Adults pay top dollar to get a good massage. Why? Because it relieves tension and stress and leaves you feeling much calmer than when you went in. Feeling rejuvenated, you find yourself already looking forward to the next one. When you hit the pillow that night, you sleep like you haven't in years. (Or at least since your last massage.) Less common is giving your baby a massage. But why? With so many benefits for you, it's only natural that it would allow for the same calming affect on your little one.
It's hardly a secret that babies aren't the best sleepers in the world. Well, they are...just not on your schedule. So let's talk about how a simple massage routine can actually help your baby sleep better. Because as a parent of a newborn, more sleep seems to be all you've ever wanted.
How Infant Massage Helps Induce Sleep
We know how much a daily bedtime routine can help babies understand that nighttime is for sleep. Additionally, we follow a shortened form of this routine when it's time for baby to take a nap. Elements like a darkened room and white noise are signals to your baby that playtime is over.
An infant massage can be performed at any time, but it's especially helpful as a part of your baby's sleep routine. According to the National Sleep Foundation, massage triggers serotonin production, which allows the body and mind to calm down. They also cite several studies to show how it improves human sleep...and that includes the tiny little humans in our lives.
Not sure how to give your baby a massage? We'll give you the tips you need coming up and show how it fits perfectly into a bedtime routine. But in case we haven't convinced you completely that infant massage is worth the little extra time, here are even more advantages it gives your little one:
- reduces colic and crying - which we discuss in the article, "Helping a Baby With Colic: Identifying Symptoms and 10 Soothing Tips."
- relieves stress
- promotes bonding through skin-to-skin contact (this study also cites the maternal benefit)
- improves digestion
- can stimulate weight gain
There's really no reason not to fit a massage into your baby's daily bedtime routine!
The Perfect Bedtime Baby Massage Routine
In our article, "How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in a Crib," we gave a step-by-step list to help create a nightly routine for your baby. Each of these in succession prepares your baby to calm down from the day so that they can learn to become an independent sleeper. Teaching them to wind down is a part of this important process. We know you love to hold, snuggle and feed your baby at bedtime...and you'll definitely want to keep doing this! But so that everyone can get their best sleep possible, we always recommend putting your baby down very drowsy, but still awake.
So, let's look into how baby massage fits into that routine.
It's best to start the bedtime routine with plenty of time to fit everything in, especially extra cuddle time. If you're hurrying or skipping steps, that's not helpful for either of you.
Here's how to get your baby ready for their massage:
- 45 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime, we recommend giving your baby a warm bath. Utilizing a natural baby wash with a calming scent that's safe and gentle for your baby's skin will help begin to relax them.
- Then wrap them up in a towel and bring them to their bedroom. We recommend keeping it dimly lit, but not completely dark yet so you can see what you are doing. This is the perfect time to also turn on quiet soothing music or white noise that your baby enjoys. Not sure where to start on that? We cover that here! Singing soft lullabies to your baby while you get them ready for their massage is another wonderful option. They love the sound of your voice.
- You'll also want to be sure that your home is warm enough before starting your baby's massage. If you don't, they are just going to be shivering as you begin, and that's clearly the opposite of relaxing. We suggest boosting the heat to around 75 degrees F about an hour before your baby's bath. You can turn it back down after your baby is wrapped up in their swaddle and cozied up for the evening.
At this point, you're ready to start your baby's massage!
Performing the Massage on Your Baby
The reason many parents probably don't perform any sort of infant massage on their baby is that they don't really know where to start. Our own hands look so big next to their tiny body, so it can be a little unsettling to know how to do it gently enough.
Here are few of your top questions answered before you begin!
How old does my baby need to be for infant massage?
You can start giving your baby massages from day one.
Which part of the body should I focus on?
Our best recommendation is to give your baby a full body massage. Sounds decadent, doesn't it? Not only will your baby love it, but by reaching each part of the body you'll be giving your baby the maximum benefit.
Should I use oil?
You may want to massage with lotion or oil, but it's not required. Though it can be messy, it may richen the experience because it reduces the friction between the skin. The most important thing is to use oil that you know if 100% safe for babies. Coconut oil is a top choice. Not a lot of research has been done on using lavender oil for this purpose, but diffusing it in your baby's room at bedtime would be great for its calming effects.
Now that we have those questions covered, here's how to massage your baby!
Start by laying them down on a comfortable surface. We then recommend spending about 1-2 minutes massaging each of these areas of your baby's body:
- Head and Face - Cradle your baby's head in your hands and gently massage her scalp and behind the ears with your fingertips. Gently stroke each part of your baby's face: down the bridge of their nose, over their eyelids and around their cheeks.
- Chest and Tummy - From there, you can move down to your baby's abdomen. You'll want to rub-down the sides of the chest and stomach. Then, continue massaging in a circular motion over the top. Be extra gentle and knead your baby's tummy with your fingertips.
- Legs and Feet - It's great to bend up your baby's legs after massaging their stomach. You can go back and forth between these two. Run your hands down your baby's legs and then onto their feet. Be sure to give enough pressure along the bottom of the feet so as not to make it uncomfortable tickly!
