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In Good Hands: A Guide to Baby Massage

Shortly after my son was born last fall, I became fixated on the idea of baby massage. It was an elective task, which was intriguing given most things infant-related (diaper changing, feeding) are required jobs. And even though I’d spent essentially every minute with the young man from day one, it seemed like a sweet way to get to know him even better. What started out as a well-intentioned plan to do a full-body massage daily wound up being a 30-second nightly ritual of gently stroking his legs, feet and ankles while applying a bit of lotion before putting on his pajamas—a routine that seemed a little lazy to me (my technique was less than perfect), but delighted him almost every time.

Turns out even a little baby bodywork can go a long way.

“It is always wonderful for a baby to get that care and attention,” says Robbin Schwartz, a licensed massage therapist and certified infant massage specialist who teaches classes through a program called Wee Massage in New York City. “They are literally in good hands.”

Baby massage, a practice that began in India, is physically and emotionally beneficial to not only an infant, but to a parent, too. For babies, it helps to promote body awareness, reduce stress or discomfort from issues like teething or gas, improve sleep, build self-esteem and stimulate digestion and circulation. For parents, it increases familiarity with their child’s body and mood, encourages bonding, offers a relaxing outlet and engenders parenting confidence.

It also has the potential to go even further. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, which has conducted numerous studies on the power of touch, found that infant massage significantly bolstered growth and weight gain in premature infants and decreased stress hormones.

Getting Started

The key is to keep it simple at first. Schwartz suggests experimenting with different times of the day—during a diaper change, after a nap or first thing in the morning—to see what resonates best. “Look for your baby’s cues and respond appropriately,” she says. Use a small amount of edible (preferably scent-free) oil, such as almond, grapeseed or sesame, and start with very short sessions before building up slowly. If you aren’t sure where to begin on the body, start with the legs, which are less sensitive than the trunk and are highly approachable.

Though my little guy was nearly eight months old when we took a class with Wee Massage, we still managed to make it work despite his non-stop wriggling. (Baby massage can be done from birth up to any age, but once your tot is mobile it might become more difficult to keep him or her still.) Our session included seven other moms; the youngest baby was just four weeks old. Schwartz presented calming instruction using a doll to demonstrate the strokes, which were often choreographed to a song or a nursery rhyme.

Below are just a few of the basic techniques we tried. Experiment with them, be patient and if your baby isn't into it, try again another time.

Legs and Arms
Indian Milking: Work your hands from thigh to ankle (or shoulder to wrist for the arms). Promotes circulation to the feet (or to the hands).

Swedish Milking: Work your hands from ankle to thigh (or wrist to shoulder for the arms). Promotes circulation to the heart.


Apply gentle pressure from the heel to the toes along the inner edge of the foot.

Stomach and Chest
Waterwheel: Sweep your hands from the chest to the pelvic area. Assists with downward digestion.

Open Book: Make heart shapes on the chest. Relaxes the breath.


Circles: Glide your hands from the neck to the buttocks, working on one side of the spine at a time.

For more information on Wee Massage, click here.

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