A little baby smiles big as they get a massage.
A good massage can promote better health for your little one. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Nursing, warm blankets and soft onesies—a baby’s life is carefree, right?

They can’t get stressed, can they? Well they do, in fact, and it’s not easy for them or the parents. Just ask any mother or father who’s up at 3 a.m. trying to soothe a fussy little one into the wee hours of the morning.

A massage can be an excellent way to improve a baby’s disposition and promote better health. Here are some great reasons to give your baby a massage:

  • It promotes better sleep for your baby. What new parents don’t want more sleep for themselves, too?
  • It helps your baby relax.
  • It promotes bonding between parent and baby. This is something dad can do with baby, too.
  • It boosts the immune system.
  • It improves blood circulation.
  • It helps digestion and can help relieve constipation.
  • It stimulates the production of oxytocin, which has a calming effect.
  • It helps you learn how to calm your baby.
  • It’s shown to increase weight gain for preemies.
  • It helps lessen depression in moms.
  • It can be done on a “mini” level just about anywhere.

So when do you begin an infant massage and how do you do it? Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial‘s infant massage instructor, Jessica Wimmer, suggests waiting until the baby is 2 weeks old and gaining weight. Keep in mind, however, this shouldn’t stop you from rubbing the baby’s head or face, as many mothers do right after birth.

Here are some helpful tips for massaging your baby:

  • Find a good time for it, such as when the baby is full but not immediately after feeding. A massage before your baby’s fussy time can be effective, Wimmer said.
  • Make sure you are focused. A massage shouldn’t be done when you’re watching TV or talking on the phone; you should be focusing on your baby.
  • Place the baby on his back on a good, comfortable surface.
  • The baby should only be wearing a diaper, but you should cover him with a towel or blanket.
  • It’s recommended to use cooking oil, such as olive or coconut, not a baby lotion. The baby could get some lotion on his hands, then in his mouth.
  • Start with your baby’s head, using gentle, circular motions around the face. Work down the shoulders and chest. Next do the arms, then the legs. Don’t forget the back.
  • Work gently and speak softly to your baby.

In the beginning you might only get in a few minutes of massage, and that’s OK.

You’ll soon learn what your baby likes best, and the experience will grow from there. Babies anticipate massage time—they’ll start to lift the next body part to you after a few massage sessions.

A massage is great for your baby and for you, and it works even as your child gets older. My youngest son still likes massages. When he was a preschooler, gently massaging his arms helped him to sit still in church.

Try a massage with your baby—and be sure to tell us how it goes in the comments below.