7 Tips on How to Massage a Baby to Sleep

Last Updated: 
July 2, 2024
 | 
12
 minutes read
Written by
Elina Furman
Founder Kahlmi

Navigating the world of infant sleep can be a challenge for any new parent. In your quest for a good night's sleep, have you considered the transformative power of baby massage? This gentle practice goes beyond relaxation, significantly improving your baby's sleep quality.

Read on for more about the benefits of baby massage for sleep and how to massage your baby to sleep.

Benefits of Baby Massage for Sleep

Clinical studies show the profound connection between baby massage and improved sleep. A 2023 study demonstrated that a 15-minute nightly massage over two weeks led to a significant reduction in the time it took babies to fall asleep. It also contributed to fewer waking episodes and extended sleep cycles.

Tiffany Field, a renowned neonatal massage researcher, delved into the impact of a 15-minute massage before bedtime over a month. The results were remarkable, especially in addressing sleep onset issues in babies up to 1.5 years old. This underlines the enduring positive effects that a consistent massage routine can have on your baby's sleep patterns.

The benefits of massaging your baby include:

  • Serotonin Boost and Cortisol Reduction: Baby massage works wonders on the biochemical level. It stimulates the release of serotonin, the precursor to melatonin, promoting a natural sleep-inducing rhythm. At the same time, cortisol levels, the stress hormone, are reduced, alleviating anxiety and creating a serene start to bedtime.
  • Positive Impact on Bonding: Integrating a nightly baby massage into your routine isn't just about sleep; it's about forging a strong bond with your little one. The tactile connection during massage sets the stage for successful nap and nighttime sleep, creating a positive association with bedtime.
  • Building Lifelong Sleep Habits: While it's essential to manage expectations, recognizing that baby massage won't perform miraculous transformations on a restless sleeper, the importance of massage lies in consistency. Establishing a regular massage routine contributes significantly to your baby's overall sleep quality, fostering habits that can last a lifetime. If you’re curious how else to build healthy sleep habits in your baby and help them sleep better at night, take this free 3-minute sleep quiz to get a step-by-step plan for where to start.
  • Relieve Constipation: If your baby is constipated or has a stomach-ache, massage to help baby poop is proven to help. Massaging your baby’s belly or feet may be able to move milk or formula, improve any blockages, or relieve pains from being gassy.

Soothing Your Baby with Massage  

Baby massage creates a deep connection, providing a sense of attachment and security for independent sleep. Addressing separation anxiety, which starts around 3 months, baby massage minimizes dependence on sleep associations, enabling babies to self-soothe without parental help. Starting baby massage at birth and continuing into toddler and adolescent years helps soothe anxiety and stress.

If your baby is struggling with separation anxiety or is dependent on sleep associations to fall asleep, give the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app a try. The app is built by pediatricians and baby sleep experts to help you complement baby massage with a biologically aligned sleep schedule and comforting bedtime routine, which are proven to help your baby fall asleep faster – and stay asleep longer.

How to Massage a Baby to Sleep

Learning baby massage is fairly simple. You just need to focus on staying calm, catching your baby before they become overtired, and maintaining a consistent routine.

Tip 1: The Perfect Bedtime Routine

Babies are creatures of habit. If you’re struggling to get your baby on a consistent sleep schedule, you’re not alone. Your baby’s circadian rhythms don’t really begin to regulate until 3 months of age and longer for some. But there is so much we can do as parents to help lay a foundation of proper sleep habits. By creating a nightly bedtime routine you will be providing your baby with a strong sleep association that will not only calm and relax them but teach them how to distinguish between daytime and nighttime hours.

Tip 2:  Mindset is Everything

Facing unpredictable nights can be stressful. Acknowledge that stress, though not your fault, affects your baby. In moments of agitation and stress, try to take deep breaths and calm yourself first, understanding that being a baby in a new world is challenging. Your baby also soaks up your mood and will reflect your feelings back to you which is why it’s so important to calm and center yourself first.

Tip 3: Create a Soothing Environment

Enhance the experience of baby massage by creating a soothing atmosphere. Creating a comfortable environment and respecting your baby's cues ensures a positive and enjoyable massage experience.

  • Ambiance: Turn on relaxing music, dim the lights, and ensure the room is set to the right temperature.
  • Permission: Before starting, ask your baby if they would like a massage. Observe their mood – if they appear alert and happy, they're ready. If they tense up or look away, try waiting a bit.
  • Warm Your Hands: Rub your hands together to avoid chilling the baby during the massage.
  • Pressure: Use a gentle yet firm pressure. Avoid being too light, as it may feel ticklish to the baby. Medium pressure is much like gently kneading dough.
  • Time Management: Keep the first massage to 10 minutes, gradually extending to 15 minutes as the baby becomes familiar with the routine.
  • Wait for It: Perform the massage before feeding, avoiding a full belly. Or if you have to massage right after feeding to avoid over tiredness, make sure to avoid massaging their tummy for 20 minutes after a feed.
  • Responsive Approach: If your baby becomes fussy or starts crying, stop the massage and resume at a later time.

