The advantages read like every new parent’s dream for their baby – better sleep, boosted brain development, relief from tummy troubles and a stronger immune system. So what’s the secret? Surprisingly, just your hands, a little time and a centuries-old belief in the power of touch.
Infant massage, long practiced by ancient cultures around the globe, has seen a steady rise in popularity in the U.S. during the last thirty years or so, starting with preterm infants in the NICU and becoming more mainstream as research repeatedly backs up its claims.
“There’s been a renewed focus on brain development, bonding and attachment, and parents are realizing just how important those first few months of life really are,” says Linda Storm, Founding Executive Director of Infant Massage USA, who now trains instructors across the country. “We know all those little tender touches really make a difference, and infant massage gives parents those tools.”
With infant massage classes now offered at hospitals, birth centers and massage practices across central Indiana, parents have more choices (and more questions) than ever. Indy’s Child contacted local and national experts to answer some frequently asked questions on the subject.
Being a new parent is overwhelming! Are the benefits of infant massage really worth my time and effort?
The answer is an empirical “yes” from experts who point to all the ways the practice can help both baby and parents navigate those unpredictable first few months.
“As new parents, often the more you read, the more confused you are. But infant massage is one tool that is straightforward – it’s just a series of strokes designed specifically to promote calm in the infant and confidence as a parent,” says Laura Guzzi, a medical social worker at St. Vincent Hospital who leads infant massage classes at the Carmel location.
For babies, the benefits of massage are plentiful, including what all parents crave – more restful sleep. A 2000 study found that infants who were massaged before bedtime developed better sleeping cycles by eight weeks and produced more melatonin, a sleep regulator, at night by tweove weeks. Experts also credit massage with stimulating an infant’s digestive system, leading to better weight gain and less uncomfortable gas; improving coordination, balance and body awareness; and promoting relaxation, reducing stress hormones and allowing the infant to better calm him or herself.
But the benefits aren’t only for your baby. The practice can be equally helpful for parents, who experts say gain confidence by learning to better recognize their child’s verbal and nonverbal cues, form strong bonds through the power of touch and, perhaps most importantly, actually give themselves permission to turn off distractions and spend uninterrupted time with their baby.
In fact, a 2000 study found that fathers who regularly massaged their infants reported higher self-esteem as parents and were more expressive, showing more enjoyment and warmth during time with their babies, and they were greeted with more eye contact, smiling and vocalizing. Massage can also be a powerful tool for mothers struggling with postpartum depression, with a 2001 study showing improved marks on the standard Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale among moms who learned massage.
“I remember taking my daughter home and thinking, ‘Well now what?’” recalls Amy Stenger-Sullivan, owner of Baby’s First Massage, an Ohio-based organization that trains infant massage therapists across the country. “Just having that positive action to take with infant massage was helpful.”
I’m getting no sleep and I barely have time to shower. Is infant massage complicated to learn? How long does it take to do?
The simplicity and flexibility of infant massage is one the best parts, experts say. “Parents are busy, they’re back at work sooner than before, and they’re like, ‘You want me to do one more thing?’ But it’s something that will help both you and your baby,” Storm says. “It’s just a quiet time of slowing down and being intentional, even if it’s only ten minutes. It’s a time to reconnect.”
The strokes are simple and intuitive, and experts say they’re all beneficial, no matter if you only complete the legs or have time to massage baby’s tummy. Most instructors also offer take-home materials.
What should I look for in an infant massage class?
Some classes consist of an hour or so of one-time instruction, while others are structured as a weekly series, with advantages to both formats. It may be easier for both parents and other caregivers to attend a one-time class, while multi-week instruction can help parents and baby adjust gradually to the massage process.
Experts recommend parents seek out instructors who have training specifically in infant massage and who have first-hand experience working with families and babies. There are a variety of infant massage instructor certifications, including the Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM) and the Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI).
Simple massage techniques can benefit even days-old babies, as long as they are healthy and taking feedings well, experts say, and purposeful touch can be useful well past infanthood. Most classes are designed for babies six weeks and older, typically until they become mobile.
Experts encourage new parents to seek out infant massage offerings in their area and to consider the practice a simple way to connect as a family. “Sometimes infant massage is seen as this ‘new age’ thing, like, ‘Oh, this is a massage? I can’t afford the luxury of learning to massage my baby,’” Storm says. “But it really is an investment in the future; the future of your relationship with your child and the development of your family.”
Area Infant Massage Classes
Advanced Breastfeeding Care
9595 Angola Court (office inside Center for Early Orthodontic Treatment), Indianapolis
Offering one-time infant massage classes Feb. 3, March 3 and April 14, 10:30 am -noon
More info: www.advancedbreastfeedingcare.com
Offers four to five session infant massage class series taught at client’s home
Cost: $50 per family for series
Cara Mehlon Birth and Wellness Studio
Offered Carmel studio and Sacred Roots Midwifery and Birth Center
6620 Parkdale Pl. Suite K, Indianapolis
In-person infant massage consultations
Curvy Girl Studio
2024 Cherry Street, Noblesville
Afternoon infant massage workshops offered upon request
Hancock Wellness Center
8505 N. Clearview Dr., McCordsville
Free infant massage workshop, April 8, 9-11 am
More info: Contact Linda Garrity at 317-468-4383 or [email protected], www.hancockregionalhospital.org/hancock-wellness-center/
St. Vincent Carmel Hospital
13500 N. Meridian St., Carmel
One-time infant massage class offered about every five weeks for babies 6 weeks to 9 months
Families do not need to have given birth there to enroll
Cost: $25 per family
More info: 317-338-2229, www.stvincent.org/St-Vincent-Womens/Patient-Education/Class-Descriptions.aspx