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Baby massage

7-minute read

Key facts

  • You can massage your baby at any time you feel relaxed and have time.
  • Long gentle strokes can help babies feel more relaxed and help them to settle.
  • There is no one ‘right’ way to massage — what’s important is to be gentle and soothing.
  • It’s important to be sensitive to your baby’s responses when they have a massage.
  • Be prepared to practise and build on your massage skills. With time, you’ll become more confident.

What are the benefits of massaging my baby?

Most babies like to be massaged and respond to calm, gentle and rhythmic stroking. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to baby massage — what’s important is that you take your time and enjoy the process as much as your baby does.

Massage is useful because it:

  • can be a good way to boost communication between a parent and their baby
  • helps with relaxation — massage before settling to sleep can be a good way for a baby to relax
  • helps to relieve tummy discomfort and calm a baby when they are irritable
  • supports close emotional connection and trust between a parent and their baby
  • provides an opportunity for fathers and partners to spend quality time with their baby
  • is a good way to share time with a baby which isn’t centred around feeding and settling
  • massage is a simple but effective way of building a sense of trust and security

When is the best time to massage my baby?

Many parents find the best time to offer their baby a massage is before their bath. This is often a special time of the day (or night), which is enjoyable and fun. However, massage can be done at any time, ideally when you’re not in a rush and have time to spend connecting with your baby.

Plan for time when the room you’re going to use is warm. If it’s winter, make sure the temperature is comfortably heated so your baby doesn’t feel cold when they’re undressed.

Baby massage does not need to take up a lot of time. You may find it suits you better to have a couple of short massage sessions each day, rather than one long massage.

Every baby is an individual and their tolerance for massage is unique. You may find your baby prefers a couple of minutes of stroking on their arms and legs to a full body massage.

How do I prepare to massage my baby?

  • Set up the room and area where you’ll be massaging your baby. Plan for what you’ll need and have everything close at hand.
  • Make sure the room is comfortably warm and the room temperature is right for you and your baby.
  • Use your baby’s change table or another table which is a comfortable height for you. It’s also fine to massage your baby on the floor when they’re lying on a towel or change mat.
  • Choose a massage oil or lotion which is labelled as safe for baby’s skin. Most edible vegetable oils are fine to use (for example, olive, coconut, almond or sunflower oil) and glide easily across the skin. Babies have very sensitive skin and can react to products that contain fragrances. The benefit of using massage oil or lotion is to reduce friction from the parents’ hands as they stroke the baby’s skin. These products are often moisturising and help to soothe skin irritation.
  • Plan for a time when you’re feeling calm and relaxed. Babies are sensitive to their environment and respond positively when their parents aren’t stressed. Don’t worry if you don’t have the opportunity to massage your baby every day.

How do I massage my baby?

Before you start massaging your baby, ask their permission if it’s okay. Although your baby won’t understand the words, this is a valuable way of acknowledging their body as their own.

  • Undress your baby, leaving only their nappy on.
  • Keep talking to your baby and tell them what you’re doing.
  • Start at their feet and work your way upwards.
  • Use long, gentle strokes to massage each foot, ankle, lower leg and upper thigh. Once you’ve done one leg, massage the other.
  • Massage your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction and ‘bicycle’ their legs.
  • Use circular strokes to massage their tummy and chest.
  • Work your way down each of their arms and play ‘this little piggie’ games with their fingers and toes.
  • Gently stroke your baby’s face, forehead, ears and head.
  • Turn your baby onto their tummy and repeat the above.

Important safety tips for massage

  • Never leave your baby unattended on their change table. Even before they learn to roll, babies start building skills towards being more active.
  • Avoid putting massage oil or lotion on your baby’s hands or near their mouth or eyes.
  • Apply a small amount of the massage oil or lotion on your baby’s skin to test for reactions the first time you use it.
  • Avoid using nut-based oils unless you know your baby is not allergic to nuts.
  • Avoid using mustard oil as it can create a burning sensation.

Speak with your Midwife or Child Health Nurse if you have any questions about massaging your baby.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023


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