Baby massage and the importance of positive touch on infants

baby massage

Massage therapist Joanna Cooper extols the virtues of baby massage for both the mother (or father) and baby, discussing the ancient Indian ritualistic roots – and the scientific benefits…

Joanna Cooper has been a massage therapist for over 14 years, and runs a busy mobile massage business called Home Spa London, offering bespoke treatments in your own home. She also teaches private baby massage classes to parents in groups or privately within the home.

Touch for humans is very important; arguably the most significant sense we have. Through training and practising as a massage therapist for adults – and then learning baby massage, and how to teach parents the techniques, as well as working with children who have disabilities – I have seen firsthand just how important touch is for us all.

Interestingly, the first awareness for a baby to develop in the womb is that of touch. They feel the warmth of the mother surrounding them. Once that baby is born, the first 18 months are so important to their growth, particularly with regards to certain parts of the brain development and structure. The very way a baby is touched and nurtured, spoken to and looked at can determine how their brains develop. It’s all about the release of chemicals to the brain, which helps them to grow and develop.

Baby massage history

Infant massage has become more popular in the western world recently mainly thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Leboyer and Vimala McClure (founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, and with whom I trained). Their work began after observing motherhood in India, where baby and infant massage has a strong influence. Mothers are taught to massage their babies from birth and it is part of their daily routine; passed down through the generations. It’s possibly an ancient ritual from many other cultures, too.

Skin-to-skin contact

Babies are designed to be in close contact with their mothers. Their neurological wiring is so unique that skin-to-skin contact, immediately after birth and in the early weeks of life, promotes the release of very specific hormones in both mother and baby that are essential for healthy development. Babies that are in frequent skin-to-skin contact with their mothers tend to be: calmer and more alert, better able to regulate their body temperature and organise their sleep/wake cycles and find breastfeeding easier.

Baby massage can also help to strengthen and regulate the digestive system, relieving the symptoms of colic and constipation. And it also teaches babies how to be aware of their body’s tension and how to release it – an invaluable gift for life.

There is no set way to massage your baby – provided you know how to do it safely, you and your baby will discover what’s best for you both. It is important to remember, however, that massage is something you do ‘with’, rather than ‘to’ your baby. If you take a baby massage class, you will learn strokes on the legs, tummy, chest, arms, face and back. We also use our voices to connect and speak to the babies as well as using lots of eye contact. The parents I have taught have seen the benefits of baby massage, not just with the obvious things like sleep improvement and for helping to reduce tummy pain – but also the bond and love that is strengthened through that one-to-one time. It’s such a lovely way to get close to your baby, through giving them a loving massage.; email:; telephone: 020 3714 8064