Infant Massage

Man with infant

Photo by Ben Earwicker
 Garrison Photography, Boise, ID

As some of you may know, there are many documented benefits associated with the use of massage therapy on infants. Some of these benefits include:

  •    Enhancing the bond between parent and infant (massage can be an especially great way for new dads to bond with the child)
  •   Encouraging the infant to breathe deeply through the calming effect of massage on the child’s nervous system
  •   Improved blood and lymphatic circulation (and improved circulation equals more effective nutrient delivery)
  •  Increases the infant’s awareness of their own body through visual and tactile input
  •  Enhances the infant’s digestive processes
  • Provides general relaxation for both the caregiver and the child
  •  Helps to regulate sleep and wake states for the child
  • Studies have shown premature infants who receive massage therapy experience a greater increase in weight gain than infants who do not receive massage. See research article here

 How-To Tips

It’s best to begin massaging the infant when they are in a quiet, alert state. You can help your child attain this state by speaking to them in a voice that varies in pitch and tone, showing your face to them, placing them in an upright position or using slow, rhythmical strokes to move them from an active alert state to a quiet alert state.

Willingness Cues: eye contact, looking at your face, smooth movements of arms and legs, turning eyes or head towards you, smiling, babbling, talking, cooing sounds, eyes wide and bright, or movement of hand(s) to mouth. These cues are a good way to tell if the infant is “giving you permission” and is willing to be touched at that point in time.

Unwillingness Cues: fussiness, crying, turning head away, coughing/ choking sounds, frowning or grimacing, strong back arching, eyes turning away, spitting up or vomiting, pulling away, squirming, kicking, hiccuping, or wrinkling of forehead.

*Crying-if the child cries during the massage, the adult should respond by modifying or stopping the treatment. Modifications include: changing locations, speed, pressure or direction of the strokes.


In some cases it is best to avoid giving a massage or reschedule it for another time. Some of these circumstances include:

  •  If the child is sick or has a fever
  • If you are sick or have a fever
  • If the child is hyperactive or disinterested (sometimes the baby just won’t be into it)
  • If there is a diaper rash, avoid massaging that area
  • If the infant is premature or immunocompromised, be aware of certain precautions (ie. you may need to be gloved). In this case, it is best to check in with your doctor before proceeding.

Getting Started

Natural oils are recommended. Avoid any nut-based oils, lotions, or creams. Coconut oil works very well- only a small amount is required and it warms up quickly from a solid, room-temperature state to a liquid state with only the heat from your hands.


The child can be treated face up (supine) on a caregiver’s lap, in a car seat, on blankets, etc. The child can be treated prone (on their bellies) across a caregiver’s lap or positioned comfortably on a pillow. Newborn infants should be supported by pillows while treated until at least six months of age.


Pressure: Firm pressure is used to promote relaxation, light touch can be stimulating.

Direction: Slow, rhythmical strokes in the direction of hair growth produce a calming effect. Strokes against hair growth have a stimulating effect.

Speed/ Frequency: Slow, rhythmical strokes again facilitate relaxation. Brisk strokes increase muscle tone (tension).

Temperature: Cold hands or a cold room may lead to a fussy or uncomfortable child.

Begin by massaging the baby’s legs. Complete all of the massage strokes on one leg before moving to the next as this will encourage complete relaxation of the limb. Next you may proceed on to the abdomen and chest. After the abdomen you can move onto massage techniques for the back. After the back treatment is complete you can turn the baby back over and complete the massage with the arms.

*Please remember to re-introduce your touch to the baby every time you change to a new area of their body. They may not like massage everywhere on their body.

Specific techniques for the legs

  • Support the baby’s foot in your hand and stroke from their foot to their thigh, alternating hands. Stroke the foot from the heel to the toes  using one thumb followed by the other thumb. Gently squeeze each toe between your thumb and fingers.  Similar techniques can be used on the arms.

Specific techniques for the abdomen

  • Please remember it is important to perform any abdominal strokes in a clockwise direction in accordance with the flow of the child’s digestive organs.

Specific techniques for the chest

  • “Open Book”- start with the flat of your thumbs starting in the midline, the pressure is directed out towards the ribs, like smoothing the pages of a book. The motion can also be that of a heart.

Specific techniques for the back

  • Using your finger tips, massage small circles on either side of the spine; the hips and the shoulders may also be included. Also, try “combing”. With the fingers spread apart gently comb down the baby’s back from the neck to the buttocks, gradually decreasing your pressure.

Using these guidelines and tips, infant massage can be something both you and your child can enjoy! Please feel free to contact me with any questions.



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