Infant Massage: An Alternative to Swaddling, MASSAGE Magazine

Throughout her pregnancy, you’ve served as a source of comfort and stress relief for your pregnant client. Now that her baby has arrived, both she and her newborn may need some extra tender loving care.

Every baby has his own unique personality, and some may be naturally crankier than others. To settle a fussy baby, many parents resort to a practice that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times: swaddling, or tightly wrapping a baby in a blanket as a means of soothing and a sleep aid. British pediatric orthopedic surgeon Nicholas Clarke indicates approximately 90 percent of North American babies are swaddled in the first few months of life. While this technique may temporarily ease the baby into a calmer state, long-lasting negative effects could lie ahead.

Clarke wrote in the British journal Archives of Disease in Childhood that swaddling could increase the risk of physical problems later in life, leading to osteoarthritis and hip replacements by middle age. As a safe alternative, he recommends massage and research supports his thinking.

In a 2001 monthlong study, Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder and director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine, evaluated the effects of a daily, 15-minute, pre-bedtime massage on infants with sleep problems. Parents in the control group read bedtime stories to their children. Fields’ findings indicate babies who received massage had “fewer sleep delay behaviors and a shorter latency to sleep onset” than those in the control group. She notes massage stimulates the central nervous system, causing the brain to produce more of the feel-good chemical serotonin and less of the stress-producing hormone cortisol. Moreover, at the end of the study period, independent observers watched these babies for 45 minutes and found they demonstrated more awake time, were more alert and active.

In addition to helping induce sleep and calm an infant, massage has been shown to create a bond between mom and infant and may enhance the child’s immune system, motor skills and intellectual development. Some baby experts suggest massage may also help relieve the symptoms of colic, a common occurrence in young babies.

British midwife Nikki Khan agrees with Clarke’s findings and cites the importance of his study. “Parents should avoid any form of swaddling. There are much better ways to calm a baby including massage, which is a powerful way to bond and communicate. There are various techniques that can be carefully used to soothe your baby through touch.”

The next time your client books an appointment, ask her to bring her newborn along so you can demonstrate how massage can restore serenity and peace to the baby. Not only will the child reap the benefits, but the new mom will also experience relief, knowing there is a noninvasive, safe way to soothe her offspring.

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