- Arms and Hands - Before flipping your baby over, you can move up to your baby's arms and hands. Repeat what you did with your baby's legs and feet. Bend her elbows and run your fingertips along her tiny hands.
- Neck and Back - Once you finished massaging your baby's front, gently lay them flat on their stomach. This can be a good time for them to get a little time strengthening their neck muscles, too. Run your hands down your baby's neck and over their shoulders. Gently knead and rub the length of your baby's back.
Even though it's full body, you won't be spending an hour massaging your baby like the one you would get. Each of the above steps don't need to take long and you can have the massage completed within 5 - 10 minutes. Additionally, your baby might be the one to tell you that massage time is over. If they seem uncomfortable or get fussy, it's time to be done. And that's ok! Always follow your baby's cues when it comes to massage.
The hope, however, is that your baby is calm and relaxed when the massage is complete. They're now ready to be swaddled before getting fed and being put down for the night.
When the Massage is Over and It's Time for Sleep
After the massage is complete, you will likely have a very calm baby on your hands. So how do you move them into bedtime from here?
As calmly as possible, you'll want to dress your baby in their pajamas and then swaddle them up. Because we want your baby to get their best sleep possible, we recommend the weighted swaddle from Dreamland Baby.
Swaddles are perfect for newborn babies because they mimic the security of the womb and also counteract the Moro Reflex which can wake your baby up. Of course, you'll want to continue baby massage as your little one grows, so if they're already rolling over, you should put them in a weighted wearable blanket instead. Similar to what infant massage can do for your baby (increase serotonin), a weighted sleeping bag offers the same type of benefit through deep touch stimulation.
Once you've completed these steps, it's time to rock and feed your baby before finally laying them down for the night.
We know that teaching your baby to sleep independently is far from an easy task. It's not a surprise that they'd prefer to be next to their favorite person in the world. But it's important for them to be able to get their best sleep and also know how to put themselves back to sleep on their own when they wake in the night. Utilizing baby massage to calm your baby before you whisper one last, "Good night" is the perfect way to relieve tension so they can drift off to dreamland.
What age do doctors recommend massaging your baby before sleep?
When it comes to doctors recommendations on massaging your baby before sleep, TheBump.com says that the best time to start infant massage is within the first three months, as babies begin to develop important physical and intellectual abilities, including motor skills. The goal is to get your baby comfortable and familiar with your touch as part of signaling that it’s time to go to sleep. Further studies suggest that infant massage can be performed at any time, but it's especially helpful as a part of your baby's sleep routine. Massage triggers serotonin production, which allows the body and mind to calm down.
What are other benefits to massaging your baby before bedtime?
In addition to reducing colic, crying, and stress, baby massage also promotes bonding and can improve digestion. It also encourages interaction between you and your baby or your partner/baby caregiver and baby. Infant massage will also help your baby relax and sleep better. Further, massaging your baby before bedtime can positively affect the hormones that control stress, this means that baby should fall asleep in a very relaxed state.
Will massaging a baby before bed help them sleep longer?
Research suggests that when massage is part of your baby’s nighttime routine, that it can help to keep their circadian rhythms on track, meaning your baby should sleep more at night and be more active during the day. So much of your baby’s sleep
Can you massage your baby before a nap?
Once massage is part of your baby’s sleep routine, not only is it okay to give your baby a massage before a nap but it’s encouraged. That’s because keeping your baby’s sleep routine for all sleep encourages better quality sleep overall.
Is massaging your baby before bed a good exercise for sleep training?
Sleep training, like all kinds of training that seem challenging at first, takes persistence and patience. The idea is that once your baby is between 4-6 months old, they are likely ready to self-soothe and sleep for longer stretches of time. With sleep training, you’re giving your baby the tools to not just fall asleep, but also to fall back asleep on their own… which hopefully means that you, too, can sleep longer and better. That said, if massaging your baby before bed is a part of your established bed time routine, then by all means, stick with it!
What are things to avoid when massaging your baby before sleep?
The best way to get your baby to sleep, and to stay asleep, is through your tried and true sleep routine. Routines are important to establish early on as they cue and/or signal to your baby that sleep time is near and gives your baby time to wind down from their exciting day of exploring the world! As with all sleep routines, it’s important to avoid anything that might stimulate your baby and keep them awake when the goal is good, quality sleep. If you find that your baby is ticklish when doing infant massage, avoid areas that give them the giggles! As part of the basic sleep time routine, most parents swear by dimming the lights and playing soft music or white noise machine. These things alone should ensure that baby knows that it’s time to catch some much needed zzz’s.
What are other good habits to grow before the baby sleeps?
You know how in real estate, the top three rules are “location, location, location!” Well when it comes to your baby’s sleep, “routine, routine, routine” is the way to go. That’s because creating a sleep routine for your baby is essential in establishing healthy sleep habits. It’s good to use the same routine for every sleep, meaning naps and overnight. As your baby grows and develops, you can add in things like books, bath, etc., but the idea is to create a calm and soothing environment that signals it’s time for bed. This can take anywhere from several minutes up to an hour, or however much time is needed to signal to your baby that it’s time for sleep. Some suggestions:
- Darken the room
- Turn on soft music or a sound machine
- Feed/snuggle your little one
- Put baby to sleep drowsy but awake
- Say good-night