by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
Infant Massage: Nurturing Touch that Lasts a Lifetime
Babies and children simply love to be touched. In fact, they thrive on it and it is a crucial part of their development. Children need physical contact for healthy growth and development. Normal affectionate touching is important, however, a regular routine of infant massage can offer additional benefits to both the caregiver and child. Nurturing touch promotes physiological, neurological and psychological development and function.
What is Infant Massage?
Infant Massage is an ancient tradition of providing nurturing touch as a way of communicating and bonding with baby. Massage can help foster mutual trust and understanding between caregiver and child.
In comparison to other parts of the world, infant massage is fairly new in the United States and other western countries. The use of nurturing touch and massage can be traced back thousands of years and to various cultures around the world.
Throughout India, Africa and the South Pacific, massage is part of regular parenting practices and is handed down from generation to generation. Grandmother teaches mother, mother teaches daughter and baby receives full benefits of this loving tradition.
Benefits of Infant Massage
Clinical research has shown that massaging baby can aid in their physiological and neurological development and function, help soothe common discomforts, promote restful sleep for the infant (and in turn the caregivers), and increase healthy attachment and bonding.
Much of the research available today, supports benefits of infant massage for babies born prematurely. This research has been ongoing since the 1970's and has been conducted at various institutes with infants who were born prematurely, exposed to drugs in utero and infants that had developmental and motor problems. All categories of these babies showed benefits after receiving nurturing touch.
One specific study performed at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, was the massage of preterm infants to improve growth and development. The data of this study suggests that the growth and development of newborn infants can be facilitated by tactile-kinesthetic stimulation. Greater weight gain and superior performance on developmental assessments persisted across the first six months for the group of infants that received the massage treatment. Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute has suggested that these enduring effects may be mediated by better parent-infant interactions. Heightened responsiveness of the newborn infant may enhance the early parent-infant relationships which, in turn, may contribute to optimal growth and development at later stages in infancy.
Studies have shown increased weight gain, improved immune function, and myelination of nerves. All of which are needed to encourage appropriate emotional, cognitive and physical development.
Healthy, well babies can also experience a variety of behavioral and developmental improvements when they receive regular massage from their parents or caregivers. These benefits may include weight gain, neurological development and improved digestion.
In addition to the many physical benefits, massage can become a regular time for caregivers to check in with baby, alerting them to subtle changes in baby’s health, and encouraging the caregiver to communicate with baby in a language they understand – touch. If massage is a regular scheduled time of the day, it can also result in precious relaxation time for both caregiver and child. With the baby lying on their back, making eye to eye contact, they receive full focused attention that results in full communication and support. Massage enhances communication and deepens feelings of attachment between parent and baby, promoting the physical and emotional well-being of babies and young children.
Infant Massage Relaxes and Soothes
Not only will baby feel relaxed, so will you! Nurturing touch is a naturally rewarding way to relieve stress for both caregiver and baby. Touch has been shown to decrease levels of Cortisol (stress hormone) in our bodies. Cortisol is always present in our bloodstream, but high levels of this hormone can be found in our bodies during times of extreme stress. Babies who have high levels of Cortisol can experience damage to the area of their brain that controls memory and cognition – the hippocampus.
Infant Massage Deepens Bonding
Infant Massage provides the caregiver with essential one-on-one time that will enhance your bonding, understanding and ability to nurture. During massage, Oxytocin is released in both the giver and receiver’s body. Oxytocin is our feel good hormone, also known as the hormone of love. This hormone helps to provide us with loving, nurturing feelings which help us to bond. Mothers experience an increased production of Oxytocin during labor and breastfeeding, but now research shows that even close physical contact and touch stimulates Oxytocin production. This is great news for fathers, who can still produce the same hormones through the use of nurturing touch.
Infant Massage Improves Communication
Touch is our first form of communication so, it is natural to assume that communicating through touch enhances your ability to understand baby’s special needs and respond appropriately. Infant Massage increases the caregiver’s confidence and sensitivity to baby’s unique cues and forms of communication. You cannot spoil a baby by picking them up when they cry. When babies receive attentive responses to their needs, they grow to become healthier and more secure in adulthood.
Infant Massage Contributes to Development
Infant massage stimulates growth and healthy development of baby’s body, mind and spirit. Massaged babies gain healthy weight better than babies who do not receive massage. Additionally, nurturing touch helps to enhance the digestion process by stimulating our food absorption hormones - glycogen and insulin. The systems of the body are stimulated during massage which assists in the absorption of nutrients and elimination of what is not needed. For some babies infant massage has also been shown to be effective at reducing the symptoms associated with constipation, gas and colic.
Infant Massage Helps Baby to Sleep Better
Not only does massage help baby to release stress which builds daily from new experiences, it allows them to relax. During this special time, both caregiver and child have time to take a deep breath and just relax. Massaging a baby has been shown to encourage them to sleep deeper and for longer periods of time. This can translate to the caregiver being able to sleep longer as well!
Infant Massage in the Early Education and Childcare Setting
As someone who cares for infants and young children, you will surely wish to include appropriate nurturing touch into your daily care for the children in your setting. It is important to consider your role as an educator who can help to educate and encourage families to provide this same care for their children when they are home. Becoming a Certified Infant Massage Teacher (CIMT) gives you the opportunity to provide families with information and hands-on lessons, so parents feel confident in providing massage for their own child. By encouraging and supporting nurturing touch you foster mutual respect, communication and understanding that lasts a lifetime.
Specially trained Certified Infant Massage Teachers (CIMTs)
Through working as a Certified Infant Massage Teacher you have the special opportunity to impact an infant and their family for a lifetime.
This professional training is for those interested in working with families by becoming a Certified Infant Massage Teacher (CIMT). A CIMT is not only an instructor, but also an educator who teaches the art of infant massage to parents or caregivers in the presence of their babies.
For more information visit Comprehensive Infant Massage Teacher Training Course (CIMT)
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Liddle Kidz Foundation | Certified Infant Massage Teacher Training & Infant Massage Classes
Touch Research Institute http://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/
Infant Massage Forums
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