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Touch matters

Baby massage offers a wonderful experience and a special time, laying the foundations of emotional well being in the crucial window of opportunity in the early months of life.

Being a parent can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs in the world, yet it is also one of the most demanding. This is especially true in the early weeks and months of your new baby’s life. Sometimes the pressure of trying to get it right and often being given too much information, can make new parents forget to take a step back and consider those essential elements for the foundation of happiness and well being: love, time and nurturing touch.

Baby massage has developed in popularity in the UK and in other western countries over the last 30 years, although massaging babies has been a parenting tradition in many cultures all over the world for thousands of years.

After studying and working in India in the early 1970s and learning by observation, how mothers massaged their babies, Vimala McClure brought the practice of infant massage to the west in her book, Infant Massage, A Handbook for Loving Parents .

Although the popularity of infant massage is on the increase, its many well known benefits are often understated because of the difficulty of establishing objective proof including improving baby`s sleep pattern and enhancing parent/baby communication.

The point however is that the benefits to both mother (parent) and baby are universal and also unique to the two individuals involved in the shared interaction. The level of sensitivity and responsive adaptation to the massage is vital.

Today in the UK as scientific research catches up with timeless traditions, infant massage classes are accessible in most communities, and so all new mothers can with their babies be part of the reciprocal dance of bonding and attachment in this wonderful engaging way. Research indicates a number of key elements that are part of this process, such as eye contact, sound of voice, the mother’s unique smell, touch and the release of the social hormone oxytocin. All these factors are part of the infant massage interaction.

Touch – Infant Massage routines incorporate both traditional Indian and Swedish massage techniques, which can improve circulation and the immune system, as well as helping to release muscle tension and promote relaxation. A good instructor will help parents to adapt strokes to address the individual needs of their baby, including the common stresses of colic and sinus congestion.

Baby massage offers a wonderful experience and a special time, laying the foundations of emotional well being in the crucial window of opportunity in the early months of life. The importance of touch for wellbeing in humans has been well documented and a massage done with loving intent will nurture your baby’s emotional, as well as physical needs.

Sight – before massage begins, it is essential to relax yourself and be entirely present for and with your baby. Maintaining eye contact and giving baby your full attention allows for an understanding of the many subtle cues and communications both verbal and non-verbal that your baby makes. Developing this understanding of a baby`s communication signals is a central benefit of infant massage, and can be particularly helpful to mothers with postnatal depression.

Sound – using a soothing voice throughout the massage enables the baby to feel nurtured and relaxed. The IAIM teaches primary carers how to use the intonation of their voice to interact with their child, demonstrating how to use particular combinations of sounds and touch to aid relaxation. It is important to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and an understanding of when and how young babies can show sensory overload.

Smell – Another important and interesting topic that will be covered in infant massage classes is the use of oils– often a personal preference . However, an infant massage instructor will awaken your awareness to the importance of bonding through a mother’s unique smell. As an adult you may be unaware of it, but young infants are very sensitive to the smell of their principal carers. This unique smell is thought to be important in providing comfort for the baby . For this and other scientific reasons the International Association of Infant Massage recommends unperfumed oils for massage.

Oxytocin: This non gender specific hormone is regularly produced during massage and is one of the body’s natural pain and stress relievers. It is also the hormone responsible for bonding and attachment.

This maybe why many mothers say “before I started infant massage I loved my baby, but since starting infant massage with my baby I have fallen “in” love with my baby”, thus indicating that infant massage can really deepen that life long bond between adults and their off spring.

When it comes to appreciating how our senses work together to produce a mutually beneficial experience for infant and carer, there really is no substitute for learning to massage your baby with a certified infant massage instructor, who is trained in all aspects of baby massage. The strokes and styles of massage are easier to grasp when demonstrated by an experienced instructor with a doll ( not your baby). Oil, pressure, rate, rhythm, the length of the massage, respect, bonding, why baby cries, sensory awareness, baby's body language, relaxation and parent empowerment are some of the skills and topics that are covered.

It is a natural way of relaxing both for the mother and her baby, leading to a positive relationship and the confidence of massaging in a safe way. Fathers too can of course benefit in the same way, when massaging their baby.

Classes also offer a supportive group environment where parents can share experiences and learn from each other, and whilst instructors strive to create a relaxed, fun and informal atmosphere, group sizes are kept small to ensure personalised attention. The recommended age for babies in group classes is from birth to pre-crawling

Infant massage teaches us many things about our children and ourselves – start your journey of discovery now!

The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) was founded by Vimala McClure and is the first such global organisation and the only one solely devoted to infant massage. Our theory, curriculum and focus are unique and have been carefully developed and refined through research and practical experience since first introduced in 1976.

The organisation symbolises a unity of all people seeking to support nurturing touch in every form.

Our unique mission is in working to bring together the interests and expertise of parents, caregivers, educators, health care professionals and researchers. This reflects the overall ethos of the association; striving together to support parents in creating a nurturing environment for them and their child.

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