Bodywork: Gentle exercises, tummy time and massage for babies


The uterus is a tight place! And, birth can sometimes be a bumpy/tight ride, especially if any birth interventions have occurred. Because of this, some babies adopt wonky positions in utero, and are then born with some body tension, or an asymmetric body/head position. Head molding, a natural process during birth, is meant to re-mold back to round shape, but sometimes this process gets a bit stuck.

These babies need time, and some help, to “unwind”. Gentle bodywork - home-based ideas and professional infant bodyworkers (Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Chiropractors and more) helps tremendously with the “unwinding” process! And, for babies with oral tension (possible ties), bodywork is an essential part of helping babies relieve this tension - possibly avoiding a tongue/lip tie procedure, or helping with the prep/healing from the procedure.

Here are a variety of ideas that are very helpful for all babies, and especially babies that are having difficulty with feeding, with any oral or bodily tension, or a baby that tends to turn their head or body to one side only. The whole body is connected, so massaging or exercising one area of the body can help another part of the body - for example, many whole body exercises can also help with nursing, digestion, the ability to relax for sleeping or sitting in a carseat, and more.

This blog post contains a “library” of ideas. The best approach is to work like it’s a “Couch to 5K” - it’s fine to do a little each day (or when you can) and add to your repertoire as you are able. Use your baby as a guide - if they are enjoying it, great! If they are overwhelmed or don’t like a particular exercise or massage - stop and try again another time.

Sing songs, make up silly poems - enjoy!

  • Skin to Skin holding is great for all babies, and helps gentle them into the world. Here’s an excellent article by Rachel O’Brien, IBCLC about the incredible value of Skin to Skin time.

  • Infant Massage (body and facial):

    • Great video by Susan Salvo

    • Another great video by Lisa Lahey

    • These fantastic videos provide many ideas, and feel free to use your baby as a guide and be creative.

  • Oral exercises - These are easy to do at diaper changes. Less is more! 3-5 times per day for 3-5 min each time is more than enough. If baby is irritated/overwhelmed, then try again another day.

  • Rhythmic exercises help loosen up babies overall, incorporate reflexes

    • Rhythmic Movements for Babies by Bryna Sampey, IBCLC

    • The “Rolio” by Michelle Emanuel, OTR/L, CIMI, CST, NBCR

    • Pairing well with these are cross-body movements - ideas such as left hand to right toe or knee and vice versa. Also, crossing the arms (or legs) at the same time so that they meet or cross the midline (elbows or knees meeting in the middle or even go past each other). This can be done rhythmically.

  • Tummy Time ideas - Think of tummy time as a “couch to 5K” - 30 seconds on your chest is completely fine for newborns, and as they grow you can extend the time, do more on the floor, and incorporate more activities. All of the ideas in this section are by Michelle Emanuel, creator of the TummyTime Method.

    • Video with basic Tummy Time ideas

    • Video with Ideas to help a baby with a head-turning preference

    • Video with ideas for skin to skin Tummy Time

    • Tummy sleeping (while supervised, check with your doctor)

    • The “guppy” - related to tummy time because the baby gets a great chin/neck extension. Some people call these “head hangs”. Most babies love it and it’s very good for helping them unwind, extend the chin/head - which helps with nursing.