“On my way back to the train station after a tearful goodbye at the orphanage, my rickshaw stopped to let a buffalo cart go by. To my right was a shanty- just a few boards and some canvas- where a family lived by the road. A young mother sat in the dirt with her baby across her knees, lovingly massaging him and singing. As I watched her I thought, there is so much more to life than material wealth. She had so little, yet she could offer her baby this beautiful gift of love and security, a gift that would help to make him a compassionate human being” (McClure, 1989). This is the personal story of Vimala Schneider McClure, a yoga practitioner who learned about the importance of the traditional Indian baby massage while studying and working at a small orphanage in India during the early 1970’s. McClure is the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage and has been credited as one of the pioneers of bringing the ancient art of Infant Massage to the West. She is also the author of several books including Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents.
Today, we will discuss some of the major benefits of infant massage including bonding and attachment, stimulation, relief, and relaxation. We will explore the GGK resources available on this topic, as well as tips for supporting parents as they gain a better understanding of the benefits of infant massage.
Infant massage refers to the process of rubbing or massaging an infant’s muscles while doing gentle rhythmic strokes in a way appropriate for babies. Infant massage is a common traditional practice in many countries around the word, particularly in Africa and Asia. In most cultures babies are massaged following a bath and prior to sleep time and the infant massage practices are often passed on from mothers to daughters. In the United States, infant massage is considered a recent phenomenon. According to Tiffany Field, massage therapy schools in the United States are beginning to certify therapists who then teach parents how to massage their infants. Currently, there are approximately 4,000 certified infant massage therapists across the country. Techniques used are based on the teachings of McClure and other massage therapists (Field, 1994).
Massage can help babies and their parents in many ways. Babies who are massaged experience all kinds of new sensations, feelings, sounds, and unique ways of connecting with their parents and/or caregivers. During massage, the child experiences the kind of nurturing touch that enhances bonding and secure attachment. The parent and the infant engage in a verbal and non-verbal communication interaction that promotes feelings of love and trust. The pleasant tone of his mother’s voice, her smile, and her touch reassures him that the world is safe and friendly. Massage also provides stimulation and relief. Each massage is thought to stimulate the baby’s circulatory, digestive, hormonal, and immune systems. This supports coordination, balance, learning, concentration, muscular development, and mind and body awareness. Parents have found that infant massage can often relieve digestive discomfort, and even helps them handle teething and muscular tension better. In regard to relaxation, infant massage is believed to support improved sleep patterns, increased flexibility and muscle tone, improved regulation of emotions, and enhanced ability to self-regulate (McClure, 1989).
Now let’s explore a few GGK tools around this topic:
- The 0-3 Months: Play and Stimulation Module includes a subsection on Infant Massage. This conversation guide is designed to provide parents with an introduction to Infant Massage. Hopefully it will encourage them to learn more about it. This module introduces one simple infant massage technique. It also discusses that parents do not have to take a special class to do infant massage. Many parents are doing massage by rubbing their baby’s hands and feet. What a great opportunity to bond with their babies through warm and gentle touch, pleasant tone of voice, smiles, and eye contact!
- The 31-36 Months: Play and Stimulation Module includes a subsection on Nurturing Touch. This conversation guide discusses the importance of young children receiving nurturing touch and affection from their parents AND it shares some suggestions about ways parents can give their children nurturing touch including rubbing or massaging their back, hands, or feet when they are sitting close to their parents.
- Getting in Sync with My Baby is an attachment tool designed to support parents with reading their baby’s cues and signals and responding in loving and developmentally supportive ways. The tool includes a set of questions aimed at increasing parental awareness of what the baby might be feeling or experiencing at the moment, what cues and signals the baby is giving and how the parent can respond with empathy. The ability to read their infant’s cues will be helpful as parents practice infant massage; knowing when the baby is emotionally ready for that interaction is an important aspect of making infant massage a joyful experience for both the baby and the parent. The GGK curriculum incorporates the Getting in Sync with My Baby tool into every module. During each visit, it is recommended that the home visitor take 5 minutes to support parents with building these important parenting skills.
Infant massage can be a unique way of enhancing secure attachment relationships. By encouraging parents to devote a few minutes every day for a massage and special time with their babies, we’re supporting them to send the message “I love you and enjoy this time with you” – Touch is a very important element of bonding!
McClure, V. S. (1989). Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents. New York, NY. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Field, T. (1994). Infant Massage. Journal of Perinatal Education, 3(3), 7. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=awh&AN=6246065&site=ehost-live