As the new year kicks off, one of my new year's goals is to decrease my stress level, and what better way to stay relaxed with a nice massage? If you have never received a massage before, I highly recommend it. It has so many benefits, including improving circulation, decreasing muscle tension, and reducing stress hormones. But have you ever thought about how it could benefit infants as well?! Infants also experience stress; whether it is a preterm baby who stays in the hospital for weeks after their birth, to older babies who have difficulty self-regulating, research has shown that massage can be beneficial not just for the infant, but for the caregiver as well! I took an online course about infant massage by Catherine McDowell, OTR/L, LMBT, E-RYT200/RYT500, who has been an occupational therapist for over 20 years and is also a licensed massage and bodywork therapist, and this blog post summarizes some of the key takeaway points from her lecture.
Some of the many benefits of massage for infants include relieving gas and colic, relieving constipation and improving elimination, and improving discomfort from teething and growing pains. It has also been found that the relaxation response from infant massage helps to improve sleep patterns, improve their ability to self-soothe and regulate their behavioral states, and reduces stress hormones. Research has shown that babies who are held, massaged, carried, and rocked grow up to have less aggression and violent behaviors as adults.
Infant massage has been found to benefit the caregiver as well. The eye contact, soothing touch, and calm voice are all essential for intimate parent-infant bonding and attachment. Incorporating this into the daily routine helps parents and caregivers feel more confident in caring for their child, provides quality one-on-one time with the baby, and teaches them how to read their infants' cues and recognize their awareness states. Mothers with postpartum depression have shown improvement in their mood and teenaged mothers demonstrate improved bonding behaviors with their infants after starting infant massage.
The setting of the space prior to giving the massage is crucial to providing a relaxing environment for both the baby and caregiver. The best time to massage your baby is shortly before bed, when they are in this "quiet alert stage." Make sure the room is warm and comfortable and that the lighting is not overwhelming. While singing and talking are extremely encouraged, keep your voice soft and calm, avoiding any loud, sudden noises. If you are giving the massage, make sure you have all your supplies and equipment in the vicinity prior to beginning the massage so that you do not need to interrupt the session. Make sure you and the baby are both in comfortable positions.
While daily infant massage provides benefits, some reasons to not perform this technique include: acute infections, recent surgery, fever, diarrhea, and less than 72 hours after immunizations. Consult with your pediatric physical therapist and your pediatrician before you begin to implement this routine.
McDowell, C. (2017). Benefits of Infant Massage for Both Child and Caregiver [Text/Transcript]. Retrieved from https://www.physicaltherapy.com/pt-ceus/course/benefits-infant-massage-for-both-2733.
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