The ancient art of infant massage has been practiced for centuries by cultures around the world and is one of the earliest stimuli a parent can provide for their infant. By using simple massage strokes, you can enhance your role as a parent and provide the right type of stimuli to promote optimal development. You and your baby will experience many benefits from infant massage during a child’s first years and for years to come. Here’s more about the benefits of this special technique from our physical therapists who are certified in infant massage.
Massaging your baby is a wonderful and loving way to begin a lifelong relationship
The growth in popularity for infant massage instruction is due to positive research outcomes, our changing lifestyles and a desire by parents to provide better care for their infants. Massaging babies provides an important source of stimulation involving the sensation of touch (tactile stimulation) and this stimulation promotes development and well-being as early psychological and sensory input is vital in facilitating an infant’s development. In addition, starting touch early in life improves parenting skills and promotes a baby’s overall health.
Infant massage promotes bonding, growth and much more
Infant massage encourages bonding through eye-to-eye contact, smiling, soothing vocal sounds, loving touch, caressing and mutual interaction. Studies show that bonding increases a parent’s feeling of attachment as well as their desire to nurture and care for their infant.
Massage can also enhance oxygen and nutrient flow to cells and improve breathing patterns and lung health (respiration). It can enhance the release of hormones, including growth hormones to help with weight gain, and can spark neurons in the brain to grow and branch out to improve mental processing/skills (cognition).
Massage has many other physical and emotional benefits for your baby. These benefits include:
- Promoting social, emotional and cognitive development
- Helping a baby relax and release tensions of daily stimuli
- Decreasing irritability and excessive crying
- Reducing gas, colic and intestinal difficulties
- Regulating behavioral states and promoting sleep
- Strengthening and regulating primary systems (i.e., respiratory, circulatory, nervous, musculature, digestive and endocrine)
There are also benefits for parents and the development of parenting skills. The act of massaging an infant helps:
- Promote better understanding of infant cues
- Enhance communication and emotional ties
- Increase confidence and handling skills
- Provide quality one-on-one interaction
- Encourage parents to unwind, relax, and listen to their baby
How touch enhances development
Early development is influenced by touch and infant massage can support development in these five areas:
Communication skills – promotes emerging speech, direct eye gaze, listening and turn taking
- Motor skills – improves muscle tone and coordination, increases body awareness
- Social skills – encourages infant and caregiver to engage one another
- Self-help skills – stimulates oral motor musculature awareness, lip closure, and relaxation of tension needed for swallowing
- Cognition – enhances overall awareness of self and body boundaries, cause and effect, and increase in attention span
What exactly is infant massage?
The term infant massage refers to the process of stroking the muscles of an infant using a variety of specialized massage techniques. It includes massaging the legs, feet, stomach, chest, arms, hands, face and back. Vocalizations, eye-to-eye contact and other positive behavioral reinforcements are also important components of the massage. Infant massage can be used to provide relaxation, stimulation or relief and is a bonding activity between parents and their infant.
Learning infant massage techniques from a certified infant massage instructor (CIMI)* is recommended and having your baby present for hands-on learning is the ideal way to learn. If possible, infant massage should be started as soon as possible, but it is never too late to learn and try these techniques with your child! While infant massage is designed to begin with newborn infants, the same basic massage techniques can be used throughout toddlerhood and childhood and beyond.
Massage classes and more
CHoR offers an Infant Massage group class the third Wednesday of each month at our Brook Road campus. Our infant massage program uses a combination of techniques from traditional Swedish massage, East Indian massage, reflexology and conditioned relaxation response. During this 90-minute class, CHoR’s certified infant massage instructors teach new parents how to massage their baby, what oil to use and why, how to explore their infant’s cues, how to perform strokes for all areas of the body, and how to modify the massage for a growing child. This class is geared for infants from birth to 12 months. To register, call (804) 828-4409 or 800-762-6161 and select option 1. For additional information, go to VCUmom.com.
We also offer a therapeutic massage physical therapy program. This program provides an opportunity to meet one on one with a physical therapist who is a certified infant massage instructor. These sessions are for children of any age with special needs. For more information regarding this program, please call (804) 228-9268.
by Elizabeth Triesler, physical therapist and certified infant massage instructor, and Brittany Wynn, physical therapist and certified infant massage instructor