After a great massage, you practically feel like you’re floating out of the treatment room, and that calmness and tension relief lingers (at least until you get home and someone starts melting down). But adults aren’t the only ones who benefit from a good rubdown. Baby massage has long been believed to be a powerful and naturally therapeutic practice, dating back centuries to the Qing dynasty.  Today, the method has come a long way. While many parents understand that massage can help babies relax, fewer know that it can be a natural aid for many of the most obsessed-about baby ailments, like teething and gas, and offers amazing therapeutic benefits including brain, emotional, social, and neural development.

And that’s not all! A 2023 study in the journal PLOS One found that baby massage has benefits for moms, too. In a sample of 521 women with postnatal depression symptoms like sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion, those who massaged their babies showed significantly reduced symptoms compared with those who stuck to a more typical routine. So it’s truly a win-win.

As with any new treatment, you can discuss starting a baby massage routine with your pediatrician. Offer massages in a warm room that’s cozy for you both, especially if your babe is enjoying some naked time during their massage, and lay your little on a soft towel. Always follow your baby’s cues, because we all know they’ll be the first to tell you if they don’t like a particular stroke or if it’s time to call it a day. Once you’re ready to give it a try, here are a few ways to use gentle massage to help your baby through tough times.

When Your Baby Won’t Sleep

Helping baby sleep independently and through the night takes time and patience, and massage is a wonderful way to relax them and potentially create a deeper, longer sleep cycle. The act of massaging your baby triggers serotonin production, which allows their body and mind to settle in for the night. And it’s not just anecdotal evidence. More and more studies have linked baby massage with improved sleep. Tiffany Field, Ph.D. and director of the Touch Research Institute, found that babies who received a massage from their parents for 15 minutes prior to their bedtime showed a decrease in sleep onset issues and had better quality sleep after one month. In addition, they were more alert and calm throughout their waking hours. This was in comparison to babies who were just read a bedtime story before going to bed.

Baby Massage Tips: Combine massage with a warm baby bath as a daily nighttime ritual. Dim the lights, turn on some relaxing music, and place baby on a soft towel, then do a full-body massage using edible-grade, organic oils such as coconut, sesame, jojoba, or avocado oil. Try to always massage in the same order your little knows what to expect since they love predictable routines so much. After a week your baby will hopefully learn to associate sleep with this calming nighttime routine.

When Your Baby Has Gas or Is Constipated

Baby constipation, colic, reflux, and gas can pose some of the biggest challenges for new parents since an infant’s digestive tract is still very immature. This is why so many of us practically become professional poop inspectors during the newborn stage and completely obsess over how to help our babe’s make as many ground-shaking toots as possible. Expelling gas and poop can be more difficult for some infants, which is why baby massage can be so helpful for kickstarting their digestion. In one study of children with chronic constipation, parents were asked to provide abdominal massage for 20 minutes per day for a month. The results? Reduced constipation symptoms in 88% of patients, reduced laxative medication use in 58%, and an improved diet for 41%.

Baby Massage Tips: Tummy massage and foot reflexology are believed to help alleviate the pressure on the bowel. Once you’ve discussed them with your doctor and are ready to start, they’re very easy to master. The trick is to do these massages and stretches proactively and daily so that baby’s digestion is running at full speed consistently. Start by paddling their tummy with your hands, moving down from the top of the belly to the pelvis. Next, use your fingertips to make circles in a clockwise motion. You can also gently move their hips from side to side and bicycle their legs to help their stomach muscles and intestines move more efficiently. Just make sure to wait 30-40 minutes after feeding. For the feet, concentrate on the center of the foot below the pad and apply medium-pressure strokes with your fingers to help the large and small intestines do their thing.

When Your Baby Is Teething

Teething (and the drooling and sleep disruptions that go with it) is a painful stage that all parents and babies will have to deal with. Teething can start anywhere from 3 months of age and will come and go through the first 2 years of life. While the many remedies for teething include cold washcloths, over-the-counter medicine, and teethers, teething pain can be naturally alleviated with a simple facial massage that will help babies reduce inflammation in their gums.

Baby Massage Tips: Babies hold a lot of tension in their faces and jaws during teething. To help them relax and reduce teething-related inflammation, make small circles with your fingertips along baby’s face, jaw, and gums. You can also try giving them a gum massage. With clean hands, use your forefinger to gently rub your baby’s gums. You shouldn’t face too much resistance—after all, babies rarely meet an object they don’t want to put in their mouths. But if they do resist, respect their wishes and try again later.

When Your Baby Has a Cold & Is Congested

There’s no worse feeling than watching your baby struggle with a cold. Massage can be ideal for these times because it may help your little one expel some of that pesky phlegm, reduce sinus congestion, and relieve coughs naturally. Some studies have shown some immunity benefits of regular massage, though more research is needed.

Baby Massage Tips: A gentle facial massage can help loosen and remove some of the congestion clogging your little one’s sinuses. Use two fingers to gently rub down the area next to the bridge of baby’s nose. You can also use your fingers to gently stroke around baby’s eyes and right below their eyebrows. Chest massage can also help relieve congestion. When massaging the chest, start with the “open book” stroke holding both hands at the center of the chest and stroke out as if you are opening the pages of a book. You can also rub from shoulder to opposite side of chest, which is called the “butterfly” stroke.

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