For babies, occasional constipation is normal and rarely cause for alarm, but it’s certainly no fun1. Luckily, a massage is an easy, do-it-yourself home treatment that may help your baby’s bowels while also deepening your bond and relaxing both you and your little one.1,2,3,4 Learn how to administer a helpful infant massage for constipation and the many reasons it can be so beneficial.

Is My Baby Constipated?

Before considering treatments, it’s important to know if your baby is constipated.1 Newborns often have multiple bowel movements per day, but for babies older than six weeks, it can be normal to go days without a bowel movement.1,5 Frequency is less important than how easily stool is passed.1 If the stool is soft and easily passes, your baby likely isn’t constipated .1

Constipation may be associated with pain as the baby may be straining to pass dry, hard stools.1 For occasional constipation, home treatment is often effective.1 If your baby’s constipation persists or if your baby seems uncomfortable, please contact your healthcare provider.1

How Massage Helps with Digestion

There are studies to suggest that infant massage may increase frequency of bowel movements and reduce the symptoms of constipation. Abdominal massage may aid in digestion by stimulating intestinal movements and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which can encourage relaxation and stimulate the digestive system.2,4,6 Also, gentle touch produces hormones related to bonding, calm and emotional well-being in both caregiver and baby, so it’s a win for everyone!2,4,6

Timing, Location and Duration for Baby Massage

Before you begin giving your baby massage for constipation, be thoughtful about the timing, location and duration that will work best.3 Here are a few tips for getting those just right:3

  • Think about your needs as well as your baby’s.
  • Choose a moment when you can relax, you won’t be interrupted, and your infant is neither full nor hungry.
  • Find a spot that is comfortable, warm and with less light.
  • Look for your baby’s cues to let you know if the massage should continue. Newborns, for instance, may only tolerate 2-5 minutes.
  • Don’t do infant massage if your baby is sick or has a fever.

Baby Massage Techniques for Constipation

Once you’ve found that cozy spot and some calm, uninterrupted time, you’re ready to begin. Here are soothing, effective massage techniques to help give your baby constipation relief:

Gentle Clockwise Intestinal Massage

This massage works best skin-to-skin.3 With your baby on their back, gently rub their abdomen in a clockwise, circular motion with your palms.3 It’s important to use only light pressure as you rhythmically rub their abdomen.3 The large intestine works in the same clockwise motion, so this massage is a manual aid to the natural digestive process.

“I Love You” Stroke

This technique can follow the gentle clockwise massage or be used on its own. With your baby on their back, draw an “I” from their left ribcage to their left hip using light to moderate pressure.6 Then, draw an inverted “L” with the first line just below the ribcage and the second line again going down toward the left hip.6 The final stroke starts at the right hip and traces an upside down “U” going below the rib cage and down to the left hip.6

Leg Circles

As an extension of the above techniques or on its own, you can massage your baby’s digestive system by moving their legs.6 With your baby on their back, hold one foot or leg in each hand and create slow vertical circles, bending the knee in and stretching the leg back out, alternating one side at a time.6

Gentle Hands

As one final add-on or solitary technique, you might try a more freestyle abdomen massage. Using light to moderate pressure, you can gently tap your fingers around your baby’s navel (unless the cord isn’t yet healed, in which case, please don’t massage this area).6 You can use both hands at once for more gentle taps. You might also place your whole hand across your baby’s abdomen and rock your hand back and forth to apply gentle pressure across the area.6

These baby massage techniques for constipation may provide some relief while creating a calm, connected and relaxing experience for all. For other insights about your baby’s digestion, including how to take advantage of the brain-gut connection, find more resources at Enfamil A+.