Infant Massage Loving touch to grow on
As a parent, loving relative, or caregiver of an infant, you want to see your child flourish. Touch is as important as food for healthy mental and physical development—a fact clearly supported by both ancient tradition and contemporary research. Massage is attentive, pleasurable touch that can promote your baby’s well-being while increasing your ability to respond to his or her needs.
Bonding with your baby
Bonding, that unique and close attachment between you and your child is enhanced with the observant and sensitive care of massage. The elements of bonding are inherent in infant massage: eye contact, skin contact, smiles, soothing sounds, smell, and loving communication. Responding to your baby’s smiles, frowns, and squirms in this comforting way can reinforce the trust between the two of you, a trust which can provide the foundation of your relationship for years to come. For fathers, massage offers a special opportunity to develop ease and intimacy with their children. This holds true for grandparents or other relatives, professional caregivers, and anyone wishing to develop closeness with babies in their care to help them thrive. It’s so wonderful, at the end of a long day, to put Parker down on his favorite sheep and begin our simple massage routine. As soon as we swish a little oil between our palms, he knows exactly what’s coming, and it’s great to see his anticipation—he loves this special time. We get lots of eye contact and cooing as he winds down for sleep. -Mother of a 2 month old baby boy
Research tells the story
The positive effects of infant massage have been well researched in studies such as those sponsored by UNICEF and the University of Miami School of Medicine. Among the results of the major studies are: Children and infants who were massaged showed improved sleeping patterns, diminished anxious behavior, and significantly reduced stress indicators such as heart rate and stress hormone levels. Premature babies, who were regularly massaged gained weight faster, performed better on developmental tasks, acquired mental and motor skills earlier, and were more relaxed than non-massaged babies. Early touch also benefited the developing nervous systems of these infants. In India, where infant massage has passed down through generations, studies showed that babies massaged by their mothers developed both mentally and physically well beyond normal expectations given their malnourished condition. Institutionalized infants who received extra touch developed visual attentiveness earlier than babies who didn’t. Visually impaired babies whose parents touched them early and often were able to reach toward sounds sooner than other babies.
Nurturing your older child
It’s never too late to make massage a part of your child’s life. Massage can calm children during emotional upsets and relieve the discomforts of illness. It can also help ease the pain of tension headaches and muscle aches or cramps. Children diagnosed with ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) who receive massage often concentrate better, cry less, and sleep better. Over time, receiving massage can help a child create a more positive body image and enhance emotional security. It can help them teach the importance of self-nurturing and preventive health care at an early age.
My wife and I massaged our two children from infancy into their adolescence. For me, it was great to have physical closeness beyond roughhousing. My wife appreciated having a way to maintain touch after the kids started resisting her hugs. As adolescents, the kids have been under a lot of pressure at times from school, sports and friends. Massage helped them relax and taught them they could take care of themselves when stressed. -Father of two teenagers
If your baby has special needs
If you are a parent of an infant with special needs, your child may communicate her or his needs differently than other babies. Giving a focused massage allows you to learn more about your baby’s unique signals. Massage may also help your baby cope with the physical stresses or disabilities she or he may have to live with. For drug-exposed infants, massage relieves tension and pains, helping these babies shift their attention from physical discomfort to pleasurable experience. Their weight gain also increases with daily massage. Our daughter was premature and we’ve been touching her since she was born. But after beginning infant massage, she has been fussing less and sleeping more at night. -Father of a 4 month old baby girl
Parent to Parent
When you ask parents why they massage their infants, here’s what they talk about: Sleep: Babies who are massaged sleep better, and are calmer and more alert when awake. My baby started sleeping through the night after the first night of infant massage class. He has been sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night ever since. -Mother of a 9 week old baby boy Physical Comfort: Massage stimulates digestion and elimination. It can also reduce the discomfort of teething and colds, and help calm fussy babies. My baby had been colicky. Massage has definitely helped with her gas. -Mother of a 6 week old baby girl Relaxation: Both normal discomforts and your baby’s need to constantly respond to new experiences can lead to muscle tension and ease. Massage can help your baby let go of tension and relax. Since I’ve been doing the massage, my baby has been letting her arms uncoil more. She’s letting me in, not holding herself so tight. -Mother of a 4 week old baby girl
Giving massage benefits you, too
Giving massage can help build your understanding of your baby’s cues and your confidence in caring for him or her. You may feel more satisfied, both with the quality of time you spend with your infant and with your increased ability to help your child relax in times of stress. You may even find your own tension eased as you perform the gentle movements with your infant. We adopted our son and made a deliberate effort to bond with him, by massaging him and keeping him close in a chest pack. Now I can feel both of us relaxing when I give him his massage. -Father of a 2 month old baby boy
How you can learn
Group or private classes in infant massage are an excellent way to deepen your relationship with your child. Your certified infant massage instructor will be happy to explain her or his training and experience, answer questions about your specific needs, and discuss class content. Your instructor can offer individualized help with your fussy, colicky, or special needs baby. She or he may also teach classes for managing older children and may offer massage therapy for children.
The gift of infant massage
The brief time we have with our children is precious. Learning to massage you baby is an enjoyable way to enhance your infant’s development, deepen loving communication between you and your child, and provide an opportunity for you and your baby to develop relaxation skills that can last a lifetime.