Baby massage

Baby's first year

Baby massage is a lovely activity that you, family members and your co-parent/partner if you have one, can do together with your baby.

Massaging your baby can help:

  • Soothe and comfort your baby
  • Promote relaxation and induce sleep
  • Improve digestion and relieve colic
  • Enhance development and sensory awareness
  • Create a strong bond between you and your baby through positive touch

It is important to remember that massage is something you do with your baby rather than to your baby.

Touch is the first communication your baby receives. Long before your baby starts to use words, they are trying to communicate with us. They do this by looking, making noises and crying.  By watching your baby you can start to understand what they are telling you. By responding to your baby you are teaching them how to communicate.

Using massage oil, or your baby’s emollient, can make massage easier for you and more relaxing for your baby.  Essential oils are not safe for use in baby massage as they can be harmful. Your baby will absorb whatever you use through their skin.

Advice about what to use to safely massage your baby from 4 weeks of age can be found on the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) site, but it's best to check with your health visitor first.

Learn how to massage your baby by attending a local course. Your health visitor, local children’s centre or family hub may be able to help you. Or, you can find and pay for courses on International Association of Infant Massage

Singing and chatting to your baby, using a gentle voice, will help your baby develop good listening and talking skills.  Once you feel confident with baby massage we would suggest you sing lullabies and nursery rhymes whilst massaging.

There are no set guidelines regarding the minimum age for when to start baby massage. Although nurturing touch can be given from birth, some babies may find formal, structured massage too stimulating in the very early weeks.

Never massage a crying or sleeping baby. If your baby starts to cry during a massage, pick them up and settle them and then try again. If they fall asleep they are not in the right place for a massage right now.

Babies are unable to respond to you when they are sleeping. Also if your baby is crying, they are communicating to you that something is wrong.

If your baby needs to feed or change then just stop the session until your baby is ready again.

You could use a doll to practise whilst your baby is sleeping if you want to learn the techniques.

The ideal time for massage and when your baby will respond and learn best is when they are in the ‘Quiet Alert State’. This is when:

  • Their face is bright-eyed and receptive
  • They are looking around and taking in my surroundings
  • They have calm and relaxed movements
  • Their breathing is regular
  • They are concentrating and showing interest

This is usually when they have had a good sleep, they have been fed and generally are feeling happy and content.

If your baby does not seem to enjoy massage right away, do not worry. It's a new experience for you both and it can take a bit of getting used to. Try a few minutes the first time and build up as your child gets more used to it.

Additional resources

Five to Thrive - The building blocks of brain development.

International Association of Infant Massage