History / Origin

Massage therapy is one of the oldest forms of treatment in the world, having first been described in China during the second century B.C. and soon after in India and Egypt. Hippocrates, in 400 B.C., defined medicine as “the art of rubbing.”

Massage therapy disappeared from the American medical scene around the time of the pharmaceutical revolution of the 1940s. Now considered an “alternative” therapy, it is becoming popular again as part of the alternative medicine movement. At this time, it is commonly defined by massage therapists as the manipulation of soft tissue by trained therapists for therapeutic purposes.

Infant massage refers to massage therapy specifically by those trained to apply massage to infants. Infant massage also has its roots firmly grounded in history. The use of massage with infants is as old as the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in China (T. Field, S. Schanberg, M. Davalos, and J. Malphurs, 1996). Infant massage also has strong historical roots in Ayurvedic medicine in India around 1800 B.C. In certain cultures, such as the Maoris and the Hawaiians massage was used as a component of the baby’s regular bath routine. Dr. Frederic Leboyer, a French physician, who was one of the leaders of the natural childbirth movement is know for his part in the popularization of infant massage in the 1970’s when he published a photojournalistic book on the Indian art of baby massage (Spehar, 2001). In 1978, Vimala Schneider McClure introduced infant massage to the United States when she developed a training program for infant massage instructors at the request of childbirth educators. McClure founded the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) in 1986 which has continued to grow to 27 chapters as of the year 2000 (Spehar, 2001).


(Research conducted by Tiffany Field, PhD, Director of Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine and Nova Southeastern University)

· Promotes parent-infant bonding by contact with all of the senses
· Helps communication between parent and infant
· Helps the baby to feel safe and loved
· Stimulation of immune, circulatory, nervous and digestive systems
· Enhances development (encourages movement and coordination)
· Some research suggests that infant massage can reduce colic and other GI tract ills by helping to disperse gas, ease muscle spasm, tone the digestive system and help it work more efficiently.
· Helps promote sleep
· Calms anxiety and emotional stress
· Can increase immunity to illness
· Research has also shown that preterm infants given massage gain weight faster and develop neurologically faster than preterm infants not given massage
· Massage can promote growth and development in preterm and/or low birth weight infants

From the book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala McClure.

Massaging the Legs and Feet.

Basic Concepts:

1. Relax and Breathe Fully – “Before you undress your baby and begin the massage get your body into the right position. This may be sitting on the floor cross-legged, with your baby in front of you, as you close to you as possible. It may be sitting in a chair, or standing before a changing table, or sitting on a bed with your baby in front of you, again, as close as possible. Relax as much as you can from head to toe. Now breathe deeply, expanding your belly to take in as much air as possible. As you breathe out, blowing softly from your mouth, affirm, ‘I now let go of tension. My body is relaxed.’ Feel all traces of tension or anxiety leave your body. You are confident and centered” (McClure, pg. 70).
2. Request Permission to Begin – “Greet your baby with your words, your smile, and your touch. Let her know her massage is about to begin. As you remove baby’s clothing, tell him that it is massage time and give him a special “cue” that you are about to start. Here’s how: Pour a small amount of massage oil into your palm. Now rub your palms together to warm them, saying, ‘It’s time for massage.’ Your baby will hear the oil swishing between your hands and alert to the sound of the word massage. Show your palms to your baby, saying, ‘May I massage you now?’ The first time, of course your baby doesn’t know what is about to happen. But in subsequent sessions this routine will become a cue to which he will respond. How can you tell if your baby is saying, ‘No?’ Usually the baby will throw hands up in a guarding motion, turn her head away, kick and fuss. The baby may begin to hiccup, to flail her arms, and move her eyes around frantically “(McClure, pg. 71-72).


1. Indian Milking – Milk the leg with the inside edge of each hand (the part where your thumb and index finger are), encompassing the leg and molding the hands to it, one following the other. The opposite hand gently holds the ankle. The outside hand should move over the buttock; the inside hand moves up the leg to the ankle. Move in rhythmic stokes, with your lower back/pelvis as your center of gravity. Remember to use the bottom hand to keep your baby’s pelvis on the floor, so that you do not lift the baby’s body with your strokes.
2. Squeeze and Twist – Hold the leg with the inside edge of your hands facing upward. Keep your hands together so as not to twist the knee joint, and encompass the leg as much as possible. Stroke from the thigh to the ankle, gently turning in opposite directions, forward and back, squeezing very slightly. This stroke moves across the muscle and thus helps it relax.
3. Thumb over Thumb – Stroke your thumbs, one after the other, from the heel to the toes.
4. Toe Squeeze – Squeeze and roll each toe.
5. Under Toes – With your forefinger, gently press the ball of the foot, just under the toes.
6. Ball of Foot – With your forefinger press the ball of the foot where the heel begins, and massage this area gently.
7. Thumb Press – Press in with your thumbs all over the bottom of the foot.
8. Top of Foot – Using your thumbs, one after the other, stroke the top of the foot toward the ankle.
9. Ankle Circles – Make small circle all around the ankle with your thumbs.
10. Swedish Milking – Milk the leg from the ankle to hip, stabilizing the leg at the ankle, moving one hand on the outside of the leg, then the other on the inside. Remember not to pull the baby’s body up off the surface.
11. Rolling – Roll the leg between your hands from the thigh to the ankle. Most babies love this!
12. Bottom Relaxer – After massaging each leg and foot, massage the buttocks with both hands in small circles, and then stroke the legs to the feet, gently bouncing.
13. Integration – Move both hands with a sweeping stroke from buttocks to feet. This integrates the legs with the torso and lets baby know you are moving to another part of the body.

Further Reading:

Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, Vimala Schneider McClure.

Return to Complete Topic List