Infant massage is massage that can be given to newborn infants and can continue into the toddler years. It is a specialized massage that makes for happier babies and usually aids in his or her sleep patterns as massaged babies generally fall asleep more quickly. New parents, grandparents and those who care for the baby can all be taught these massage techniques. Research has shown that massage enhances neural development and body growth. It is also increasingly important for pre-term infants who often struggle in these areas. 

First described in the Qing Dynasty of China during the second century B.C. Massage therapy is one of the oldest forms of medical health care in the world. It is estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 years ago Ayurveda medicine was first introduced. Though originally thought to have started in China, scholars now believe it spread out from India and then influenced the Chinese. It is from these origins that infant massage began.

To this day, both in India and China, it is an encouraged and practiced procedure for newborns that are given cleansing massages from birth. A soft wheat-dough ball that has been dipped in a little almond oil and turmeric is used and then it is gently rolled on the baby for the following six-days. This is thought to enhance the baby’s circulation and to aid in the expulsion of toxins, as well as helping the digestive system. The ball is then used for an additional three weeks before actual hand massages are given. Infant massage is viewed "as instilling fearlessness, hardening bone structure, enhancing movement and limb coordination and increasing weight"(Reissland, pg. 231-239)


> Benefits

Once pharmaceuticals came into the picture back in the 1940s, massage therapy was pushed aside, but today doctors have seen the benefits of massage therapy and recommend them as secondary treatments. Infant massage involves continuous stroking and rubbing to stimulate and enhance both physical and cognitive development.

When compared, pre term infants who have received massage while still under care in neonatal care units, increased body weight more than those who did not. This is due to higher insulin levels and IGF-1 in their blood. Measured by reading the electroencephalography activity and visual acuity in the visual cortex; IGF-1 also accelerates neural development. They see other benefits as well, such as increased bone density, head circumference, bone length as well as bone mineralization. As mentioned, babies also slept better and their blood flow increased during massages. Their higher body temperatures proved this. There was also higher psychomotor and mental development, which was noted to be significantly higher on index scores. The amount of pressure applied also seemed to be important, with moderate pressure winning out over light.

When massaged prior to getting blood tests and injections done on the heel, leg pain was reduced when compared to the babies who did not get massaged. Mothers who massaged their preterm babies also benefited and tended to have shorter hospital stays, less chance of post delivery sepsis and lower anxiety.

In full term infants benefits were also shown. Babies were better sleepers; they had good temperaments and cried less. Babies are also generally longer and show more weight gain. Massage seemed to improve an infant’s ability to regulate stress hormones too. This was due to a decrease in the right frontal EEG symmetry in infants of one-month of age, thereby improving their mood when interacting with other infants. Mothers who had postnatal depression were also able to reduce their own depression and better connect with their babies.


> Oils

Like adult massages, infant massage includes oils. Although Mustard Oil was once used, it has been known to affect a newborn’s skin and permeability and therefore should not be used. The most common used today are Linoleate Enriched Oils like Sunflower oil. Sesame oil is also used; both are harmless and also beneficially improve skin. In fact, Sesame oil has been proven to improve the infant’s body length and additionally, mid-arm and leg circumferences were larger as was the babies weight.

Infant massage is obviously important and beneficial, but it is only one of the many things we do for our children. New parents continually discover new ways to aid their babies and why wouldn’t they? We all want to do what is best for our children.


> Kangaroo Care:

Another beneficial tool used with preterm babies. It first started in South America, because there was a lack of baby equipment and due to the increased risk of infection in the hospital. It is a bond between a parent and their preterm baby, a form of skin-to-skin contact. The naked or diapered baby is held against the parent’s bare chest in an upright position for twenty minutes to an hour. It is often done in conjunction with breastfeeding.

  • Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing United States Institute for Kangaroo Care
  • Australian Breastfeeding Association an article is based on their booklet Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby. Includes breastfeeding and Kangaroo care information.
  • BBC News Kent article: Babies gain from 'kangaroo' care study at Kent hospital

    > Babywearing

    The act of actually wearing your baby. Using carriers or slings keeps the baby in constant contact with the caregiver who is carrying them. As with kangaroo care, the baby can feel the caregiver’s body warmth and can also hear their heartbeat, which calms them.


    > Swaddling

    Swaddling a baby is something that has been done for centuries by people, but for some reason dropped out of favor in western cultures, while being common in eastern cultures. It has however become more common in childcare circles as a way of comforting an infant. Swaddling leaves a baby feeling as secure and comforted as it did in the womb, making it easier for them to sleep and is especially effective for colicky babies and in the prevention of SIDS.

    • More 4 Kids article: Benefits Of Swaddling Your Baby by Patricia Hughes
    • Canadian Family Soothing Your Baby With Swaddling with a how to swaddle guide
    • SIDS Center Swaddling and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

    > Haptic Communication

    Communication through touch. Touch is a strong sense for humans; it gives us information such as temperature, texture and is a vital component of nonverbal communication. Often such communication is expressed through hugs, handshakes, sexual acts and simple pats on the back in adults. For an infant it is the very first sense, one that develops in the womb. In fact, babies who are born without a sense of touch often struggle to even survive.


    Understanding Infant Massage