Infant Massage is a time-honored technique to soothe and comfort babies. It has amazing physical benefits, from stimulating digestion and learning, to reducing stress hormones and increasing relaxing hormones. It promotes a bond and lays a foundation for healthy, secure interactions, and helps babies feel connected and able to communicate their needs as it teaches parents to feel more comfortable and confident responding to subtle clues. It feels good for baby, and it gives parents lots of great benefits too!
Earth Mama got to chat with Linda Storm, the Executive Director of Infant Massage USA®. Linda began teaching parents to massage their babies in 1999, and then became a trainer with the International Association of Infant Massage – Sweden. As a trainer she has conducted hundreds of workshops and trained over 1000 educators across the United States as well as in Korea in the United Kingdom. She has written numerous articles, presented workshops at National Conferences such as the Early Head Start, Birth to Three Conference, the National Training Institute for Zero to Three, and Prevent Child Abuse America. Linda answered our questions about infant massage, the biggest one being, “How the heck do you massage a squirmy baby when she screeches the minute you undress her?” She expertly helped us through!
So Linda, what should we know about Infant Massage? Infant massage is much more than learning strokes. It is an opportunity to invest a few hours to get to know your baby on a deeper level. It nurtures a trusting and secure relationship that will last a lifetime.
For breastfeeding mothers, this is a wonderful opportunity for dads to be involved with their baby. The techniques help dad get to know their baby and make a deep connection.
What are some of the benefits of infant massage? There are many benefits of infant massage, for the baby, the parent and for greater society. Including stimulating all the systems of the body, learning, healthy weight gain and healing for premature infants, relaxing and improving sleep patterns, relieving gas pains, promoting bonding. (A comprehensive list of the benefits of Infant Massage is here.)
Are there special considerations if a mama wants to do massage on a NICU baby? When babies are in the NICU the best and earliest touch that parents can give is Kangaroo care [skin to skin contact between parent and baby, by securing the baby to the parent’s chest to encourage physiological and psychological warmth and bonding]. As the baby grows, nurturing touch can be added.
And are there additional benefits to NICU babies? Yes, babies in the NICU, and as they go home, benefit greatly from massage. There is a lot of research to support touch for the premature baby. For example, babies gain weight better, they are better able to self-soothe, it helps with bone mineralization, they do better on developmental tests even 6 months later.
Are there benefits for the mother when she is the one doing the massaging? Yes, parents feel closer to their baby, it can reduces stress so they feel more relaxed and they can feel more comfortable and confident responding to baby’s needs. It can also help reduce postpartum depression. (More benefits are listed here!)
We can’t figure this one out, WHEN do you do baby massage? When the baby is upset? When the baby is asleep? Babies are massaged when they are in the “quiet alert” state. They are calm and peaceful. This is their learning state. We don’t massage a baby that is sleeping. We want to interact with the baby and enjoy this special time with them. Massage can be done any time during the day. After a morning or afternoon nap, before bedtime.
Here's a big one. In our experience, babies get really mad when you undress them, so how do you get them ready for a massage without making them screech? There are several unique premises to learning infant massage. We follow baby’s cues. Massage is done with the baby not to the baby. This starts with asking the baby permission to give them a massage.
We begin our massage with the legs and feet. Babies are used to having their diapers changed so it is less invasive for them. This helps them relax and enjoy the massage. We gradually move up the body to the tummy, then chest, arms etc. It is important for parents to come to a class so a Certified Educator can help them better understand their baby’s cues.
Is there a special technique mamas should learn? All touch is important. By attending a class a parent not only learns stroke techniques but also how to interpret their baby’s cues. During the classes parents also have an opportunity to learn and discuss issues they face as a parent.
What else do you think our mamas should know? Every parent wants their baby to be exceptional and be the best they can be. Infant Massage can help babies feel more confident, build self esteem as well and building neuro-pathways to help them do better in school. It is amazing the many benefits from giving your baby a little rub everyday.