Massage is an ancient approach to pain relief. But you may be surprised to learn that massage might help your baby manage the pain of gas and constipation.

If your baby has discomfort from gas, or even colic, you can learn some simple massage techniques that may make your baby more comfortable. Read on for information about what massage does for your baby, what you will need to do it safely, instructions for doing massage at home, and some helpful links to see how some pros do it.

Different teachers and doctors have different techniques for baby massage, though there is some general agreement on the approach for helping relieve gas, constipation, and colic.

You can find helpful demonstrations on YouTube here and here. In general, the following steps are recommended.

  1. Gather your supplies and place them within arm’s reach of wherever you are going to do the massage. Supplies could include massage oil, a towel, an extra diaper, wipes, and a pillow.
  2. Sit on the floor in a warm place, typically with your baby resting on a pillow in front of you. If you’re flexible enough, sit with your legs in the butterfly position and place the pillow on your feet where the soles meet. Rest your baby face up on the pillow, with your feet under the upper portion of your baby’s body.
  3. Make sure your baby is wearing only a diaper during this process.
  4. Warm a small amount of the massage oil between your hands and begin the massage by gently sweeping your hand down your baby’s abdomen, beginning at the rib cage and moving down. You should try to do this several times.
  5. Place your fingertips over your baby’s bellybutton area and move your fingers gently and slowly in a clockwise motion around the belly. Do this for about 30-45 seconds.
  6. Finally, hold your baby’s ankles and gently fold your baby’s legs up toward the abdomen. If it seems comfortable, you can also pedal those legs a little.
  7. Let your baby’s legs rest naturally and place your hand firmly on your baby’s belly. This is a calming technique that also allows you to feel if there are any bubbles moving in there.
  8. Repeat as needed. Practitioners recommend going through these steps about five or six times in a session. If your baby is clearly uncomfortable, try two to three sessions a day until the discomfort passes.

The International Association of Infant Massage, and other organizations that encourage baby massage, say it helps stimulate a baby’s senses and encourage muscle development. Many agree that it supports the immune system, increases positive feelings in babies, and offers fathers, and any parents with delayed bonding, an opportunity for connecting with their babies.

When it comes to gas, constipation, and colic, researchers have noted that massage may be slightly more effective than some other methods for relieving a baby’s pain and discomfort. The added benefit of baby massage as a treatment is that it gives you an opportunity to interact directly with your child and connect deeply for a few moments, while also making your baby feel better physically.

Does your baby fuss after feeding? Does your baby have a bloated belly or spit up excessively? Does your baby have infrequent and hard bowel movements? If so, your baby may be suffering from gas and/or constipation. Likewise, does your baby cry for several hours a day, for a few days at a time, and nothing seems to help? That can sometimes be a sign of what doctors call colic.

Gas, constipation, and colic are not the same health concerns but researchers think the three issues may have some similar causes. Massage seems to help and many parents say the practice was a valuable tool for bringing relief.

Before you crack those knuckles and give your baby a deep tissue massage, be aware of some of the safety concerns.

First, babies are delicate and small. This is definitely not a deep tissue or sports massage experience. Keep your touch gentle and light.

Second, use an oil to help your fingers move over your baby’s skin. The International Association of Infant Massage recommends cold-pressed, unscented fruit and vegetable oils. Their website suggests oils you would eat on your salads. Stay away from oils with added scents or moisturizers, or any artificial ingredients. And always test a drop of any new oil on your baby’s skin for an allergic reaction.

Third, always ask your baby’s permission before beginning any massage. This may seem like a strange thing to do with an infant, but practitioners say babies will tell you with their eyes and body language whether they are too uncomfortable, too sleepy, or too overstimulated for a massage. If at first it seems like you should go ahead but you realize that it’s causing your baby distress, then stop and try again later.

Gas, constipation, and colic can have several different causes and, in the case of colic, your baby’s long-term discomfort may last from 3 weeks to 3 months of age. This stage will come to an end and in the meantime, you can help bring your baby relief with massage.

If you would like more direct instruction on the techniques involved, check with your pediatrician or local parenting networks for interactive classes on baby massage that are available in your area.

You’ll also find more information at the website for Infant Massage USA, affiliated with the Infant Massage International Association, and at Liddle Kidz, where there is more step-by-step instruction.