Infant massage can relieve pain, offer comfort, and provide a lasting bond between parents and babies.
When two-month-old Jake attended his first infant massage class, he was screaming. According to his young mother, Jake screamed most of the time, and she had lost all confidence in her ability to soothe him. While medical doctors were looking into physical reasons for Jake's constant crying, his mom needed help immediately.
Peg Farlow and Maria Mathius guided the young mother's hands in a clockwise circle on the infant's tummy. With less than 10 inches separating mother and screaming infant, Farlow remembers the moment when the mother's fingers rested over the descending colon and her son stopped crying. "He blinked his little eyes and gazed deeply into his mother's," Farlow remembers. "The magic that occurred between infant and mother energized the whole room."
Farlow, a licensed massage therapist, certified infant massage instructor, and speech/language pathologist in Alabama, instructs parents in the basics of infant massage. "All babies need safe, nurturing touch and that is what massage offers," she explains. "Teaching caregivers how to use touch/massage offers them the opportunity to do something for their child that is comforting, and is really fun for them, too."
Is This a New Trend or an Old Tradition?
Massage has been around for centuries. It was also widely used in Europe during the Renaissance. It eventually came to the US during the 1850s where it was used to promote overall health. As medical science progressed in the first half of the 1900s, massage dropped off the radar and stayed that way until the 1970s. Massage therapy in infants in particular appears to show overall health benefits.
What Are the Physical Benefits?
The regular routine of infant massage offers additional benefits to both child and caregiver that are not necessarily provided by normal affectionate touch.
"Infants are not fully developed at birth. They need help in every way to survive," she says. "Massage provides much of that help, toning the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems, in addition to providing the cues so necessary for the emotional health of the developing child."