Human touch is one of the earliest senses to develop and one of the first ways a parent communicates with baby. If you think about how a hug or a pat on the back has the potential to make us feel deeply, then it is not hard to understand how a soothing touch can have a profound effect on babies and their parents and caregivers. It’s no wonder that infant massage has been practiced around the world for centuries.
Benefits of Infant Massage
According to the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, soothing strokes relax baby, release stress, and increase the bond between baby and adult. The special time between parents and babies spent in massage can make a parent feel better. What’s more, infant massage has proven benefits for preterm and special needs babies. Massage can help digestion, relieve colic, boost immune activity, and improve the baby’s ability to fall asleep.
Many experts agree that taking a class on infant massage from a certified, trained instructor is the best way to learn, but “Getting started can be as easy as using long strokes on your baby’s arms and legs when you are bathing them or putting on lotion,” according to Carolyn Guenther Malloy, LMT and CIMI. Guenther says, “The basic techniques of infant massage are firm but gentle strokes that help to promote calming and nurturing for the baby and parent. Strokes away from the body [Indian Style massage] promote calming and relaxation. Strokes towards the body or heart [Swedish style massage] help promote stimulation of the muscles. A good infant massage routine will offer a variety of different types of strokes and last approximately 15-20 minutes.” When massaging, feel free to use soap, baby lotion, or a non-toxic oil such as almond, to reduce friction. In addition, sing, talk to baby, or play calm music while you massage.
Tips for Successful Infant Massage
Vimala McClure notes in Infant Massage that these ingredients are essential for a successful experience:
A calm frame of mind. Relax!
A good time of day. Some massage is stimulating and can be too much for a baby right before nap or bedtime, while for others, massage can help release energy to help them settle down more easily for sleep. Many people have success introducing massage during or after a bath.
A warm, quiet location. Since there is no one right place or position in which to do massage, holding a baby in the bath, laying a baby on a changing table, or positioning you and baby comfortably on the floor with blankets all work equally well.
Finally, it is important to watch for signs that baby is willing to participate in massage and when he may be ready to stop. Infant massage is an individual experience, so experiment with what works best for you and baby. According to Maria Mathias of the International Institute of Infant Massage (www.infantmassageinstitute.com), “Whatever massage is given, parents [should] feel successful—that they can do it and it will enhance the relationship.”
Gentle Touch Warehouse, www.gentletouchwarehouse.com
Nurturing Touch: Instruction in the Art of Infant Massage video by Kalena Babashoff
Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parent (revised edition) by Vimala McClure Considered as the
definitive work on the subject by the pioneer of infant massage in the United States, written by the founder of The International Association of Infant Massage.
The International Association of Infant Massage, www.iaim-us.com
Lasting Impressions Infant Massage video and book
Shelley Butler is co-author with Deb Kratz of the award-winning book, The Field Guide to Parenting. For more information or to contact the author, please visit her web site: www.fieldguidetoparenting.info