Empirical research suggests our appreciation of massage starts early—as tastes go, it’s one that needs little acquiring. That’s certainly the message behind the growing trend of infant massage, where mothers and fathers (and sometimes caretakers) bond with their wee ones through loving touch and improve their overall health. Parents, nurses, and doctors say that massage helps babies grow better, improves digestion, and eases colic. Studies conducted at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine show that infant massage facilitates weight gain in preterm infants, decreases babies’ level of stress hormones, and balances out their sleep/wake cycle. “Nurturing touch is important for children’s physical, social, behavioral, mental, and cognitive development,” says Linda Garofallou, an infant and pediatric massage therapist at Children’s Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. She gives infant massage to patients and also trains others in the technique.
To do an infant massage, choose a time when your baby is well fed and rested. Put a towel in a quiet room for the baby to lie on, choose a natural oil such as coconut, almond, or avocado, and play relaxing music. Assess the baby’s receptivity by observing her response to your touch. If she is stiff or tense, then use your intuition: either hold her closely in your arms until she relaxes—or wait for another time. A gazing, quiet, yet alert state means she is ready to begin.
Babes aren’t the only ones who benefit from infant massage. Experts say that giving a massage releases nurturing hormones for both the mother (oxytocin) and the father (prolactin).
In addition to bonding, infant massage helps kids born with addictions or serious health problems, says Joanne Starr, MD, director of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s Hospital. She’s seen the positive effects of Garofallou’s infant massage on the tiny heart patients she’s operated on. “I think it’s a very important part of their healing,” says Starr, who adds that many of these infants can’t be held because they are hooked up to ventilators. “It’s such a helpless feeling for the parents, but massage empowers them to do something.”
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BY Georgette Gilmore | WEDNESDAY, APR 10, 2013 11:00AM |
Children with developmental problems or medical conditions often have fragile sensory systems that are easily over-loaded causing them to reject contact. Both parent and child can then come to experience massage or even touch as areas to be avoided.
Yet, healthy touch is critical to children’s development on every level—physical, mental, emotional, social and behavioral. Touch is vital to growth. It organizes and integrates sensory experience. It fosters the social contact and good boundaries that are essential to forming a deep emotional bond with the parent.
Montclair State University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health is offering a free introductory class on infant and pediatric massage for children with special needs, teaching parents:
- Benefits of massage for your child
- Benefits for parents, grandparents and caregivers
- Cultural & historical foundations of touch
- Physiological, emotional, social & behavioral effects of touch
- Neuroscience of interpersonal touch
- Hands-on Instruction in gas/constipation/digestive relief routine
The class will be taught by Linda Garofallou, the Infant & Pediatric Massage Therapist at the Center for Autism, and also at Children’s Hospital of NJ at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center where she has worked extensively with families and children with a wide range of serious medical diagnoses.