The Benefits of Baby Massage

Massage can get your newborn to sleep better, improve her health, and even help you bond.

Soothing Baby

mother holding baby

Shannon Greer

You know what happens: The minute you put your baby down, she cries. Pick her up and, presto -- she's serene and smiley again. If just holding your baby can be so soothing, imagine how she'll benefit from a full-body massage. In fact, studies have shown that massaging an infant can reduce crying and fussiness, help her sleep more peacefully, and alleviate common wail-inducers like constipation and colic. Some say that it even boosts a baby's ability to fight off germs.

"When you give your baby a massage, you're actually stimulating her central nervous system," explains Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "That sets off a chain reaction: It makes her brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that's secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down, and she becomes more relaxed. "

Giving your infant regular massages is good for his emotional well-being too. "Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents, so they're great ways for you to bond," says K. Mark Sossin, PhD, director of the Parent-Infant Research Nursery at Pace University, in New York City. The payoff of baby massage trickles down to parents. "It's easy to feel helpless with a newborn, but giving him a gentle rubdown can help you feel more in control," explains Elaine Fogel Schneider, PhD, author of Massaging Your Baby: The Joy of Touch Time. "It will help you learn how to read your baby's signals and respond better to his unique needs."

Giving your baby a massage is as simple as it is enjoyable. All you need is 10 to 15 minutes. Pick a time when you're relaxed and your baby is quiet but alert. (If you try to massage a fussy baby, you may overstimulate him and make him even more unhappy.) Try starting after a diaper change or as part of a bathtime ritual.

Before you begin, make sure the room is warm and quiet. Take off any jewelry that could get in the way, and grab some baby oil. Strip your baby down to his diaper, and then lay him facing up on a soft towel or blanket, with a pillow under his head. Begin by holding your baby's hands and gently rubbing his palms with your thumbs a few times. When he seems tuned in to you, try these soothing techniques described by Dr. Schneider, starting with your baby's legs and working your way up his body.

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