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Infant massage: a nurturing welcome to the world.

Babies need loving touch to thrive. Parents massage their infants in many cultures, and have done so for centuries. This loving interaction can be facilitated by individuals specially trained in child and family development and touch techniques for children. Once parents learn about the benefits of tactile contact and stimulation through caressing, massaging, holding, carrying, and rocking, they are more likely to integrate nurturing touch into everyday care activities.

All babies can benefit from massage, as it tends to regulate, stimulate, and strengthen internal organs and improve the functioning of all body .systems. Massage encourages the child's respiration to become fuller and deeper and promotes faster weight gain from better appetite and feeding. Circulation and immunity are enhanced, and gas, constipation, and colic can be relieved. In addition to encouraging better mind-body communication, intellectual and language development may be enhanced.

Not unlike adult human beings, little ones also experience stress. Massage produces deep relaxation, increasing the baby's ability to self-console and release tension. Soothing techniques aid in the child's self-regulation. Improved sleep patterns means that the baby's disposition tends to be better when awake.

Babies who experience a change in caregivers or environment cling to the security of massage as a regular, familiar activity. Pleasurable touch diminishes discomforts and communicates support, perhaps facilitating recovery, of sick infants. "Kangaroo care," skin-to-skin contact, and touch that progresses from simple techniques show beneficial results with cesarean-delivered infants and for babies born prematurely. Moreover, infants who may be traumatized or sensitive can release fear and pain through the loving touch of a caring adult.

It's not just the baby that enjoys infant massage; the parent or caregiver also benefits. Massage can be a concrete way for parents to learn about their baby, gain self-confidence, and become more proficient in their nurturing abilities. Spending time massaging their baby helps parents develop a new level of sensitivity about how the baby is feeling, and provides insights into the wants and needs of this small individual. Parents also become more aware of changes in the growth, development, and health of their child.

Although simply touching a baby is a very important part of connection, developmental guidance as part of an experiential class helps parents become more excited about their baby and derive greater pleasure from parenting. For example, a hallmark of the Gentle Touch[R] approach is that it proceeds on each body part only after the baby's permission has been obtained through body language or verbal cues. The baby learns self-respect as boundaries and wishes are honored. A foundation for healthy emotional development is laid when the infant becomes interested in people and the world. The baby feels good when expressing preferences and wishes and finding these respected and encouraged. Through the reciprocal interactions inherent in the massage, the baby learns trust and intimacy. Feeling utterly lovable results in a loving, not spoiled, child with a strong sense of self. As communication is enhanced, the bonding and attachment process is promoted and the parent-baby relationship is strengthened. The interaction during the massage is positive, enjoyable and fun.

Breastfeeding mothers who massage their infants are more successful, as the secretion of prolactin, essential for milk production, is enhanced. Weaning tends to go more smoothly if the child experiences the closeness that massage produces. Nurturing through massage, fathers discover a greater sense of fulfillment knowing that they have a way to offer physical and emotional support. Another benefit for parents is that they sleep better because their baby's sleep is improved.

From birth on, parents can offer nurturing touch in response to the baby's capacity and willingness to accept it. Training in infant massage can offer many benefits to parents and caregivers, such as teaching them how to become more in tune with the baby's cycles and receptivity to touch. Massage can proceed from simple sustained hand placement to specific strokes for each body part. There are gentle movements, special strokes to relieve common discomforts, and ways to tailor caregiving in concert with the baby's biorhythms. Soothing variations can be done virtually anywhere. Massage is done with, and not to, the child for a wonderful exchange of love. Love involves respect, security, care, healing, and nurturing human potential. Massage with a baby promotes love between parent and child, and within families.

Top Five Tips for Infant Massage

(from the Gentle Touch[R] Program)

Pick a good time and place. Find a time when you can become relaxed and focused. Strive for when the baby is happy, calm, and alert. Choose a familiar place where it is warm, quiet, the lights are low, and there are few distractions.

Be comfortable. Position yourself so that your body is comfortable, and place your baby on padding. Encourage eye contact and a feeling of security. Be sure your hands are warm and clean, and use natural food-based oil.

Ask permission. Infant massage is a wonderful relationship builder and communication tool. Therefore, ask your baby's permission to massage, and wait for your baby to answer through their cues.

Be flexible and sensitive. Babies respond well to a gentle, firm touch. Take a break when you need one, and watch and listen closely as your baby communicates feelings, needs, and wants. Instruction and experience will help you to adjust your timing and touch so that it is appropriate and pleasurable.

Have fun! The more you and your baby share massage time, the more benefits you'll both enjoy.

(c) 1997, Emma Miller

Emma Miller, D.Div., is the creator of the Gentle Touch[R] Parent-Child Program for pregnant women, infants, young children, and families. For more information about the Gentle Touch[R] Infant Massage Video, parent-child services, or professional training, please visit or call 1-888-333-3936.
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Title Annotation:breath + movement
Author:Miller, Emma
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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