How to massage your baby – a step-by-step guide

Massage therapist Susan Patterson Smith demonstrates simple techniques for gently massaging your baby's tummy, back, head, feet, legs, hands and arms

How to massage baby toes

Massaging your baby can be a relaxing and enjoyable experience, not just for your baby but for you too. Slow, firm massaging strokes can lead to the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for helping us to bond with our new baby.

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Baby massage may also improve your baby’s circulation, help to develop muscle tone and some parents feel it can help with colic and constipation too.

The key thing to know before you start is to take cues from your baby. “You need to ‘ask permission’ from your baby,” explains Susan Patterson Smith, a baby massage therapist from massage service Return to Glory.  “If your baby hunches their shoulders or pulls away, don’t proceed with massage at that time.”

Baby massage can form part of a calming bedtime or bathtime routine but don’t massage your baby when they’re asleep. Ensure the room is warm and quiet. “Don’t play music,” advises Susan. “It’s your voice that’s most important while you’re doing a massage.”

Read more essential advice on baby massage in our skin-to-skin contact article

Here are 6 baby massage techniques from massage teacher Susan Patterson Smith

1. Massaging your baby’s toes and feet

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Use your index finger and thumb to gently rotate each toe in a circular motion. On the sole of your baby’s foot, just above the heel, gently press with your index finger. As in reflexology, the foot is considered to have relex points that relate to areas of the body. Above the heel relates to digestion.

2. Massaging your baby’s legs

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Hold your baby’s ankle with one hand and cup the other hand around top of your baby’s thigh. Move a cupped hand smoothly down towards their foot. Change the hand holding your baby’s ankle when moving to the other leg. This is a relaxing move. An upward stroke, from ankle to thigh is invigorating.

3. Massaging your baby’s head

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If your baby’s birth was traumatic, avoid this. Otherwise, gently press your baby’s head and press very lightly around their skull. Alternately, stroke their head, starting from the crown and moving towards their forehead; then stroke from crown to the nape of neck.

4. Massaging your baby’s back

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Place your hands vertically (fingers pointing up towards his head) on your baby’s back, near the nape of their neck. Stroke down to their buttocks, or all the way to feet. Ensure your hands are either side of spine (not on it) and don’t press. This is a sleep-inducing move.

5. Massaging your baby’s tummy

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Place both hands, palm down, on your baby’s torso horizontally (fingers pointing in towards each other or overlapping). Start just above their belly button. Use one hand to make a gentle downward stroke towards their bladder. Then start a downward stroke from their belly button to bladder with your other hand. Repeat six times. This is good for wind and colic. You can repeat up to 12 times if your baby suffers from either.

6. Massaging your baby’s fingers, hands and arms

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Gently hold the tip of your baby’s finger and move it in a circular motion. Open your hand and stroke out from your palm to fingertips. Like toes, fingers are reflex points related to sinuses. For arms, hold your baby’s wrist in one hand. Cup your other hand at your baby’s shoulder and pull gently down to their wrist. This is calming. From wrist to shoulder is invigorating. Change hands for your baby’s other arm.

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