My baby won’t lie still for a massage - they don’t like it.
One of the first things I often hear from parents when they come into an infant massage class is “I want to give my baby massages, but they don’t seem to like it - they won’t lay still”. This is a very common thing. While adults can gratefully lay still on a massage table for 60+ minutes, babies don’t have that natural attention span or ability to lay still for that long. If baby doesn’t want to lay still for a massage, there is a good chance that either the massage has been going on too long, or something else is not to their liking, and it might not necessarily be the massage. There are a few ways to make baby more receptive to massage.
#1 Integrate the massage into daily routine.
This is one of the biggest things I advocate when working with new parents - there are certain routines that babies go through every day - feeding, changing diapers, changing clothes, baths, etc. I advise parents to integrate different massage strokes for different body parts into the daily routine wherever it feels like it works. For example:
Massaging the legs during a diaper change
Working on the back and head during tummy time
Doing some strokes on the arms and belly during a bath
Using massage on the back while baby is laying on your shoulder to help them fall asleep or stop crying
#2 Make massage a routine in itself
If you do want to set aside a certain time to only dedicate to massage, that is great. The best way to make baby receptive to a “full body massage” is to be patient and start slow. Make sure everything is set up the same each time, you have the same environment each time, and go through the same motions each time in the same order. Start out with short sessions only working small sections - such as just legs and arms - for a few sessions, then if baby gets more comfortable with those, add one part (head, face, back, belly, etc) for a few sessions, gradually adding more until baby is used to having the whole body massaged, and will hopefully anticipate the routine. You can make sure baby is ready to be receptive to the routine and the massage by…
#3 Have all your massage supplies ready, the space prepared, and make sure baby is able to be receptive to massage
If you want to establish a massage routine, make sure you have anything you need for the massage right at hand, as well as anything else baby might need such as a bottle, toy, extra diaper, etc so that you don’t have to leave and fetch something after you start. You want to make sure the time is dedicated to the baby and the massage, not bouncing in and out of the massage checking texts or grabbing extra lotion. Also pick a time that baby will be receptive to the massage and will tolerate the new routine; Not too close to before or after feeding, nor when they are about to go down for a nap. You want baby to be alert and undistracted by anything physical (hunger, sleep, full diaper) so that they can enjoy the time with you as much as you want to enjoy the time with them.
Also be aware that there may be some times that baby just doesn’t want a massage - and that is ok. If baby just isn’t having it that day, skip it. It doesn’t mean they hate it, it doesn’t mean you failed. Just like adults, some days baby simply may not want to be touched. If that is the case, just roll with it. Skip the day and try again later. Respecting baby when they say “no” can be just as powerful as the massage itself.
The biggest key to getting baby to enjoy a massage is to not stress over it. Massage is supposed to reduce stress, not create more of it for you (because that will in turn create more for baby). It should be a fun experience - both for you and baby.