Providing physical, emotional and mental health benefits, infant massage is a unique yet natural way to increase the bond between a parent and child.
Massage therapists trained in teaching infant massage share this special art form with instructors, parents, infants and caregivers all around the world—building from each culture’s customs of nurturing touch.
The mission of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) is to foster a collective renaissance of each people’s ancient tradition of infant massage throughout the world, allowing for parents, caregivers and infants to feel loved, valued and respected. The course includes strokes adapted from gentle yoga movements, Swedish and East Indian massage and many other cultural practices.
Infant massage goes a giant step beyond cuddling, providing a fun way to offer an emotional and physical link between parent and infant. It provides a way to communicate and convey affection and a sense of security. It can provide the infant relief from daily stress or discomfort from constipation, gas or teething.
Massaging babies for up to 15 minutes a day can help increase circulation, promote relaxation, aid the digestive and respiratory systems as well as relieve muscle tension. Infant massage is also a wonderful way for fathers, siblings, grandparents and other caregivers to be involved with the new baby in a loving way they both can enjoy.
The practice of infant massage involves a combination of relaxing strokes, light kneading and gentle squeezing. It uses the same strokes generations of parents all throughout the world have practiced, yet it becomes a rhythmic dance that is uniquely personal between the parent and baby when experienced at home, day to day.
Infant massage focuses on touch because touch transcends the circumstances of birth, including
wellness vs. special needs or family wealth vs. lack thereof. All babies need nurturing touch and compassionate communication for healthy development. Affectionate tactile stimulation is a basic human need.
Compassion in Action
Daily infant massage may assist to ward off postpartum blues. When a mother touches her baby, it increases her prolactin and oxytocin—referred to as cuddle hormones—levels, thus fostering nurturing feelings toward the baby.
Getting the father involved in infant massage may lower testosterone and increase prolactin—known as the nesting hormone—which could make him feel less competitive and more involved with nurturing his baby.
Study upon study has been conducted on the benefits of infant massage for babies born premature. One study conducted at the Touch Research Institutes in Miami, Florida, showed infants born premature who received regular massage gained an average of 47 percent more weight than those in the control group.
Furthermore, eight months after being massaged those babies continued to gain more weight and perform better on developmental tests than the control group.
A powerful testimony sent to an IAIM instructor illustrates the empowerment one parent felt by helping her baby through infant massage.
Stephanie Lopez and her baby, Ben, attended a free infant-massage class. Ben is a twin who was born premature after a complicated pregnancy. During this time, the twins suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion, resulting in Ben having developmental delays and blindness. A few months after Lopez attended class, she wrote to her instructor:
“I am a mother of a special-needs boy who gets sick quite often and cries a lot. I was told about an infant massage class by my physical therapist … also a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI). I was worried about my son being upset attending the class, as he so often is with new situations, people and places.
“The class instructor made my son and I feel very welcome and comfortable. She demonstrated every stroke clearly and was very patient and nurturing. I was quite surprised at how calm my son was during the whole class and how he was letting me massage him. I couldn’t believe it! It was such a wonderful experience.
“Learning infant massage has helped my son a great deal. He is much calmer in new settings and is less reactive to strangers.We enjoy our massage time immensely. This is our uninterrupted, one-on-one time together, and we continue to do it daily.”
Lopez has gone on to become a CIMI, so she can help other parents feel more empowered to actively help their babies develop. It is important parents know there is more they can do to maximize their
Total family health includes physical, emotional and spiritual growth. In our daily work, we often hear the term “dysfunctional family.” IAIM hopes to facilitate healthy and balanced family development and wants to hear the term “happy, balanced and fully functional family.” While nurturing touch is an important step toward family attachment, there are many other facets of healthy family development the organization promotes.
The IAIM is considered throughout the world to be a leader in teaching infant massage, and is committed to developing classes that encourage the continuous building of a firm and loving foundation within the home. Based on new data and continued research, the program now includes compassionate communication as the next step in the gift of health and love that can last a lifetime.
These new classes go beyond the scope of infant massage. Babies and parents go through a natural process in which cooing transfers to words. Touch is a baby’s first language and dialogue is the second. Both nurturing touch and compassionate communication are necessary for healthy family development.
So while the original IAIM infant-massage class remains at the core of the organization’s identity, new classes are housed by the IAIM—which also does business as the World Institute for Nurturing
Communication (WINC), a new name that allows for the freedom to broaden the organization’s scope.
Training in Infant Massage Techniques
The IAIM offers a three- or four-day infant massage course covering an extensive curriculum that is a special blend of theory, practical and experiential learning. This allows for academic study, practical application and self-discovery. It covers a variety of topics, including the many benefits of infant massage, babies with special needs, an introduction to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, along with the massage sequence for infants and adaptations for the growing child. It also introduces teaching and communication skills for the facilitator.
While the focus of infant massage is on touch, the IAIM infant-massage instructor doesn’t work hands-on while teaching the parents and caregivers. Instead, the instructor uses a doll to demonstrate touch, encouraging parents to then practice on their own infants, so bonding will take place between the parent and infant through smell, sound and touch.
A Different Type of Practice
Massage therapists have very physically demanding jobs—often lifting and kneading heavy bodies. Instructing infant massage can give these professionals a physical break from the daily routine of hands-on touch. The therapist may empower parents by teaching them hands-on, nurturing touch through the introduction of infant massage for their newborn or massage techniques for their growing child.
Certified International Instructor Trainers (CIITs) certify students to become CIMIs and teach parents and caretakers nurturing touch, thereby increasing family attachment.
Touch is Our First Language
Professionals involved in infant massage hope all babies will have the opportunity to experience
nurturing touch and compassionate communication within the home, so both parents and children will form a loving and respectful attachment that will last a lifetime.
As these children enter society, they will benefit the community by bringing the nurturing and compassionate skills they learned at home to the classrooms and playgrounds where they learn
academics and social integration.
The IAIM/WINC motto is, “Touch is your baby’s first language; dialogue is the second in which to
communicate deep love and respect to your baby and all loved ones. Introduce the languages of love through nurturing touch and compassionate communication.”
To learn more about the IAIM’s advanced coursework designed to encourage the continuous building of a loving foundation within the home, visit massagemag.com/IAIM to read “Beyond Infant Massage: Courses that Create Healthy Family Communication.”
About the Author
Andrea Kelly teaches at all levels of the IAIM, including parent and baby classes, the Certified Infant Massage Instructor training program (CIMI) and with Certified International Instructor Trainers (CIITs), preparing these leaders to promote their passion for this work through mentorship and curriculum design. Visit the IAIM online at iaim.net.