How to Massage a Baby

Three Parts:Giving an Effective MassageChoosing the Right Time for a MassageFocusing on Certain Body Parts

Babies need to be touched in order to grow physically and emotionally healthy. Massaging babies boosts their immune systems, helps foster muscle development and reduces their stress. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your little one and create a relaxing environment for both of you. Knowing how and when to massage your baby will help you get the most out of this therapeutic practice.

Part 1
Giving an Effective Massage

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    Make the baby comfortable. Plan to do the massage in a warm room with dim lighting. It's important to make sure the temperature isn't too cold, since the baby's clothes will be removed during the massage. Lay the baby on her back on a soft towel or blanket placed on the floor or a safe flat surface. Put on some soft music if you wish.
    • You can massage your baby with everything removed or just a diaper on in case of an accident. Choose the option that will make your baby more comfortable.
    • If you want to massage your baby as a way to calm her down before going down for a nap, you might wish to use the baby's nursery as the massage room. That way you can easily put her in her crib if she falls asleep during the massage.
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    Use edible oil. If you want to use massage oil, choose olive oil, avocado oil or another edible oil, since the baby’s fingers might end up in her mouth. Don’t use mineral oil or another inedible oil, since these aren't possible to digest and could hurt your baby's stomach.
    • Don’t use peanut oil, almond oil or other oils produced from foods that are common allergens.
    • If the oil is cool, rub it between your hands to warm it up before applying it to your baby's body.
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    Use gentle rubbing motions. Do not massage a baby using the same force you’d use for an adult. Use your fingers to gently rub your baby’s body, never pushing too hard or kneading. The goal is not to work out knots or do a deep tissue massage, as it would be with an adult; rather, you want to use soft, circular rubbing motions to gently stimulate the baby's skin.
    • You'll want to massage the baby’s back, tummy, arms, legs, head and neck. Handle all parts of your baby's body with gentle care.
    • As the baby grows, you can apply a little more pressure. A toddler can handle a slightly firmer massage than an infant.
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    Massage in one direction. The general practice is to massage the skin away from the direction of the heart. This has a calming effect on the body, so it's a good technique to use if you want to help her get to sleep more easily. You can also massage toward the heart instead, but bear in mind this has a stimulating effect. Massage toward the heart when you want your baby to feel more active.
    • Choose the direction depending on the time of day you massage her. If it's playtime, a stimulating massage might make her feel like having some fun. But massaging this way right before bedtime probably won't have the effect you want.
    • Massaging away from the heart is a great way to calm down a baby who's feeling fussy.
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    Try a milking massage. This is a good technique to use on your baby's arms and legs. Make a loose circle or C-shape around your baby’s arm or leg with your forefinger and thumb. Use a very gently pulling motion to pull downward toward her foot or hand, as though you were milking a cow. Repeat the motion several times.
    • Never grip too tightly, and take care not to wrench her limbs.
    • Continue until you’ve massaged all her limbs.
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    Try a rolling massage. Your baby might enjoy the feeling of having her arms and legs "rolled."[1] Gently roll your hands over a limb at a time, as though you were rolling out dough. Rock the limb back and forth against the blanket or towel your baby is resting on. Repeat with all four limbs.
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    Don’t tickle your baby when you massage her. The massage is meant to be relaxing, and this could be irritating to your baby. Help your baby come to associate massage time as a relaxing, calming bonding session. She should know what to expect, and a tickle could be shocking or overstimulating.

