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Infant Massage

Relaxing to both baby and mother, infant massage has health benefits for both.

Infant Massage

Infant massage, like baby-wearing, is a practice that has come to us from societies that place high priority on the mother/infant bond.

Benefits of Infant Massage

Soothing Baby, Strenthening Maternal/Child Bond, Health Benefits

Not only does the practice of infant massage strengthen the parent/child bond,1, 2 it also has other benefits as well.
  • Increase weight gain of premature infants 3,4,5
  • Improve premature infants' developmental scores and decrease length of their hospital stay.6
  • Improve infant's sleep 7, 8
  • Improve digestive function 9
  • Helpful for parents caring for children with disabilities 10
  • Parents report decrease in infant crying, fussiness, and constipation.
  • Improve bonding when mother has postpartum depression. 11
Of primary importance, is the fact that almost all mothers who practice infant massage, feel like they have grown closer to their baby.

This would make it advantageous for all parents to practice, even if there were not other documented benefits.

How to Do Infant Massage

Classes, books and videos are available that demonstrate the technique of infant massage.

Included here is a simple version of a massage that can be done by any parent. This is not intended to take the place of infant massage classes, which can offer benefits not available in print. Classes have an advantage of teaching a more thorough massage, assisting parents to use strokes specific to their child’s symptoms and temperament, and usually a lot of fun and interaction between the group of mothers and babies. However, it is realized that not everyone has access to a class they can attend, but the massage is so beneficial to mother/baby dyads it should be practiced by all.

Short Infant Massage Technique


Use a natural, cold pressed oil for the massage. It should be “edible” if it is placed on the skin; almond, apricot, grapeseed, sesame, or olive oil. Sesame oil is the only oil that has documented evidence of increasing physical growth and increasing blood flow. 12

Olive oil is a common choice because it is readily available at grocery stores, though many mothers prefer the smoothness of other oils better. Steer away from peanut oil due to high rate of allergies with some parts of the population or mineral oil which is a petroleum based product.


The infant should be in a warm room, undressed, and lying face up. Make sure your own hands are warm and rub a penny-sized amount of oil on your palms. Stroke down her trunk to apply the oil to her body.

Strokes should be slow and deliberate, with eye contact maintained with the baby, as well as talking to him about each stroke.

The first time the massage is done, it may be best to do each stroke a total of three times. You may find with practice that he or she likes a particular stroke, which can be repeated more according to her response.

Caution & Contraindications

As a precaution, do not do the massage over any unknown lumps or if the baby has cancer, as you do not want to spread the cancer cells. Do not massage over damaged skin. Do not do the massage if the baby has an infectious illness, as you do not want to increase the circulation of the virus or bacteria.

Technique & Order

Infant Massage

1. Trunk - Place your hands on his chest bone, and trace a heart across his trunk, moving the hands up towards the neck, around towards the shoulders, and down so the two hands meet each other above the pubic bone. Without breaking the touch, stroke the hands up the center of the abdomen, to return to the starting place, and trace two more hearts.

2. Chest/Shoulders/Arms - Put your hands on the chest bone again, and stroke out towards the arms, as though you were running your hands over the pages of a book. Repeat two times.

3. Abdomen - Move your hands to her abdomen to do the upside down horseshoe. Follow the direction of her intestines to help her bowel function. Draw a line up the right side of the abdomen, across the mid section near the belly button, and down the left side. Use a hand over hand motion and repeat the strokes so each hand has made the horseshoe a total of three times each.

4. Arms - Place your left hand beneath his right shoulder, then pull your hand forward so you are grasping his right upper arm with your hand in a C shape. Slowly slide your left hand towards his elbow. As your left hand goes below his elbow, use your right hand to grasp the upper arm as well. The right hand will follow the left hand. Pull very gently on his arm, as if it was a rope slowly being released between your hands. As you get to his hands, grasp the outside of his hand with your fingers so that you are pulling on his little finger. Then move your left hand back to the upper arm, as the right hand continues its slide down towards the hand. The fingers of the right hand will pull gently on his thumb as they stroke downward. Then return your right hand to the shoulder as the left hand is making its second slide downward. Continue the massage slowly until each of your hands has massage his arm three times.

Infant Massage

5. Palms - Draw three gentle circles on his palm with one of your thumbs, then repeat with the other thumb.

6. Fingers - Now begin at the base of the wrist and slowly pull your hands down her hand, and down the little finger three times. Go back to the wrist, and come down the fourth finger. Repeat until each finger has been stroked three times.

Repeat the procedure to his left arm and hand.

7. Legs - The legs are done in a similar way. With your Left hand beneath her hip, pull your hand towards her feet, grasping the leg in a C shape. As your left hand moves past her knee, begin the stroke with your right hand at the thigh. Continue the massage until the leg has been stroked three times by each hand.

8. Feet - Starting at the heel, use a thumb over thumb technique as you move each thumb from the heel towards her toes, fanning outward as you get to the base of the toes. Repeat three times.

9. Toes - Stroke down each toe three times starting at the ankle and pulling down each toe.

10. Back - If he is willing, he may enjoy a back rub. Lay him down on his tummy across your legs. Place your hands beneath his head, so that both hands are pointing to the opposite side. They should be pointing away from you, and perpendicular to his spine. Stroke the left hand towards his furthest side at the same time the right hand moves towards his side closest to you. Crisscross your hands back and forth three times, moving towards the opposite side, then back towards the center, and continuing to move towards the opposite sides as the hands pass each other at the middle of his back. Slowly, move your hands towards the buttocks as they continue the crisscross pattern perpendicular to the spine. Continue this down the buttocks.

11. Head & Scalp - Finish the massage with a head and face massage. By this time, your hands should have very little oil on them. You want to avoid using a facial massage with oil on your hands, as it should not get into the baby’s eyes.

Remake eye contact with the baby and talk to him. Do a shampoo massage with your finger tips moving in circles over the babies scalp.

12. Face - To do the facial massage, place the two fingertips of the index and middle of both fingers at the bridge of her nose. Trace a heart shape moving up towards the hairline, down and around towards the temples, and the fingers coming together at the chin. Repeat two times.

In summary, touch is important to the infant. Touch may be employed by holding, by carrying while other tasks are done, and by infant massage. Touch is particularly helpful if there was separation between mother and child at birth. It can also help other mothers increase the connection between themselves and their infants.

References on Infant Massage Benefits

1. Beachy. Premature infant massage in the NICU. 2003.
2. Glover, Onoawa, Hidgkinson. Benefits of infant massge for mothers with postnatal depression. 2002.
3. Beachy, 2003>
4. Dieter, Field, Hernanedez-Rolf et al. Stable preterm infants gain more weight and sleep less after five days of massage therapy. J Pediatr Psychl. 2003, Sep. 2003.
5. Field Preterm infant massage therapy studies: an American approach. 2002
6. Beachy 2003
7. Ferber, Laudon, Kuint et al Massage therapy by mothers enhances the adjustment of circadian rhythms to the nocturnal period in full-term infants. 2002
8. Barlow, Cullen Increasing touch between parents and children with disabilities: preliminary results from a new programme. 2002
9. Barlow, 2002
10.Barlow, 2002
11. Glover, 2002
12. Agarwal, Gupta, Pushkarna, et al. Effects of massage and use of oil on growth, blood flow and sleep pattern in infants. 2000.

By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA