Being touched and caressed,
Being massaged is food for the infant,
Food as necessary as minerals,
Vitamins and proteins.
Dr. Frederick Leboyer
Nurture and Touch
Dr. James Kimmel, an American clinical psychologist and a psychotherapist, once wrote “the human infant has only one need after she/he is born, a nurturing mother (or her equivalent).”
Evidence shows this relationship is stronger if supported by a nurturing partner and other family members and friends. Parents who are nurturing are warm, affectionate, good at listening, respectful, and attend to the basic care and well-being of their children. Infants who experience a nurturing home environment are more likely to develop into healthy, capable, fully functioning adults.
Sensitive nurturing is communicated through touch, it is the language of love spoken through physical contact and can communicate more love in five seconds than words in five minutes and in the early months the close proximity to the mother (or equivalent) creates a sense of security.
Infants are accustomed to tactile stimulation starting in the womb, with the mother’s constant movement providing a stimulating, interactive environment. With touch being our first sense to develop this becomes the cornerstone of human experience and communication.
Emotionally and physically, healthy mothers and fathers are attracted to their infant. They naturally feel a physical longing to smell, cuddle, and rock their infant but a massage will enhance the bonding “dance”, where two people are really connected and understand each other.
In recent years here in the West we have developed an appreciation for many cultural parenting practices, beginning the journey in appreciating touch and close proximity within these infant friendly and healthy parenting practices, such as skin to skin contact in the moments after birth and beyond, breast feeding support, the emergence of infant slings and bed nests to name a few.
The origins of Baby Massage
Infant Massage is also one of the skin to skin practices that has become more popular in the western world mainly thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Leboyer and Vimala McClure (founder of the International Association of Infant Massage).
Their work began after witnessing a tableau of motherhood in India but it could have been in countless cultures in countless generations as many cultures have used massage as an intuitive part of baby care for hundreds of years.
They witnessed, as so many mothers, fathers and infant massage instructors since, the total communication of love; that reciprocal dance between two people, the eye to eye and skin to skin contact, the soft touch of the hands, the sheer delight of meeting their baby`s basic need. Feeding babies with touch, giving food to their skins, is just as important as filling their stomachs; both inside and outside satisfied.
What is baby massage?
Baby massage is the gentle rubbing and movement of baby's arms, legs, feet, chest, tummy and back. Using a simple natural non-fragranced vegetable oil, the mother (father) uses gentle soothing, rhythmic stokes on each part of the body; helping to relax both parent and baby and enhance that loving emotional connection which is formed and strengthened over time.
Why Baby Massage?
Babies are designed to be in close contact with their mothers. Their neurological wiring is so unique that skin-to-skin contact, immediately after birth and in the early weeks of life, promotes the release of very specific hormones in both mother and baby that is essential for healthy development. Babies that are in frequent skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, such as the experience with baby massage tend to be: calmer and more alert, better regulate their body temperature, better organize their sleep/wake cycles and breastfeed better. These are just a few of the astounding benefits!
Baby massage can also help to strengthen and regulate the digestive system helping to relieve the symptoms of colic and constipation and it also teaches babies how to be aware of their body`s tension and how to release it, an invaluable gift for life!
The loving interaction of the heart, that is released in this tangible way through massage, helps parents to recognise their baby’s unique cues and respond appropriately. Through massage, parents don`t just love their babies – they fall in love with their babies, releasing the tension of past traditions and learning, with the baby as the teacher. The natural instincts of parenthood come in to being. Massage is a wonderful way to help babies to feel safe and secure, through the harmony of needs being met and a lifelong bond of love and trust being built. Infant Massage is a powerful way of showing respect, tenderness, and warmth, and with the parent’s listening heart, ensuring their basic human right for nurturing touch is met.
Getting going with baby massage.
There is no set way to massage your baby - provided you know how to do it safely, you and your baby will discover what's best for you both. It is important to remember, however, that massage is something you do with, rather than to your baby.
Vimala McClure has created a simple but profound and unique programme, empowering the parent as the expert, whilst learning the amazing abilities babies have for communicating their feelings and needs. The ethos and philosophy of the International Association of Infant Massage is to support parents in creating this nurturing environment both for themselves and their child.
Although the programme has been taught since 1976 – its relevance is timeless. Today with the busy pace of life in our western society, rapid increase in technology, mothers returning to work, and nurseries and day-care almost the norm, it is vital that babies have that nurturing connection with their mother. Sue Gerhardt in her book “Why Love Matters” shows how the development of the brain can affect future emotional well being and how this is linked with our earliest relationships despite our inability to remember our babyhood.
Finding a special time for a daily massage can be one of the greatest gifts you give your children and yourself. Bonding is a process; it is about the heart to heart connections which awaken between a parent and child through skin to skin contact which can be enhanced with massage. It meets a baby`s physical and physiological needs, it feeds their souls.
For many parents they find baby massage gives them the confidence all new parents need, in the most gentle and enjoyable way possible.
For more information and to find an instructor near you please visit www.iaim.org.uk