An Infant’s Irreducible Need For Healthy Touch: The benefits of infant massage is not just to soothe your little one to slumber or to ease his gassy tummy.
At our very core, human beings have a need for connection. This is especially true and critical for infants and babies. An infant’s development is influenced by his/her interactions with and connection to other people. Connection and interaction come in many forms, but the one which is most influential at an early stage is touch.
A Short History: Discovery of The Importance of Touch
In 1926 a Pediatrician named Dr. Henry Dwight Chapin was concerned about the alarming number of infant deaths from Marasmus in hospitals, orphanages and foster care. He made the case that institutionalized infants and children were at risk of long term damage in areas of mental and emotional development-if they were lucky enough to survive! He compiled data showing every institutionalized infant under the age of 2 in 10 cities had died, except for in one institution. Despite the fact that these infants were well provided for in terms of food, shelter, clothing and warmth, they starved themselves and perished. It was then found that there was a significant lack of interaction and physical contact with these infants.
Later in the 1940’s, Dr. Fritz Talbot of the Children’s Clinic in Dusseldorf Germany introduced the concept of Tender Loving Care (TLC) after observing a caregiver in the clinic referred to as “Old Anna” hold, touch, and carry the babies while she worked. Apparently Old Anna was able to nurture infants back to health after all medical interventions were exhausted.
Dr. Chapin and Dr. Talbot’s findings laid the foundation for understanding the importance of healthy touch in survival and normal development of infants. This brings us to the beautiful practice of Infant Massage (IM).
In the 1970’s IM was introduced to North America and was primarily used with “well babies”. Later in the 1990’s IM was used with special needs children which, naturally lead to the realization that the practice of IM must follow an individualized approach to suit every baby’s individual needs.
Today the techniques of IM are based heavily on ancient Indian teachings for IM. Furthermore, IM is very much focused on one’s ability to read baby’s cues and to take
his/her lead. It is also recommended that parents/caregivers be the individual(s) who do the massage.
Implications and Benefits of Infant Massage:
Touch is the first of the senses to be developed in the womb. A newborn receives most stimuli, gains understanding of surroundings and self awareness through the sense of touch. Babies need human touch and close interaction to develop healthy, to thrive and to survive.
Benefits for the infant:
Relaxation is often our first thought when the word massage is mentioned. IM not only relaxes the baby, but it also reduces anxiety and stress in parents. This effect is a physiological response in both parent and baby. IM plays a role in hormone balance of the giver and receiver of massage. In response to massage, nurturing hormones such as Oxytocin (otherwise known as the love hormone), Prolactin (stimulates milk production after birth) and Endorphin (body’s natural pain killer) are elevated while stress causing hormones such as cortisol are reduced.
IM may help alleviate or remedy ailments such as digestive upset, gas, constipation and colic. It may help to sooth a teething baby and promotes better sleep patterns. In fact, IM therapy is often pediatrician’s recommended course of treatment for colic.
Infant massage provides the physical contact, stimulation and movement a new baby needs leading to improved blood and lymph fluid circulation and boost to immune function. It enhances development of the nervous system and stimulates the limbic system (brain). Some routines of massage help to facilitate connections between the left and right sides of the brain, known to be critical and beneficial to normal development.
IM improves bone development and general growth. It has also been shown that IM can facilitate weight gain in Very Low birth Weight (VLBW) babies. With its immune boosting capability, the positive implications of this therapy are far reaching for premature and VLBW babies.
On the lighter side of things, IM is a fun activity and infants react very positively to massage when performed correctly and at an appropriate time.
Benefits for The Parent/Caregiver:
One of the direct outcomes of infant massage is infant to parent/caregiver attachment. For this reason, it is important for parents/caregivers to perform the massage rather than to hire a Massage Therapist.
The benefits of IM have positive implications for teen or first time parents, mothers with postpartum depression, or any other parent who may be nervous or insecure about his/her ability to care for their baby effectively.
IM facilitates parents/caregiver’s ability to learn baby’s cues, enhances communication, and boosts confidence in his/her ability to meet baby’s needs intuitively. It is a very empowering and rewarding activity which, elevates parent/caregiver’s respect for the infant.
Furthermore, it presents the perfect opportunity for working parents with time constraints, to form a strong bond with their baby. This is especially true for fathers who often feel forgotten or of no use in the early weeks or months’ of a baby’s life.
Infant Massage Therapy communicates love, affection and evokes a feeling of comfort and security in infants. It helps to shape human capacity to lead a healthy life by facilitating emotional and physiological well being, growth and development. It is essential to building the foundation of stability and attachment which shapes our confidence and self respect. When performed correctly, it is so beneficial to both parent and baby with very little risk and virtually no negative side effects.