How to Massage Your Baby Before Sleep

When it comes to massaging your newborn, striking the right balance is crucial. Gentle strokes are essential, avoiding excessive pressure while still ensuring it's not too light, preventing the baby from feeling ticklish. Opt for medium pressure to create a soothing experience.

Baby Arms and Legs Massage for Sleep:

  • Stabilize your baby with one hand and, with the opposite hand, gently glide from shoulder to hand, repeating three times for each arm.
  • Apply the same technique for the legs, moving from their thigh to their feet. For a soothing sleep massage, always massage in the direction away from the heart, as it is less stimulating for the baby.

Baby Belly Massage for Sleep:

  • Place your hand flat against the baby's belly.
  • Make circular strokes on your baby’s belly in small clockwise circles, applying gentle but firm pressure.
  • Avoid the belly button area, especially for babies under 1 month.

Baby Back Massage for Sleep:

  • After arms, legs, and belly massage, turn your newborn onto their belly for tummy time.
  • Gently rub their back using the same circular motion as used on their bellies.
  • Use your hands as paddles and stroke across the back in a zig-zag motion to their bottoms.
  • Make small circles using the pads of your fingers alongside their spine running down from shoulders to their buttocks.

Baby Face Massage for Sleep:

  • After massaging the back, gently roll your newborn back onto their back.
  • Place both hands on your child's forehead and trace your index finger from the top of their head down to the bridge of the nose, repeating several times.
  • Place two fingers on your baby’s brows and stroke outward to their temples, repeating 10-15 times until they grow sleepier.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of baby massage for sleep are not merely anecdotal but supported by scientific evidence. By embracing this gentle practice, you not only enhance your baby's sleep but also create cherished moments of connection that will resonate throughout your parenting journey. Sweet dreams await!  

Incorporating newborn massage into your routine not only contributes to your baby's overall well-being but also offers you a precious opportunity to connect and unwind together. Pay attention to your baby's cues, allowing this intimate practice to become a cherished ritual in your parenting journey. As you navigate the intricacies of early parenthood, let the art of newborn massage be a source of joy, relaxation, and meaningful connection.

Always pay attention to your baby's cues and ensure a gentle and loving touch throughout the process.

Step-by-Step Gentle Sleep Training

Few Parents Know, falling Asleep is a learned skill. Just like rolling, crawling, walking and talking – babies need help to master sleep.

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FAQs:

Baby massage is not just a nice-to-have; it's a must-have. Beyond aiding in your baby's social, neurological, and emotional development, it also supports your journey through parenthood, fostering a deeper bond and understanding with your baby. The beauty is that you don't need to dedicate extensive time. A quick 5-minute massage can easily be integrated into your daily routine whenever your baby is alert and content, whether during bath time, diaper changes, playtime, or even while on the go. Consistency is key.

Performing baby massage after a bath can be a wonderful and beneficial routine. The relaxation from the combined bath and massage can contribute to better sleep. This can be particularly helpful if you establish this routine as part of your bedtime ritual, signaling to your baby that it's time to wind down. A warm bath already helps to relax your baby's muscles and calm their nervous system. Following it up with a gentle massage can enhance this relaxation, setting the stage for a more peaceful bedtime. After a bath, your baby's skin may have lost some natural oils. Applying an organic, unrefined baby massage oil after the bath and during the massage helps moisturize their skin, preventing dryness and keeping it soft. When choosing an oil, always look for organic ingredients and do a skin patch test first before you apply it liberally. The combination of bath and massage creates a special bonding time between you and your baby. The tactile stimulation during massage enhances the emotional connection, providing a comforting experience.

Yes, you can massage your baby when they wake up, but it's crucial to approach middle of the night massages with care and sensitivity. Use extremely gentle and light strokes during the massage to avoid stimulating your baby. The goal is to provide comfort and relaxation without disturbing their sleep. Make sure to keep the room dark when you massage so they don’t associate massage with daytime activities. Be cautious not to make sudden or jarring movements that could startle your baby. Gradual and slow motions can help maintain their sleep state Concentrate on massaging areas that are less likely to disturb your baby, such as their legs and arms. Avoid sensitive areas like the face or abdomen during sleep.

Baby massage is all about two-way communication. There is really no “right or wrong,” provided your baby seems calm and happy and you are paying attention to their cues. It’s important to observe your baby's reactions during the massage. If they seem content, relaxed, and showing positive cues like cooing or smiling, you are doing it right. If your baby appears more settled and content after the massage, it's a positive sign. Watch for signs of positive body language, such as your baby's arms and legs relaxing, their face appearing content, and their body language indicating comfort. If your baby is not showing signs of discomfort, such as crying, fussiness, or pulling away, it's an indication that the massage is likely pleasurable for them. If the sleep quality after massage improves over time and you baby tends sleeps well and peacefully afterward, you should continue your practice. Remember that baby massage is not only for your baby's benefit but also for the bonding experience between you and your baby. If you are enjoying the time spent with your baby, it's likely that you are doing it right.

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How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources

Early Child Development and Care, “Sleep Problems in Infants Decrease Following Massage Therapy:

Journal of Neonatal Nursing, “The efficacy of massage as a nightly bedtime routine on infant sleep condition and mother sleep quality: A randomized controlled trial”

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