Infant Massage Therapy Promotes Health and Communication
The gentle touch of parent’s hand can work miracles. Infant massage is not some new-age hokey business that requires you to become a licensed vegan or take up holistic medicine entirely. Call it cuddles, snuggling, or even loving if it makes you feel better, but just don’t let the term infant massage therapy scare you away from this very practical and beneficial practice.
What is Infant Massage?
Infant massage therapy has been practiced in countries around the world for centuries, in many cultures as a natural form of parenting that is second nature, much like how we might consider burping an infant to be a “given” practice. However, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that it became a discussed and purposefully taught behavior in the United States, although many moms were instinctively doing it for decades. Vimala Schneider McClure, author of Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents, was a pioneer in bringing infant massage to the minds of parents and encouraging its use as an effective parenting tool. Her book is a great guide to start practicing infant massage – but you don’t have to buy a book in order to implement some of the practices and see the rewards.
What Does Infant Massage Do?
Each of my children came into this world with their own set of needs and preferences – and each reacted to infant massage differently. There is no one perfect method or use for all babies, but if you try different approaches you are bound to find something that works for your little one.
Calms fussy babies – Without fail you could set a clock to my son’s fussiness to arrive at 11:30 p.m. each night. He suffered from a combination of being tired, an upset stomach, and his own circadian rythms that dictates his moods. I would put on Elvis (his favorite music for some reason), spread out a blanket on the floor, and begin to gently rub his legs. I would stretch his legs and work with them to gently bend his legs (never doing it when he resisted). This rhythmic motion and the calming touch of my hands (along with good old Elvis), would quiet my son almost instantly. For your baby it might mean:
- Gently caressing your baby’s back or head
- Rubbing your baby’s belly in a circular motion
- Using touch points to help calm you baby
Check out this video that shows just some of the basics when it comes to infant massage therapy. They recommend using an oil, but my kids didn’t even need that as much as they just needed the touch. If you do decide to use some type of oil or lotion, talk with your baby’s health care provider to make sure that your choice is appropriate for your baby’s skin.
Improves immune function and helps heal – Another one of my sons suffered from RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and the lingering effects, causing several severe bouts of pneumonia. While his infections were treated with medications, his discomfort was often alleviated with infant massage. I worked with nurses to develop a way to hold him in my arms and use massage while keeping him upright to improve his breathing.
Infant massage offers many other benefits for both parents and babies.
- It helps to build a bond between you and your child.
- It can relax your fussy baby.
- It can improve weight gain – with one study showing that 15 minutes of massage a day helped babies gain needed weight 47% faster than without infant massage.
- Babies who are provided with infant massage have lower levels of stress hormones and reduced anxiety.
- Infant massage teaches parents about the nonverbal cues that their babies give, which are vitally important since infants don’t have the ability to put into words how they are feeling.
If you decide to try infant massage, check out some books from your library and talk with your baby’s healthcare provider. Babies are quite flexible, but they are also very vulnerable to certain movements. You might also want to consider parenting methods such as kangaroo mother care (one more way to use close contact to calm and soothe your baby). Infant massage therapy can become a part of your daily routine with your infant that builds your bond, improves communication and overall health, and is another tool for connected parenting.