by Julia O'Farrell LMT & CIMI
Touch is a language we can use to communicate to our infants quite effectively. It is also a language that we can continue to have with our infants as they grow into adulthood. The practice of infant massage has been around for centuries & was introduced to the United States in the 1970's by Vimala Schneider McClure. She studied the benefits of massage on infants while in India and then brought her findings to the US to share.
Since then numerous studies have found that when infants are able to be massaged for at least 15 minutes a day, they were more awake and active during the day, cried less, slept better and were more bonded with their parents.
I found, when massaging my own children, that they would calm down to the sound of my hands rubbing together in preparation for the massage as they knew the sound meant something good and calming. There are numerous benefits to both the child and parent when massage is performed on a regular basis.
How to prepare your environment for the massage
It's best to have the room at a warm temperature so that your infant will be comfortable during the massage, keep the lighting soft or dim and have something washable and leak proof under the baby. I like to use oils when I am massaging, the ones that I have found to be the best during an infant massage are almond, apricot, grape seed, sesame or olive oil. The skin absorbs these oils quite well and if the oil reaches the infant's mouth via their little hand, your baby will be okay.
To begin I apply the oil to my hands and then I rub them together making a kind of swooshing sound. After about the third time all of my babies began to recognize that sound. You could tell by the expression on their faces they were happy, calm, content and anxiously awaiting the massage.
Benefits for Infants & Children
- Promotes relaxation and enhancement of neurological development
- While there are no studies on this just yet, it has been known to help an infant who is teething to calm down, as endorphins and oxytocins are released during massage; these two hormones are natural pain relievers as well as mood enhancers
- Can help the infant sleep better or for longer periods of time
- Enhances the bonding process for both the parents and infant
- Decreases emotional stress
- Involves the father or daycare provider to help with the bonding process
- Teaches infants that touch is a form of expression & that it can be positive; it also helps increase infant's body awareness
- Stimulates the vagus nerve -- the Vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that has numerous functions, one of them being something called peristalsis, which is the movement the throat, stomach and then intestines make while moving food along the digestive track, promoting good digestion
- Speeds myelination of the brain and nervous system which helps with the communication between the body and the brain
- Increases oxygen and nutrient flow to the cells
- Helps tone muscles and aids in the growth of muscle.
- Improves sensory awareness
- Strengthens the immune system
Benefits for Parents
- Improves confidence in the parents
- Provides quality time with a working parent or a parent of more than one child
- Increases the parent's ability to help relax their child in times of stress or pain
- Can involve the father
- Mothers who suffer from post partum depression have shown to improve or recover quicker after starting infant massage on their baby
And the best part? Infant massage is fun!
If you would like to learn more about infant massage or find a class near you that teaches infant massage you can visit:
Julia O'Farrell is a licensed massage therapist and she is the mom of three magical little men and wife to Jeremy.
Copyright © Julia O'Farrell. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.