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Let’s be honest, most of us love massage, and why would babies be any different? Massage may help with colic, but what soothes one baby may frustrate another. There’s no way of knowing if something works for your child unless you try it.

All babies cry and good that they do because it’s the only way to communicate their needs and call for attention. As parents, it’s in our nature to respond promptly to those cries. [1] But what are we supposed to do when the crying occurs for no apparent reason, and it goes on for hours?

If a baby cries intensely for several hours, with a painful look on their face, and they're hard, almost impossible, to console, they may have colicky pain. The symptoms start approximately at the same time of the day. As “colic” is not a disease but rather a group of symptoms and behaviors, it’s on us to try to soothe our children and try different methods available. Some parents prefer white noise to calm their child; others turn to natural remedies to relieve colicky pain in infants such as chamomile or switching formula, and some parents even choose over-the-counter medications such as Simethicone drops.

Can You Ease Your Baby’s Colic?

Babies with symptoms of colic usually strain while crying so it looks like they’re in much pain. If a baby looks gassy and bloated, infant massage may help to pass gas and relieve the symptoms, as the redness and straining often stop shortly after passing gas or a stool.

When my baby was fussy in the evenings a couple of months ago, I didn't find massage helpful at all in the moments of crying, as she was too stiff and restless. What we would do is massage her every time we changed her, even on days when she didn't have the fussy or gassy period.

You’ll barely achieve anything by massaging your child when they’re in the agony of colic. It makes sense, as physiotherapists wouldn't go crazy on your back while you're dealing with inflammation.

Massaging your baby’s tummy before their usual crying bouts are about start may help to pass the excess gas and make upcoming colicky pain easier. Babies love skin-to-skin contact.  

The Importance Of Skin-To-Skin Contact

Generations of mothers all around the world have known that their warm and soft hands are able to soothe and communicate their love to their babies, and it’s now backed by science. Studies have found that skin-to-skin contact (SSC) supports the establishment and maintenance of breastfeeding, but also aids the stability of the cardio-respiratory system in infants [2].

When incorporated into the usual behavior and newborn care, skin-to-skin contact promotes many mother-infant health benefits. Unlike babies who are kept in a crib or swaddled after birth, skin-to-skin held babies stay calmer, warmer, cry less, and have healthier blood sugar levels. [34]

Babies can be comforted by skin to skin contact by dads too, or other relatives; it’s not strictly attributed to mothers. Not only does soothing the baby this way aid their health, it is thought that parents who hold babies skin to skin are more relaxed and have higher confidence. [5]

Can Massage Ease My Baby's Colicky Pain?

“Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents” is a good read to get yourself acquainted with the basics of infant massage, not only for colic, but other issues typical for babies such as fussing, nasal congestion, and fever. [6]

If you’re wondering if massage can ease your baby’s colicky pain, the answer is — yes! Massage significantly improved the symptoms during a one-week study conducted on infants with colic. [7]

Abdominal massage is efficient in preventing distension, feeding intolerances, and vomiting in preterm babies. It is recommended that nurses apply abdominal massage twice a day to prevent abdominal distension due to accumulation of fluids or gas in preemies’ abdomens. [8]

Massage Techniques To Ease Tummy Troubles

Technique number one — There are many ways to massage an infant. Besides the power of touch, a gentle pressure to a baby’s abdomen may bring relief to a colicky baby. Place the baby flat on their back.

You can apply some coconut or lavender oil, but simple baby oil will do the trick too. We massaged our baby girl without any oil numerous times. Your warm and loving hands are what’s important.

With the right hand near the top of your baby’s rib cage, bring your hand down in the sweeping motion, pressing the belly gently. Repeat with the left hand, then again the right, and so on. I call this method the "waterfall". After 30 seconds, lift the baby’s knees up, hold for a few seconds, and release. Repeat the process a couple of times. The point is to bring gas down (sweeping) and out (by lifting the legs).

Technique number two — Place your fingers over your baby’s belly button and massage gently the area around it in a clockwise motion. Do this for two minutes or so. This helps to relieve gas and stimulate the bowel movement. Repeat several times a day. It's easiest to do it after diaper change. You can also “pedal” the baby’s legs (similar to riding a bicycle). My daughter at almost nine months of age still enjoys the bike-riding movements; we still do it when she’s gassy and bloated and even have a song to go with it.

Technique number three — Another good way to massage an infant is to put them face-down over your lap or carry them upright with the tummy against your shoulder. There’s also a classic “colic carry”, where the baby lies face-down with the belly resting on your forearm. This position suits fathers better as they usually have longer arms. Rub the baby’s back or pat them gently as long as you’re holding them.

Technique number four — And this worked for us best — place the baby on the back and gently rub in the circular motion the area directly under the right rib cage. Do it approximately for 30 seconds and then turn the baby on the right side. At this point, we’d often hear her relieve gas. This should be repeated on the other side as well.

To Sum Things Up

There are a number of ways to massage an infant and all babies respond to massage differently. What’s important to mention is that massage helps the stomach work better. Gentle pressure may relieve gas and prevent constipation.

The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics supports the effects of massage on infantile colic. The scientists claim the massage stimulates melatonin and rest-activity rhythms. [910] Whatever technique you and your baby prefer, couple of minutes is enough to soothe the child and ease the colicky pain in infants, but also promote bond between you and your precious child.

Just remember it’s hard to do anything if the baby is too upset — conduct any massage when the baby is in a good mood, prior to colicky crying. Be patient; massage can do a lot, but time and your baby’s natural developmental course are crucial in the decrease of colicky crying. [11]