Part 2
Choosing the Right Time for a Massage

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    Massage your baby before her bedtime. As stated above, massage is an excellent way to help your baby calm down and get ready to go to sleep.[2] Doing it at regularly scheduled times will help her get into a good bedtime routine. Make it part of your nightly ritual following her bath and other routines your family has established. Plan to start about a half hour before her scheduled bedtime.
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    Massage her when she’s fussy. Massage can be a great way to connect with your baby and help her feel less agitated any time of day. Babies often cry when they want attention, and massaging your baby lets her know you're present. It has a deeply calming effect, and many parents find it to be an effective tool for quieting a baby during especially fussy times.
    • Be sure her other needs are met first, so she’s comfortable during the massage. Your baby might be crying because she's hungry, tired, or for another reason. She won't enjoy the massage as much if she hasn't yet had dinner.
    • Wait 45 minutes after meals. Massaging a baby right after she eats can cause her to get an upset stomach. Babies spit up quite easily, and any sort of massaging motion has the potential to make her lose her last meal. Make sure she has plenty of time to digest her food before you give her a massage.
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    Massage her when she’s in the mood. Sometimes babies don’t feel like being massaged, and it’s important to stop if she’s exhibiting signs of distress. If she stiffens and cries, let it go for now and try massaging her another time, when she's in the mood to be touched.
    • If she seems as though she's in pain when you massage her, make sure your technique is gentle enough. If your technique doesn't seem to be the problem, you might want to take her in to see the pediatrician to see why she seems to feel pain during massage.
    • If she's enjoying the massage, she'll seem relaxed and receptive to your touch.
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    Work up to a half-hour massage. Start by massaging for just five minutes. This will give your baby time to get used to the feeling of being massaged, and decide that she likes it. Go a little longer each time until you work up to half an hour or so. This is the optimal amount of time per day to spend massaging your baby.[3]
    • Massage benefits are myriad. Massage helps to stimulate your baby's growth, give her immune system a boost, and help her digestive system stay healthy. It also reduces stress and aids in emotional development.
    • As well, massaging your baby helps the two of you bond. It's a great way for fathers to bond with their babies.

Part 3
Focusing on Certain Body Parts

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    Massage her legs and feet. Encircle the baby's thigh with your thumb and forefinger. Gently stroke her leg from her thighs down to her feet, then rub her feet with your thumbs. Curl and uncurl her toes. Repeat with the other leg, then gently bend and unbend the knees at the same time.[4]
    • You can start with any part of the baby's body. Many like to start with the legs and feet in order to help the baby transition from play time to calm time more easily. The baby may kick and squirm, having fun as you massage her legs and feet.
    • Remember to be very gentle; don't pull on her legs or exert too much pressure as you bend her knees. If she straightens her legs in protest, don't force her to bend them.
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    Massage her chest and tummy. This part of the massage has the most profound calming effect. Start by massaging her chest from the center outward, away from the heart, smoothing your hand over her skin as though you were smoothing open the pages of a book. Then, massage her tummy in a clockwise rubbing motion. This mimics the path of digestion. Keep doing this part of the massage until your baby seems calm.
    • Remember that if you're massaging as part of playtime, you can make your baby feel stimulated by massaging your baby's chest toward the heart, rather than away from it.
    • Be careful not to tickle your baby's belly as you massage it.
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    Massage her head and face. Use your fingers to make circles on her head. Gently “walk” your fingers across her forehead and cheeks, and draw a smile on her lips.[5] Steer clear of her eyes and nose, since massaging her too close to these areas might make her uncomfortable.
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    Massage her back. Gently turn your baby over so she's lying on her stomach. Massage her back by smoothing your hands from the center of her back outward. Don't grip her shoulders and knead as you would an adult's; instead, use circular motions to rub her shoulders and lower back.


  • Remember to speak softly to your baby throughout the massage. Let the baby know what you are doing, or just talk about your day.
  • Focus on using firm, gentle strokes. The massage strokes should not be too light as they can tickle your baby, and hard strokes can hurt or be uncomfortable.
  • Keep a diaper close by in case the baby urinates.
  • Very small babies prefer to be cradled during massage. These infants may prefer to lay in the crook of your knees or on your feet as you sit in a position with your legs pulled towards your stomach. You can sit cross-legged or make a diamond with your legs.


  • If at any point your baby appears to dislike the massage, cries, or coils away from your hands, stop the massage and try again another day.

Things You'll Need

  • Warm towel or blanket
  • Edible massage oil

Article Info

Categories: Babies and Infants