How to Give Your Baby a Massage to Relieve Gas

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 15, 2023
4 min read

Gas may be a natural element of infant development, but it can still be uncomfortable for babies and frustrating for their parents. While this problem can be difficult to treat, common solutions include burping newborns and holding them upright after feedings. 

To help their babies find relief, parents may look to alternate solutions, such as gas drops, gripe water, or herbal supplements. However, these aren’t always effective and can sometimes be harmful. Performed correctly, infant massage can be a safer option to get gas moving, while also promoting stronger bonding between parents and their babies.

Infant massages focused on gas relief may look a bit different than conventional baby massages. Traditional massage tends to be less focused and involves a lot less pressure. Use the following steps to determine when and how to safely give your baby a massage to relieve gas:

Consult your doctor. If you suspect that your baby has significant health issues prompting gas, check with a doctor before beginning a massage regimen. Depending on the issue, other remedies may prove more effective. Otherwise, your doctor can provide suggestions for administering a safe massage.

Massage at the right time. Avoid massages right after feedings, as these can cause vomiting. Massaging tends to be most effective as a gas preventative measure if your baby is already calm. Many parents prefer to incorporate massages in their babies’ nighttime routine to promote a peaceful atmosphere to help them fall asleep.

Use oil safely. Some parents prefer to massage their babies while using oil, which reduces friction. But, this is not required. Select an edible oil that will be safe if your baby accidentally consumes it. Coconut oil is a great option, but products marketed to infants may also work, depending on the ingredients. Be sure to test it on a small patch of skin to determine whether allergies might be a problem.

Techniques for a safe baby massage. Use some of these techniques when you're giving your baby a massage:

  • Paddling. This basic massage uses the sides of the hand, moving them one at a time from your baby’s rib cage to pelvis. As soon as one hand reaches the bottom of the massage area, the other should already be starting to move down from the ribs.
  • Bicycle legs. A common gas-relieving technique among new parents, bicycle legs look exactly as they sound: your baby will appear to be riding a tiny bike. Place your baby in a reclined position with bent legs. Hold one foot or leg in each hand and create slow vertical circles, bending the knee in and stretching the leg back out, one side at a time. Watch your infant carefully for a response and stop if your baby appears uncomfortable.
  • "I love you" technique. This massage approach can bring quick relief for a gassy tummy. Use your hand to trace an upside-down letter 'I' on the left side of your babies’ belly. Follow with an upside-down 'L,' again beginning on the left side of the tummy and moving across. The final step calls for an upside-down 'U,' which will cross over your babies’ tummy.
  • Hands of the clock.  Involving strategic, continuous circles, this style of massage moves left to right from your perspective (or for your baby, right to left) to move gas through the intestinal tract and towards the bowel. Use your right hand to massage slowly in a clockwise motion, while your left hand begins at 10 o'clock and moves in a crescent shape until reaching 5 o’clock.

The above massages were designed for infant gas relief because they aim to get trapped air moving through the body. They can also be deeply relaxing, which makes them worthwhile even if they are not successful with preventing or resolving gas. What’s more, parents find that massages make them enjoy childrearing more, regardless of whether their babies are currently suffering from gas, colic, or other problematic conditions.

Some studies suggest that infant massage may help to increase insulin levels or activity of the vagus nerve. This, in turn, can reduce gastric mobility and promote efficient nutrient absorption. Conflicting research exists for these effects, but experts believe that the duration of massage as a gas remedy may impact its efficacy in both studies and the general public.

Gas is a common problem for newborns but can continue into later infanthood as babies start eating solids. How the gas presents itself may depend somewhat on the baby’s age, but common signs include arching the back, pulling the legs up to the stomach, and general squirminess. Some parents report that their babies’ cries sound different when they are gassy compared to when they are hungry or have dirty diapers.