The researchers, led by Dr. Angela Underdown, examined nine previous studies on baby massage that included 598 infants younger than a year old. In the studies, health workers had trained the parents in baby massage.
"There are indications that infants who were massaged were more relaxed, probably due to lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, compared to infants who did not receive massage," Underdown said.
Infant massage -- long practiced in Africa and Asia -- has been shown to be as effective as rocking in helping babies cry less and sleep through the night. Typically, the massage involves touching the baby with light pressure from head to toe, gently moving the muscles beneath the skin, while looking into the baby's eyes.
"As there are indications that infant massage may have an effect on sleep and crying, this would seem a useful technique that parents can use with their babies to help them relax and promote sleep," Underdown said.
The researchers found no negative effects of infant massage, and noted that mothers suffering from postnatal depression who massaged their infants built better relationships with their babies.
Underdown urged parents interested in learning the technique to seek advice from midwives or health workers.
According to natural health advocate Mike Adams, modern-day medicine has caused people to forget "the healing power of therapeutic touch," and its positive health effects.
"All humans need loving physical contact, including babies," Adams said. "Parents can literally boost their baby's immune function, accelerate healing and speed recovery from physical stress by giving their babies the gift of human touch. It's powerful medicine."