Baby, Family, Society: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Infant Massage
Infant massage is an ancient practice that dates back for hundreds of years in places around the world including Poland, Canada, East Africa, Russia, China, South and North America and the South Seas. The art of massage has been handed down generation to generation to promote healthy family development through nurturing touch and compassionate communication. Massage strokes taught today are adaptations of this ancient massage combined with principles of reflexology and yoga. Infant massage also uses many of the elements of bonding such as eye-to-eye and skin-to-skin contact, smiling, soothing sounds, cuddling and smell.
Research, clinical studies and clinical observations all support the many physical, psychological and emotional benefits of infant massage. Beyond the benefits to the infant, familial relationships are positively impacted which may well contribute to the betterment of society as a whole. It can be beneficial to medically fragile infants, drug addicted infants, adoptive parents, adolescent parents and parents suffering from postpartum depression and mood disorders.
Benefits to the Baby
Regular Infant Massage may:
- Help your baby sleep deeper and longer
- Help your baby to gain weight more quickly
- Help your baby to bond and communicate with you
- Promote relaxation
- Decrease your baby’s crying and irritability
- Help your baby to be more alert and awake
- Provide your baby relief from gas. colic
- Provide your baby relief from teething pains, sinus pains, nasal congestion
- Help tone your baby’s muscles
- Enhance your baby’s neurological development
- Improve your baby’s circulation
- Stimulate your baby’s skin and increase touch tolerance
- Promote self-esteem and a sense of mutual respect between parent/baby
Massage helps tone the digestive tract and stimulates release of food absorption hormones such as insulin. This allows for improved intake of nutrients and alleviates built up gas. Massage also releases endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers. Positive touch in the form of infant massage helps to balance the autonomic nervous system as hormones are released. Infant massage also helps to relieve built up tension in an infant’s body that builds up from stimulation during the day.
Studies have shown that cortisol (a stress hormone) was significantly lowered after infant massage. Studies also show that infants receiving regular massage prior to bedtime had a more favorable rest/activity cycle by the age of 8 weeks and produced more melatonin (a sleep regulator) by 12 weeks. Infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems were given daily bedtime massages for 15 minutes. After one month, the massaged babies showed fewer sleep delay behaviors and were more awake and alert during the day.
Studies on premature infants demonstrated that regular massage resulted in enhanced motor development.
Strong, Healthy Familial Relationships
Regular Infant Massage may:
- Allow you to sleep deeper and longer ( as your baby sleeps deeper and longer)
- Empower you as you gain confidence in understanding your baby’s cues and what he/she is communicating
- Increase your self esteem as you are able to soothe your baby and meet his/her needs
- Facilitate bonding and communication between you and your baby
- Help you to build positive sibling relationships with your new baby
- Offers stress relief, a period of relaxation, and increased feelings of well being
- Provide you with a special and focused quality time to connect with your baby
- Help decrease postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders
Infant massage is one way parents can spend time with their newborn, interacting with them in a way in which they quickly learn to recognize, understand and respond to their infant’s cues, both verbal and non-verbal. This communication then supports mutual respect, promotes secure and healthy attachments and encourages language development. Maternal hormones (oxytocin and prolactin) are activated by contact with the baby which fosters a nurturing response and creates positive maternal feelings.
Studies have shown that fathers who regularly massage their infants experience increased self-esteem and were more expressive when playing with their babies. The babies show increased eye contact, smiling and vocalizing when interacting with their fathers.
Impact to the Greater Society
Regular Infant Massage may:
- Help reduce violence and abuse by producing secure adults
- Help promote mutually respectful familial and extended relationships
When children are shown love, they feel loved and respected, and in turn grow to be loving, respectful and secure adults which creates a healthier and more compassionate society. Cross cultural studies have shown that in cultures where children receive appropriate tactile input, they grow to be less violent and contribute to a more compassionate society.
Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI2) and Certified Pediatric Massage Therapist (CPMT), Melanie Wattles, RN, owns Baby Strokes Infant / Child Massage Instruction. She has over 25 years of experience working in the field of Pediatric and Neonatal Nursing. Melanie is Infant/Child CPR certified. Baby Strokes offers both individual and small group classes that provide education about the benefits of infant/child massage, safe use of massage oils and infant states and cues. For more information, visit:
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