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The power of touch: new research shows baby massage eases postnatal depression

Baby massage is well-known for its many benefits for babies such as promoting relaxation, aiding in digestion, soothing fussiness and enhancing parent-child bonding. However, a new study has found that baby massage also helps mums too, especially those experiencing postnatal depression. Here’s what you need to know…

What was the study about?

Researchers in London were aware of the power of baby massage for infants but wanted to know if there were benefits for mums, especially those experiencing postnatal depression symptoms. Eight different studies revealed that baby massage helped to boost mood, improved attachment eased anxiety and also helped the women to feel more confident in their new role as mothers.

The study involved observing mothers before and after they participated in baby massage classes. The women were asked to share how they felt before the class and then again after the class. The research revealed that the women experiencing postnatal depression reported that their symptoms had eased signficantly after the class had finished. There’s still more research to be done but the study highlights the importance of physical touch for both baby and mother in the early newborn days.

If you’re curious about baby massage and wondering if it might help you and your baby, read on for what to do…

How do I do baby massage?

Here are some tips for setting up for baby massage to make it enjoyable for both you and baby:

  1. Prepare: Find a warm, quiet area. Lay a soft towel or blanket on a flat surface like a bed or changing table.
  2. Use baby-safe oil: Pick a natural, baby-safe oil like coconut or grapeseed oil. We love this one from Kit & Kin. Warm a small amount in your hands before applying.
  3. Start slowly: Use gentle, slow strokes, always maintaining skin-to-skin contact. You can start with the legs, moving from the thighs down to the feet using long, smooth motions. Then move to the arms, tummy, and back.
  4. Techniques: Explore different techniques like gentle kneading of the muscles, circular motions on the tummy in a clockwise direction (which may help with digestion), or lightly tracing your fingers along your baby’s body.
  5. Follow baby’s cues: Watch your baby’s cues. If they seem uncomfortable or fussy, adjust your pressure or technique. Always be responsive to their reactions.
  6. Communication: Talk softly to your baby during the massage. Maintain eye contact, smile, and reassure them through your words and tone.
  7. Duration: A baby massage can last anywhere from a few minutes to around 15 minutes, depending on your baby’s interest and comfort level.

Remember, there’s no strict routine. Every baby is different, so pay attention to your baby’s cues and preferences. The most crucial aspect is to create a loving and soothing experience for both you and your baby.

Step-by-step guide

Here’s a top to toe guide you could try:

  • Legs: Start with gentle strokes on the legs, moving from thighs down to the feet. Use soft, rhythmic motions and observe how your baby responds.
  • Arms: Move on to the arms, using similar gentle strokes from shoulders to fingertips. Pay attention to your baby’s reactions and adjust pressure accordingly.
  • Tummy: Massaging the tummy can aid digestion and relaxation. Use very gentle, circular motions in a clockwise direction. If your baby seems uncomfortable, you can skip this area.
  • Chest and Back: Use soft strokes on the chest and back, avoiding pressure on the spine. Gentle, flowing motions can be soothing for some babies.
  • Face and Head: Finish with gentle touches on the face and head. Very light strokes or gentle caresses can be calming.

If you’re still unsure, check out this video below.

How long should the massage last?

The length of the massage will really depend on how much time you have and how long your baby is comfortable. We recommend starting with a few minutes and to go from there. You’ll probably find that your baby starts to become a bit bored or uncomfortable after 10 – 15 minutes.

Initially, start with shorter sessions, especially if your baby is new to massage. Pay attention to your baby’s cues during the massage. If they seem relaxed, content, and enjoying the experience, you can gradually extend the massage time.

However, if your baby becomes fussy, seems uncomfortable, or loses interest, it’s best to end the massage. The key is to keep the experience positive and enjoyable for your baby. Quality matters more than quantity when it comes to baby massage. Building trust and creating a soothing, loving atmosphere is the primary goal.

How often should I do baby massage?

You can massage your baby as often as both you and your baby enjoy it. You might opt for a daily massage or 2-3 times a week might be more achievable. Ultimately, the decision on how often to massage your baby depends on what feels right for both you and your baby. As you continue, you’ll likely figure out a routine that works best for your family.

What’s the best baby oil or cream to use?

It’s essential to choose oils or creams that are gentle, hypoallergenic, and safe for delicate baby skin. Some popular options include coconut and grape-seed oil because they are light and usually very soft on baby’s skin. Natural, unscented options are also generally preferred as they have fewer chemical and are fragrance-free. Scroll down for our top recommendations.

Always conduct a patch test before using a new oil or cream to check for any allergic reactions or sensitivities. Apply a small amount on a small area of your baby’s skin and observe for any adverse reactions within 24 hours. Keep a close eye on your baby’s skin for any potential reactions and if you have any concerns or doubts, consult with your health visitor or GP.

What should I do if my baby cries during the massage?

One day your baby might love baby massage and the next day they might scream the place down – and that’s totally normal! Here’s a few things you can do if your baby starts to get upset:

  • Pause and comfort: Stop the massage immediately and comfort your baby. Pick your baby up, talk softly, and reassure them with gentle touches or cuddles. Let them know you’re there and that they’re safe.
  • Check for discomfort: Assess if there’s a particular area or stroke that might have caused discomfort. Sometimes, a change in pressure or technique might help.
  • Observe cues: Watch for signs of discomfort or distress. If your baby continues to cry or seems upset, it’s best to end the massage session for that time.
  • Try again later: Wait for another time when your baby is calm and content to try the massage again. Babies’ moods and comfort levels can change throughout the day, so there might be a more suitable time for a massage.
  • Reassess approach: Consider adjusting your approach, technique, or the oil used. Your baby might have preferences that you’ll discover through trial and error.

Should my baby be naked for the massage?

Keeping your baby comfortable during a massage is important. While you might prefer to perform a baby massage with your baby naked, they don’t have to be. A positive of baby being naked is that it allows for easier access to the skin, especially if you’re applying oil or lotion. It also provides full skin-to-skin contact, which you might find beneficial.

If you prefer though, you can perform a massage with your baby partially clothed. Using loose-fitting clothes or leaving on a nappy might make your baby feel more comfortable. Whatever you decide, make sure the room is comfortably warm to prevent your baby from getting cold during the massage. Using a soft towel or blanket to cover parts of the baby’s body not being massaged can help maintain warmth.

What age is it OK to start baby massage?

You can start massaging your baby at any age, even from the first few weeks after birth. Many parents begin incorporating gentle massages into their baby’s routine during the first few months of life.

As newborns are adjusting to the world outside the womb, gentle touch through massage can be soothing and help with relaxation. Always ensure the massage is gentle, using appropriate pressure and techniques suitable for the baby’s delicate skin.

As your child grows, always keep in mind that it’s essential to respect your child’s boundaries and preferences. Some children might enjoy massages for many months or years, while others might lose interest as they become more independent. Always observe their cues and adjust your approach accordingly.


Remember, baby massage is as much about your enjoyment as it is for your baby. There’s no right or wrong of doing it. As long as you’re relaxed , your baby will pick up on the vibes and join in the fun. And if it all falls apart because your baby chooses that time to do a massive poo, then just hit pause and try again another day.


Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. the resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. you should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

Birthbabe is supported by the beautiful babes who enjoy our content. We only recommend products used and approved by mamas, however we may receive an affiliate commission.

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