Infant Massage: Boosting Babies' Brain Power, MASSAGE Magazine

New parents and grandparents will do almost anything to boost a baby’s intelligence. They rush out to buy classical music DVDs, educational toys and, in some cases, age-related computer games. However, there is a strong argument for using a more hands-on approach to build baby brain power. Research has shown that infant massage has a host of benefits, including increased neurological development, which can enhance cognitive, motor and intellectual abilities.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services, reports that the brain stem and mid-brain, which regulate autonomic functions, develop in utero. However, most of brain growth and development occurs after birth, particularly in the higher regions, which control emotions, language and abstract thought. While most of a child’s brain development takes place before age 6, by age 3 the amount of stimulation a baby has received will dictate the amount of growth in each region of the brain. This stimulation is what provides the foundation for learning. And what better way to stimulate than to give the infant a massage.

The Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida, has conducted numerous studies that show the benefits of massage. One finding indicates massage increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and neurohormones, which fosters alertness and a sense of energy. Specifically, serotonin, which is found in the pineal gland, enhances memory, learning and behavior, among other benefits. In a similar manner, the neurotransmitter dopamine helps to improve memory, behavior and cognition. It also assists in developing better focus, attention and learning.

Another study found in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology1 analyzed a cohort of preterm infants who received massage to improve development and function, increase weight gain and reduce length of stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. The study also used electroencephalography (EEG) to examine brain maturation of these low-risk preterm infants without brain abnormalities.

In the study, infants were randomly assigned to a massage or comparison group. The comparison group received standard care only and the massage group received standard care plus infant massage. Massage was given for 15 minutes per session on the head, back, neck, shoulders, buttocks, legs and arms. The treatment started about 10 days after birth and was given for 12 days during a two-week period. Brain activity was measured by EEG before and after the interventions, at around one and four weeks. Based on the EEG results, the study authors proposed that massage positively affects the maturation of brain electrical activity.

And yet another study titled, “Massage Therapy Improves Neurodevelopment Outcome at Two Years Corrected Age For Very Low Birth Weight Infants,” published in Early Human Developmentoffered a similar conclusion. This 2010 study involved 73 newborns who received regular massage during a two-year period. These babies demonstrated significantly higher Mental Development Index scores than a control group, which received only skin-to-skin contact.

Let your new mom clients in on the secret to smarter babies and know that you helped these children go to the head of the class.

Sources:

1. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2011 Sep;53 Suppl 4:46-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2011.04065.x.

2. Procianoy RS, Mendes EW, Silveira RC. “Massage Therapy Improves Neurodevelopment Outcome at Two Years Corrected Age For Very Low Birth Weight Infants.” Early Hum Dev., Jan;86(1):7-11, 2010.

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