Ages & Stages: 0-5: Baby Massage: Good for Everyone

Mothers, fathers and even grandparents sit on the floor in a circle and at their feet are babbling babies. There is gentle music playing as my unmistakably English accent guides their loving hands over plump bellies and legs. It is evident on the faces of these parents that they are enjoying the dance of a brand new love affair.

I am teaching routines on how to help relieve colicky symptoms and gas pain and how to calm baby into a better sleeping pattern. Parents are encouraged to adapt their technique or to stop and feed their baby when hungry and all the time they’re learning to read baby’s body language.

What is going on here?
I am teaching parents the lifelong skill of infant massage. Touch is as important to the human as food so let your hands tell your babies they are loved!

Infant massage is not a new concept. It is common practice in the eastern hemisphere and as evidence mounts regarding its therapeutic benefits, it is becoming an exciting therapy across the U.S.

This is not a fashion or a fad. The Institute for Nurturing Touch in Miami, Fla., has proven time after time that infant massage promotes a higher level of bonding between parent and child. It is also a proven way to help bond with your adopted child. I believe that massage helps babies achieve physical balance and rhythm, as well as making them feel loved and secure. The lists of benefits are endless and there are no known detrimental effects.

I am so passionate about this skill that I gave up my nursing career to concentrate on teaching it. I’ve been a nurse for almost 20 years. I’ve seen children with asthma being helped by these techniques as well as attention deficit disorders being calmed. I feel I’ve found a skill that we should all know about and I won’t stop until we all do!

Research shows that performing massage on your infant significantly reduces not only their Cortisol levels (stress hormone) but yours as well. Even children with sleep onset problems show a marked improvement following a pre-bedtime massage compared to those having just a bedtime story. More than 100 trials have been undertaken at the University of Miami School of Medicine by Dr. Tiffany Field and around the world on the benefits of infant massage.

The International Association of Infant Massage was founded by Vimala McClure, who observed parents in India “rubbing” their babies, sometimes by the roadside. These babies were carried in slings by their mothers and older siblings, swaddled when feeding and massaged on a regular basis. She also observed that these infants were calm, collected and when awake, spent more time interacting with the world around them, especially their parents.

Infant massage classes offer parents time to network and support each other. Amy Rodriguez of Charlotte says, “I look forward to the time I can spend being with Elizabeth, just concentrating on her. And I found a babysitter here, too!”

A baby yawns and stretches signaling, “Go ahead; massage me” and another starts to fuss and complain, saying “This is not the right time” It’s all OK in my class, where baby is the center of attention and respect is the order of the day.

Resources for parents:

10 Research Highlights
1. Premature babies who received massage during transitional nursery care showed enhanced weight gain, spent more time in the active alert state and were able to leave the hospital sooner than the other babies in the control group.

2. Babies experiencing bouts of colic are shown to be less irritable and have more organized sleep-wake behaviors following massage. Parental Cortisol levels were also lower, therefore enhancing a more positive parent/child interaction.

3. Mothers suffering varying degrees of postnatal depression increased their affect and attentiveness to their babies needs by providing nurturing touch stimulation.

4. Fathers who gave their infants daily massage for 15 minutes prior to bedtime showed more optimal behavioral interaction with their infant than the control fathers.

5. Infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems showed a marked improvement following a pre-bedtime massage compared to those having just a bedtime story. Massage produced fewer sleep delays and a shortened latency to sleep onset.

6. Massage is a common type of relaxation therapy. Research is being undertaken to measure the effects on massage therapy on the asthmatic child. Investigators project that they will report lower levels of anxiety, thus reducing the “stressors” known to trigger some attacks. Teaching parents to administer the massage will likely also reduce family anxiety and parental feelings of helplessness.

7. Infants of mothers who had taken cocaine during pregnancy showed fewer postnatal complications, fewer stress behaviors, better weight gain and superior performance on developmental tests when they were massaged.

8. Grandparents reported less anxiety and fewer depressed symptoms following infant massage sessions than when they themselves were massaged. They reported improved self-esteem and positive lifestyle changes.

9. Teen mothers exhibited a more positive mother-child relationship and reported feeling a closer bond to their babies after attending baby massage classes. They also reported enjoying the one-to-one time with their infants while they were still residing with their own parents.

10. HIV-exposed newborns who were given massage showed better weight gain and improved performances on the Brazelton score chart of motor and state.