The Art of Infant Massage

“There is no sweeter music than the sound of a mother singing; there will never be a toy that can tell a story the way a real, live daddy can. No one can invent a substitute for a loving touch. No vestibular stimulation device can compare to being rocked and carried in loving arms. And as for white noise, nothing can surpass the sounds of breath and heart in synchrony.” (From Infant Massage, A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala McClure, founder, International Association of Infant Massage)

The first time I read about infant massage was in a pamphlet I stumbled across in New Mexico. It was produced by the Eight Northern Pueblos and focused on bringing traditional practices back into Native American life. I lost track of the pamphlet after a few years, but rediscovered infant massage with the birth of my third child when I read McClure’s Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. It was just a thin book then. And I took every word to heart.

As a young woman, Vimala had volunteered at an orphanage in India, where the babies were massaged daily by women who slathered their little bodies with oil. She believed this practice created a certain peace and happiness in the children, despite their impoverished circumstances.

After returning to the United States, Vimala married and had her first baby. It wasn’t long before she was massaging him with the same strokes she’d seen at the orphanage. She began sharing her knowledge  with other mothers, and incorporated Swedish massage and gentle yoga movements into her routine.

When I first became a mom I didn’t know any of this. And it would be years before I heard the name Vimala McClure. I certainly knew nothing about the value of touch.

I came to motherhood on the cusp of a childrearing revolution. And believe me, childrearing methods were in need of an overhaul after generations of “children should be seen and not heard.”

When I discovered infant massage, I  learned that all culures share the art in some form. And I learned that touching your baby is not only essential for a baby’s healthy growth and deveopment, it’s fun and relaxing for moms.

Assimilating a child-centered mindset doesn’t happen over night. It’s not like one day you believe in letting the baby cry it out and the next everyone’s jumping into the family bed. That would be the equivalent of buying Nestle’s Quik and Cheetos one day and switching to coconut water and kale chips the next.

Good things take time. (Unfortunately,  I don’t think l’ll ever enjoy kale chips!) In order to make a convert out of me I wanted to know “why.” Why do you do it? What’s the benefit? Where’s the evidence? When I found out, I became a believer. And now I’m an infant massage instructor (CEIM) through Infant Massage USA.

Breastfeeding is the first step any mother can take toward providing nurturing and necessary touch for her child. It’s not only Nature’s answer to surviving, but thriving. If bottle feeding, never prop the bottle. Allow yourself the privilege and pleasure of holding your babe in arms. And give your baby the wonderful eye contact and physical stimulation she deserves.

The baby who is lucky enough to benefit from infant massage has an advantage. What parent would not want that for their child?

You don’t need to go anywhere. You don’t need money. Only a little time and some cold-pressed, vegetable oil. In my infant massage classes I use sweet almond oil; but grape seed, avocado, or olive work equally well.

Pure vegetable oil is edible and non-toxic. If ingested, it won’t hurt the baby like products containing artificial ingredients or mineral oil.

Infant massage helps babies in four ways: By providing Relief, Stimulation, Relaxation and Bonding/Attachment.

We all know that babies need to be diapered and fed, but did you know that infant massage can help relieve emotional stress? How can a six-week-old baby be emotionally stressed? Emotional stress can be caused by any number of things: over-stimulation due to shopping and running around town; being passed around to different people; or maybe things got a little too loud at home.

Some babies cry because they’re still trying to process birth trauma. Being born can be pretty traumatic. The important thing to remember is that babies cry for a reason. It’s the parent’s job to soothe them and to search for those reasons.

So, what if you’ve  met his physical needs and his cries are still going through the roof? Tell him you understand and that it’s all right to cry. Ask him to “tell” you his story. Make eye contact and hold him gently. You’re loving touch will tell him that you honor him as a human being.

Yelling at a baby to stop crying is unproductive and dangerous. Babies respond to your mood. The energy emanating from your body and from your voice is what they understand. Not your words.

Infant massage can make all parents better, more confident parents. Check out the information on this website under Family Resources.

Don’t forget to love up your kids today. FFG

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