Adults have come to know the pleasure and soothing effects of massage.
Babies also love and benefit from this ancient art of touch. The benefits
of regular massage many include strengthened parent-child bonds, relief
of colic symptoms, helping babies sleep and enhancing the infants
mental, physical and emotional development. Parents that I have worked
with say it’s fun and relaxing.
The Magic of Touch:
Even Babies Love Massage
Infant Massage Gently Builds A Bond And May
Also Boost Health
By Ann Doss Helms Charlotte, N.C.
Tribune Saturday, April 17,1999, Knight Ridder Newspapers
As soft music plays and candles scent the air, gentle hands stroke
bellies round as fresh-baked rolls. Sometimes the clients babble with
delight. Sometimes they cry. Either is fine. These little people have
the rest of their lives to do what others demand.
Today they are receiving infant massage. Their parents gaze into
their eyes, caress them from downy heads to tiny toes, and learn to
read their every glance, cry and hiccup.
"It’s like a dance, where you’re kind of getting to know each
other, back and forth," say Catherine O’Grady of Charlotte.
Infant massage therapists don’t give baby rub-downs. They teach
parents a series of strokes and exercises for their babies, advise
them on infant development and give lessons in the art of communication
without words. There’s a routine to help when a baby’s nose is stuffed
up and another for gas pains. For a quick daily massage, mom might
start by rubbing gentle circles around baby’s head, stroke the chest,
roll the arms and legs in her hands and softly swish her hands across
Sessions can start when a baby is less than a month old, and they
work best in the first few months of life. (If you have to ask why,
you haven’t tried to get a toddler to hold still lately.)
Practitioners say regular massage strengthens parent-child bonds,
relieves colic, helps babies sleep and enhances infants mental, physical
and emotional development.
Parents say it’s fun and relaxing. Many enjoy getting massages themselves,
so it only makes sense to them that their babies would, too.
"Touch is so important, and it’s something we as Americans
don’t get comfortable with. If I can get my child comfortable with
it early on, I think that’s great," said Chris Dawes of Mooresville,
N.C., who recently took O’Grady’s classes with her 9 month old daughter,
Scientists at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute
have looked at the benefits of massage for babies with problem, such
as premature birth, HIV and drug exposure and depressed mothers. In
all of those cases, babies who received regular massage gained more
weight and developed better than control groups without massage.
Cary Pickard of Charlotte is a fervent believer. Her second child,
Sara, was born with a brain abnormality six months ago. Pickard believes
constant, loving touch has helped Sara smile, lift her head and develop
some sight. She’s taking an infant massage class with high hopes.
"I think the power of touch has an incredible power to heal,"
Infant massage isn’t new, but it’s stepping out of the Charlotte
scene. Vimala Schneider McClure introduced the idea to the US in the
1970"s, after seeing parents in India use traditional strokes
to soothe and love their babies. Her book, "Infant Massage: A
Handbook for Loving Parent" (Bantam Books, $13.95), has been
in print since 1978, and many parenting manuals touch on the topic.
Barbara Hess, director of mental health education at the Charlotte
Area Health Education Center, started teaching infant massage to social
workers and health professionals about two years ago. Her personal
interest in massage lead her to take classes from the International
Association of Infant Massage and share her skills with people who
help parents and babies.
O’Grady, a pediatric researcher at Carolinas Medical Center, and
Sheri Lesneski, a parent educator with the Towan County Adolescent
Pregnancy Prevention Council, earned their infant massage certification
last year and started offering private classes. Lesneski, who teaches
in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Rowan and Stanley counties, says many people
see infant massage as some kind of gimmick.
"It’s very slow building the confidence of people. They kind
of laugh it off as, ‘Massage? Yeah, right,’" Lesneski said.
Indeed, skeptics might get a good chuckle hearing about strokes
with names like Sun and Moon, I Love You and Swedish Milking. They
might smirk at classes in which some babies fuss for a bottle, others
nod off and still others-not to point fingers at the little boys-spray
their masseuses when the diapers come off.
And eyebrows might raise at the notion that every session should
start with the parents asking the baby’s permission. "They can’t
answer," O’Grady explains, "but you set the pattern of respect."
A baby with a bright expression, intent gaze and quiet alertness
is signaling, "Go ahead: I’m ready." Yawns, arched backs,
squirms, burps, hiccups - and crying, of course - indicate it’s time
to back off and try something else.
When the time is right, the massage begins. Parents knead pudgy
thighs and trace tiny circles on temples. Babies coo and relax.
O’Grady softly urges the parents to let their love flow through
their hands. They slide their fingers along skin as soft and perfect
as any living thing will ever be, and the touch is as reverent as
For more information, call the International Association of Infant
Massage, 1-800-248-5432, and leave a mailing address.
Ironwood Television sells a video titled "Gentle Touch: Infant
Massage" for $29.95. Call 1-800-383-7238. 9AM to 5PM Eastern