Whether your baby is a newborn or near toddling, research shows that a gentle massage has big benefits — for both of you. It not only draws you closer emotionally, but can aid your baby’s primary functions, including respiration, sleep, and digestion. Mollie Bollers is a certified infant massage instructor who offers suggestions for incorporating this loving art into your baby’s life. P&C asked her for advice on how to get started.
PARENT & CHILD: How does massaging a baby benefit her physically?
MOLLIE BOLLERS: Touch is very therapeutic. Baby massage helps decrease stress hormones and helps regulate breathing, digestion, sleep, and elimination. This means it calms babies and reduces crying, helps them sleep longer and more soundly, improves gastrointestinal functions and alleviates gas, and boosts circulation and immune function. Research also shows that nurturing massage stimulates the production of infants’ growth hormones, which helps babies grow and thrive. In fact, premature infants who are massaged gain more weight and develop more quickly than those who aren’t massaged.
P&C: And emotional benefits?
BOLLERS: Massage is a wonderful way for parents to bond with their babies. The gentle movement, eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, and verbal communication (talking and cooing) get parents and babies more in tune with each other’s rhythms.
P&C: When is the best time to do a baby massage?
BOLLERS: When she is in a good mood or in a quiet alert state. Some people like to do a massage before a bath or bedtime. I tend to do short massages when I’m changing my baby’s diaper. I do her legs, tush, and tummy in the morning, and then I do her head, face, back, and arms in the afternoon.
P&C: How long should one last?
BOLLERS: As long as everybody is happy. It could be 2 minutes or 20 minutes.
P&C: What products do I need?
BOLLERS: You can lay your baby on a blanket, towel, or soft mat. You might put on soothing music, and it’s definitely nice to use oil. I like natural, food-grade oils (coconut, grape seed, or almond) because anything you put on your baby’s skin can end up in his mouth.
P&C: Do you have favorite strokes?
BOLLERS: Sure—one is called “Indian Milking.” With your baby on his back, lift one of his legs off the ground. Wrap one hand around his thigh, and, using the entire palm of your hand, gently glide your hand with a long, sweeping stroke toward his ankle down the front of his thigh. Take the other hand, wrap it around the same thigh, and do the same stroke down the back of his thigh. Continue to alternate hands, stroking your baby’s leg as you tell him what you’re doing and make eye contact. Turn to the other leg next.
P&C: Are there any safety issues?
BOLLERS: Watch your baby to gauge whether or not she’s happy or overstimulated. Her reactions will guide you. Keep in mind that massage is something you do with your baby, not to your baby.