Giving your infant a gentle abdominal massage is a wonderful approach for taming tummy troubles. It’s also ideal for older children and you can teach them techniques for self-care when they’re ready. Abdominal massage can improve digestion, lessen gastric discomfort, and help release tension created by stress, thus improving digestion.
The digestive process can become interrupted by health issues such as food intolerance, allergic reaction, or illness, as well as emotional stress and tension. These issues can result in abdominal ache, gas, indigestion, and difficulty with bowel movements. Massaging the abdomen helps soothe the muscles and nerves and can stimulate muscle contractions in the GI tract (called peristalsis), which helps move waste through the bowel.
The following method is wonderful to use with babies and very young children. Always perform abdominal massage when the child is quiet but alert, not when they are fussy or asleep. Use the flat pads of the fingers; never use fingertips and be mindful of your fingernails. You also want to use gentle but firm pressure. Always pay attention to the child’s reaction (e.g., facial expression) to make sure they are comfortable.
- Undress the child (baby in a diaper; a child can be in light and loose-fitting pajamas). The child should lie face up on a blanket or other soft surface.
- Starting at the base of the rib cage, massage the abdomen in a circular, clockwise motion. Make smaller and smaller circles, gradually making your way to the navel.
- Hold baby’s knees and feet together and gently press knees up toward abdomen.
- Gently rotate baby’s hips a few times to one side, then to the other side. This can be helpful in releasing excess gas.
- Place your hand on baby’s tummy horizontally, rocking hand from side to side. Make gentle but firm motions, to avoid tickling the child. Cover area below navel, stopping short of pelvic region. (Note for infants: Do not massage stomach if umbilical cord hasn’t healed completely.)
For an older child, the parent can perform the “upside down U” massage and can teach the child how to follow this pattern to perform the massage on their own.
- Have child lie on their back. Use a massage oil, such as olive or coconut, which are generally safe for children. (Always do a patch test on the inside of the arm to be sure.) Pour a small amount of oil on your palm and rub both palms together, to make sure your hands are warm.
- Massage up the right side of the stomach, then across the top of the stomach below the rib cage, then down the left side. This can help move gas bubbles along the intestines.
- A circle should be completed no less than twice, but can be done a few more times. Pelvic area does not need to be massaged.
If this approach does not provide relief, use the “I Love U” massage pattern:
I: Using the pads of the fingers, stroke down from the bottom of the left ribs to the top of the left hip. Do this stroke at least 10 times.
L: Stroke from the bottom of the right ribs, over to the bottom of the left ribs and then down to the top of the left hip. You have made an L shape with your stroke. Do this stroke at least 10 times.
U: stroke from the top of the right hip up to the bottom of the right ribs, over to the bottom of the left ribs and then down to the top of the left hip. You have made a U shape with your stroke. Do this stroke at least 10 times.
Tummy massage on a baby or young child should take 5-10 minutes and can be performed periodically throughout the day or as recommended by your physician. An older child performing massage on their own might need 15-20 minutes, depending upon the method being used and until they have mastered the technique. You might feel gas bubbles or lumpiness under your fingertips – this is to be expected. However, you should not feel hard lumps nor should the child experience pain with gentle but firm pressure. If there is pain with touch, make an appointment with your holistic health practitioner.
TummyCalm.com “TLC for Tummy Troubles” Accessed 17 Aug 2019: https://www.tummycalm.com/massage-techniques.html
NaturopathicPediatrics.com “Tummy Massage for Every Body” posted Jan 2015. Accessed 12 Aug 2019. https://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2015/01/19/tummy-massage-every-body/