Infant massage can relieve pain, offer comfort, and provide a lasting bond between parents and babies.
When 2-month-old Jake attended his first infant massage class, he was screaming. According to his young mother, Jake screamed most of the time, and she had lost all confidence in her ability to soothe him. While medical doctors were looking into physical reasons for Jake's constant crying, his mom needed help right away. She opted for an infant massage class.
The instructor guided the young mother's hands in a clockwise circle on the infant's tummy. With less than 10 inches separating mother and screaming infant, the mother's fingers rested over the descending colon and her son stopped crying. It was a moment Jake's mother remembers very clearly.
In this case, the massage helped Jake stop crying, but there are other benefits to infant massage as well. It provides your baby with a sense of comfort with a nurturing touch. Contrary to popular belief, massage is not a new trend.
An Old Tradition
Massage has been around for centuries. It was widely used in Europe during the Renaissance. It eventually came to the US during the 1850s where it was used to promote overall health. As medical science progressed in the first half of the 1900s, massage dropped off the radar and stayed that way until the 1970s.
Massage techniques in the US include combinations of ancient Indian methods, Swedish massage, acupressure, reflexology, and yoga. Massage therapy in infants in particular appears to show overall health benefits.
Physical and Emotional Benefits
The regular routine of infant massage offers additional benefits to both child and caregiver that are not necessarily provided by normal affectionate touch.
Premature infants also benefit from massage. A handful of small studies found that premature infants who had regular massage therapy gained weight faster and were able to leave the hospital sooner than those without massage therapy.
A number of studies have indicated that the benefits of infant massage may include:
- Strengthened parent-child communication and bonding
- Reduced fussiness and irritability
- Increased caregiver confidence
- Reduced symptoms of gassiness, colic, and constipation
- Improved sleep
- Increased alertness during awake times
- Improved muscle tone
- Increased circulation
- Enhanced development of the nervous system
- Strengthened immune system
Making a Connection
As a parent, you have affectionate contact with your baby all the time. Infant massage allows you to take that one step further. It's more than just a physical connection. It provides psychological and emotional benefits as well. Soothing your baby with touch can promote your baby's self-esteem right through adulthood.
Making a connection takes time and effort. In the long run, benefits to the infant trickle down to the parents. Infant massage improves the bonding experience (eye contact, touch, movement) and helps parents feel more confident. This may be especially true for those who have infants who are hospitalized for long periods of time. It can help them feel less isolated in a place where many people come into contact with their baby.
Infant massage is not just for moms. A study from Australia showed that dads who massaged and bathed their infants on a regular basis fostered better response from the 12-week-old infants—as measured by eye contact, smiling, vocalizing, and reaching—and were more involved with their babies.
There are numerous books and videos available that can teach the basic strokes of infant massage, but classes offer parents so much more.
The length of time classes run vary depending on the organization. However, the concepts are similar. Babies and parents are given the opportunity to learn how to perform infant massages properly. They also learn how to read their baby's cues, work with their moods, and maximize bonding time.
Some classes allow parents to work through other problems or issues in a supportive environment. If you think infant massage will help you and your baby, look for local classes in your area on the Internet or talk to your baby's doctor.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
International Association of Infant Massage
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Massage Therapy Canada
A lesson on infant massage. Welcome Baby UC website. Available at: http://www.welcomebabyuc.org/sites/welcomebabyuc.org/files/playgroups/L3-%20Infant%20Massage/L3.pdf. Accessed April 4, 2017.
Benefits of infant massage. Infant Massage USA website. Available at: http://www.infantmassageusa.org/learn-to-massage-your-baby/benefits-of-infant-massage. Accessed April 4, 2017.
General information about TRI research. University of Miami Touch Research Institute website. Available at: http://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/TRI.htm. Accessed April 4, 2017.
Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Field T. Preterm infants show reduced stress behaviors and activity after 5 days of massage therapy. Infant Behav Dev. 2007;30(4):557-561.
Massage therapy for health purposes: what you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/massage/massageintroduction.htm. Updated June 2016. Accessed April 4, 2017.
Weiss SJ. Psychophysiologic and behavioral effects of tactile stimulation on infants with congenital heart disease. Res Nurs Health. 1992;15:93-101.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 4/4/17