The arrival of a new baby can provoke both excitement and a bit of fear in even the most confident mom and dad.
But in some cases, that confidence may begin to erode as baby cries, fusses, refuses to nurse or demonstrates some other upsetting behavior. While studies have shown that massage can help calm a stressed infant, they also indicate that parental confidence can realize a boost from touch therapy with their baby.
Vimala Schneider McClure, founder of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), witnessed infant massage in an orphanage in India in 1973. The incredible benefits she saw prompted her to found her specialized organization to promote the practice. She points out that infant massage has been an integral part of caregiving tradition in many countries around the globe for decades—and for several good reasons. She asserts that, among other benefits, infant massage empowers parents, giving them the means to become experts on their own children and making them better able to respond to each baby’s unique needs.
In a paper titled “Infant Massage: Communicating Love Through Touch,” Juliana Dellinger-Bavolek, M.S.E., certified infant massage instructor, reports that parents cite increased feelings of competence in their parenting role. They also feel more capable of helping their infant relax during stressful times.
Another expert, Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., C.I.I.M., founder and executive director of First Nurturing Touch Communication, a nonprofit educational corporation that assists families as they develop safe and nurturing relationships, and Baby Steps, a family-focused early intervention program that introduces families to the world of touch and the importance of bonding and attachment as they learn to see their child first and their child’s disability second, reaffirms the confidence-boosting power of infant massage. She indicates that infant massage creates and strengthens physiological, social-emotional and mind/body/spirit connections for both parent and baby; social interaction is significant for parents’ well being, Schneider adds.
Competence and Confidence
The biggest endorsement for enhanced parental confidence through infant massage comes from Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founder and director of The Touch Research Institute, which has conducted more than 100 studies. Since 1992, she has explored the benefits of many different forms of massage and encourages the practice of infant massage as a way to promote a sense of competence and confidence for parents.
Amy Murry, certified health coach and owner of Human Body Works Massage Therapy in Olympia, Washington, finds lack of confidence a common issue with many new parents.
“I think that sometimes new parents want to do everything just right and feel like the first few times they try infant massage they are somehow unsuccessful because the baby is squirmy or fussy. They start, but aren’t sure they are ‘doing it right’ and then stop,” she says. Although they are unsure of their technique, she encourages new moms and dads to persist. “After developing a routine, both parent and baby learn each others’ quirks and bond into their routine.”
Murry notes that she massaged all three of her children as infants.
“One loved to lay there and receive a long soothing massage. Another loved to try to crawl away and wrestle and giggle, and my colicky one had a very short timeline for very specific massage to his areas of tension. Consistency in practice and flexibility to one’s ideas about what you had envisioned as ‘infant massage’ is key,” she asserts.