You know what happens: The minute you put your baby down, the cry comes. Pick your baby up and, presto — serene and smiley again. If just holding your baby can be so soothing, imagine the benefits of a full-body massage. In fact, studies have shown that massaging an infant can reduce crying and fussiness, help the child 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 the 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 the 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 the baby becomes more relaxed. ”
Giving your infant regular massages is good for his or her 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 your baby 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 or her and make them 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 the baby’s head. Begin by holding your baby’s hands and gently rubbing his or her palms with your thumbs a few times. When your child seems tuned in to you, try these soothing techniques described by Dr. Schneider, starting with your baby’s legs and working your way up the body.