on when he or she prefers it most. Newborn babies can be lightly massaged every day. As they grow up, you can massage the baby around bedtime to ensure they sleep well.

Using oil to massage your baby is a good idea, but it’s also important to remember not to use any product to massage the baby until he or she is more than a month old. This is because the baby’s skin is thin and easily damaged during the first month, and it develops a protective barrier over this very period. 

Oil can definitely make massaging easier for parents and caregivers, but there is not much research to support which oils are the best for infant massage. The following oils can be used for the baby’s massage safely:

  • Cold-pressed oils or kacchi ghani ka tel have fewer impurities than cooking oils and are therefore preferred by a lot of parents.
  • Mineral oils can be used for infants with eczema or broken skin on the recommendation of a doctor.
  • Vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fats are well suited to a baby’s skin.
  • Peanut oil is considered safe for babies, except those who do not have a peanut allergy.

The following oils should not be used to massage the baby:

  • Mustard oil can have a toxic effect on the baby’s skin, and can cause irritation and skin damage.
  • Olive oil has a high oleic acid content and is not recommended for use for infant massage.
  • Sunflower oil has recently been discovered to have adverse effects on a baby’s skin barrier and should not be used.
  • Coconut oil has not been tested for use on baby skin, so its effectiveness is not yet known.

Using the right technique while massaging your delicate baby is a crucial aspect. Be gentle while massaging your baby for the first six months. As he or she grows older, you can use a firmer touch. It’s best to ask a nanny, nurse or experienced grandparent or parent to show you how to massage your baby the first few times. You can follow the following steps to give your baby a massage:

  • Choose a quiet place, indoors or outdoors, to massage the baby. 
  • Make sure you remove jewellery, have trimmed nails and washed hands.
  • Lay the baby down on his or her back, and gently undress him or her. It’s important to maintain eye contact during a massage. Talk to your baby while giving the massage.
  • According to the UK’s National Childbirth Trust, you should rub some oil in your hands right next to the baby’s ears before starting the massage. This will help the baby get prepared for the massage and work as a massage cue as he or she grows up.
  • Try a test patch on your baby’s feet. If your baby starts jiggling his or her arms, continue with the massage. If the baby turns his or her head away, stop and try again later.
  • Start with your baby’s legs and move upwards while maintaining a grip on his or her ankle. Move onto the shoulders, arms and chest.
  • Be gentle while massaging the baby’s chest. If your baby enjoys it, you can turn him or her on the tummy and massage the back, buttocks, etc too. 
  • Make sure to lightly tap under the baby’s feet and on the palms too. Do not tickle the baby though, since it can irritate him or her.
  • Massage the baby’s head last and be gentle with it.

Exposure to the sun is an important routine to get enough vitamin D for the baby’s skin to develop. In India, more than half the population is vitamin D-deficient, and this nutrient is especially vital for babies. Adequate levels of vitamin D in babies can help with calcium absorption (which helps build healthy bones and hair follicles) and normal growth. Apart from causing malformation of legs, a vitamin D deficiency lethargy, irritability and increase the risk of infections.

Sunbathing the baby after a massage is a practice that has been followed for centuries in India. This is good practice, as proven by a study conducted by doctors at the University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi in 2017.

This study, published in the journal Indian Pediatrics, revealed that exposing 40 percent of a six-month-old baby’s body for 30 minutes in a week helped the infant get enough vitamin D. Researchers also discovered that giving your baby a sunbath between 10am and 3pm is a good idea.

While giving your baby a massage is essential, you need to make sure that your baby is safe. You need to take the following precautions while massaging the baby:

  • Make sure you take off any jewellery and trim your nails before handling the baby, otherwise it can damage his or her skin.
  • If your baby gets upset, falls asleep or spits out milk during the massage, stop immediately and straighten him or her.
  • Use clockwise, circular motions to massage your baby.
  • Make sure your baby is placed on a soft and safe mat on a stable surface during the massage.
  • If you’re sunbathing the baby, don’t leave him or her alone. Keep a lookout for the temperature. If it rises too much, it can be uncomfortable and lead to skin rashes and irritation.
Dr. Nida Mirza

Dr. Nida Mirza

Pediatrics
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Vivek Kumar Athwani

Dr. Vivek Kumar Athwani

Pediatrics
7 Years of Experience

Dr. Hemant Yadav

Dr. Hemant Yadav

Pediatrics
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Rajesh Gangrade

Dr. Rajesh Gangrade

Pediatrics
20 Years of Experience

References

  1. National Childbirth Trust [Internet]. London. United Kingdom; Baby massage: tips and benefits
  2. Pados, BF. et al. Benefits of Infant Massage for Infants and Parents in the NICU.. Nurs Womens Health. 2019 Jun;23(3):265-271. PMID: 31059673
  3. Porecca, Alessio. et al. Infant Massage and Quality of Early Mother–Infant Interactions: Are There Associations with Maternal Psychological Wellbeing, Marital Quality, and Social Support?. Front Psychol. 2016; 7: 2049. PMID: 28144222
  4. Gnazzo, Antonio. et al. Skin to skin interactions. Does the infant massage improve the couple functioning?. Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 1468. PMID: 26441813
  5. Cheng, Carolynn D. et al. Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage. J Perinat Educ. 2011 Fall; 20(4): 200–209. PMID: 22942622
  6. Oranges, Teresa. et al. Skin Physiology of the Neonate and Infant: Clinical Implications. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle). 2015 Oct 1; 4(10): 587–595. PMID: 26487977
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