8 Reasons to massage your baby by Rachel Pailes

Touching your baby is instinctive and irresistible. Even whilst in the womb mothers, fathers, siblings and even extended family members feel a deep need to touch and connect with babies as part of the bonding process that happens in utero.   This desire does not change once the baby is born. Touch is the first sense in a foetus to develop as early as 7-8 weeks gestation and thus babies are born understanding and responding to the language of touch. Nurturing touch helps meet a baby’s need for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation and movement (The Natural Parents Network) and includes holding, rocking, carrying, caressing, stroking and skin-to-skin contact.

Infant massage is also a tool of positive nurturing touch and is much more than a indulgent physical therapy. Infant massage gives parents’ permission to follow their intuition of touching their baby, which has long lasting benefits for both the baby and parents/care giver outlined below.

  1. Close physical contact has been found to be essential to an infant’s health and survival in nearly every bird and mammal ever studied. Like massage, animals lick their young to stimulate physiological systems and bond the young to the mother. For example cats spend over 50% of their time licking their kittens; without this type of stimulation newborn kittens die. Studies of premature infants, who were massaged when discharged from hospital, were found to be both ahead in both neurological development and weight gain at 4 months of age compared to a group who received usual newborn care (Rice 1977).
  2. Stress is a natural part of an infant’s life and is essential for brain development; however without the opposing relaxation, stress can lead to overstimulation and exhaustion. Our modern world is full of sensory input making it difficult for babies to switch off and relax.   Infant massage allows babies to practice handling sensory input and responding with relaxation rather than stress. This raises their stimulation threshold and alters their on-going stress response and tension levels.
  3. Baby massage helps parent and infant bonding as it involves all of the key elements of bonding. The primary elements being skin contact, eye contact, vocalisation and the baby’s response to the parent. Baby massage is a special time for parents and babies to observe, respond and react in a 2-way uninterrupted sensory conversation. Being able to recognise babies engagement and disengagement cues, knowing their threshold for stimulation and how their body expresses tension and relaxation increases parent confidence and feelings of competence.
  4. Fathers also have parenting hormones that are activated by close contact with their infants. Infant massage gives them permission to stay “in touch” with their baby and enhances bonding so that babies learn that their fathers can also recognise their needs and respond to them.
  5. Infant massage provides young babies with all the stimulation they need. A human face is dynamic, expressive and responsive. No sound can replace the sound of a mothers singing voice or a father telling a story and no one can invent a gadget that substitutes for a parents loving touch. As infant massage is led by the baby, their arousal level can easily be graded and the level of stimulation provided tailored to the baby on that particular day.
  6. Many people seek out infant massage to help with relief; primarily relief from wind and gas. Tummy massage, when performed regularly can help an infant’s immature gastrointestinal system eliminate trapped wind and gas. The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) have developed a specific tummy routine for the relief of gas and wind which they recommend should be performed at least twice a day to help with symptoms.
  7. Another important part of the IAIM programme is asking babies permission for massage to take place before starting. This is done through a preparatory routine that lets the baby know and prepare for what is about to happen allowing then to relax before massage even begins. If a baby is showing signs of disengagement or unwillingness to participate then as parents the IAIM states that we look to change something or try another time. This teaches babies from an early age that they are in charge of their bodies, they have the right to say no and the teaches values of healthy v’s unhealthy touch from an early age.
  8. Positive touch is not just something that applies to babies. The IAIM programme discusses how to maintain a physical relationship with a growing child throughout infancy, childhood and beyond. Touch is so powerful that even in strangers it is able to convey compassion, gratitude and love more easily than facial and verbal communication. Infant massage is a lifelong parenting skill and maintaining physical closeness to your growing child reinforces lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, trust and respect that will be carried forward by your children and passed down to those they in turn love.

‘Infant Massage is not a fad. It is an ancient art that connects you deeply with the person that is your baby’. Vimala McClure founder of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM).


To learn more about the IAIM programme and Infant Massage please follow this link where you can find a class local to you!


Written by Rachel Pailes who is a Children’s Physiotherapist and Infant Massage Instructor with the IAIM. Rachel is part of the Pregnancy and Parenthood Team of specialists who are based from Rowan House Health and Wellbeing Centre in Hethersett and teaches groups and 1 to 1 sessions on a regular basis. Her next 5 week course starts Friday 24th November follow this link to read more about Rachel, her classes and how to book!