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The dynamics of infant massage

By Gregoria Kanaris

The most important foundation upon which a child will learn about love, trust and respect is through the dynamics of parent and infant interactions. It is this first relationship that influences the way relationships are perceived. Infant massage is a natural way for parents to learn about parenting, and infants to learn about being loved; it forms the foundation of relationship building that will last a lifetime.

Nurturing touch between parents and their infants can enrich physiological, social-emotional, and mind/body/spirit connections. “Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Frederick Leboyer, author of Loving Hands. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”

Touch is vital for the development of attachment behaviour and for early social development of a young child. The infant/parent connection is very important for infants but for society as well, because it is from this original attachment and bonding that all subsequent attachments will follow.

By using baby massage parents become more sensitive in understanding and responding to their infants’ cues. Babies are social creatures who learn from their interactions with others.

Expanding children’s repertoire of interactive behaviours can assist them to influence their world, and deepen their quality of life and the lives of their parents.

Generally, infant massage is a technique that uses tactile, kinesthetic stimulation performed in a purposeful, sequential application. The massage technique for infants is much different from that for adults. It is not as much manipulative as it is communicative. It is a technique that allows parents to engage and relax their child.

Infants communicate through their bodies so when you engage an infant in a massage, you begin to listen to the infant; you listen to sounds, you watch movements, you listen with your eyes, your ears and your heart. The massage process is composed of about 20 per cent technique and 80 per cent communication.

Parents are initially guided by an infant massage instructor to make sure that they are relaxed both physically and mentally before they massage their baby. The instructor provides education regarding the power of touch, the importance of this sense in the development of a healthy infant or a child, and its impact on bonding and attachment.

Prior to beginning any massage, permission is asked of the infant. To do this the parent places a small amount of cold-pressed natural fruit oil or vegetable oil in the palm of one hand and rubs both palms together near the infant’s ear so that the baby may hear the sound and associate that sound with a pleasurable experience. The parent may hold up both hands with opened palms for the infant to see. Next, the parent asks, “Do you want a massage?” or “Are you ready for a massage?” A parent need only watch the infant’s body language to know whether the infant is engaging or disengaging.

Basic strokes include a variety of movements. Strokes are usually long, slow and rhythmic, with just enough pressure to be comfortable but stimulating, as a gentle, firm touch. With healthy infants, massage can be started as soon as parents desire, beginning with a daily massage for the first six or seven months, using unscented natural oil, in a warm environment, and making sure not to massage over the umbilical cord ending until it falls off naturally.

As the child becomes more active, through crawling or walking, the massage may be reduced to once or twice a week, as desired. A toddler may enjoy a rubdown before sleep each night, or after bathing. A massage provides a model for becoming more sensitive to the subtle cues of the infant, and techniques for eliciting positive reactions from the child. It is important for the parent to read cues and adjust accordingly. Each infant’s unique needs must be addressed.

Although infant massage is relatively new to the Western World it is an ancient art that has been practiced in India, Africa, China and the South Pacific for centuries. This age old tradition was stumbled on by an American woman named Vimala Schneider McClure who worked in an orphanage in India in the early 1970s. She observed the positive effects it had on the babies in the orphanage. She also observed mothers in the streets would lovingly massage their babies and sing to them. She thought about all the children she had known in the orphanage, and how loving, warm and playful they were in spite of their so-called disadvantages. They took care of each other and they accepted responsibility without reservation. Perhaps, she thought, they are able to be so loving, so relaxed and natural because they have been loved like this as infants, and infants have been loved like this in India for thousands of years. When Vimala returned to America, she practiced the Indian massage strokes on her own baby and observed its benefits first hand. She then began to introduce this art to the Western World and gradually, she founded the International Association of Infant Massage.

Research continues to demonstrate the benefits of infant massage. Research efforts that began in 1982 and continue today have shown that touch therapy has numerous beneficial effects on health and well-being, which has validated the work of Infant Massage, giving it international credibility and placing infant massage as a worldwide cornerstone in the building blocks of parenting skills and child development.

Although many infant massage programmes were first designed for healthy babies and their parents, infant massage may be used with children with special needs as well.

Infant massage is not only about massaging a baby. It is about working with families, building nurturing relationships, assisting with bonding and attachment, furthering respect, trust and love and encouraging a parent to read the cues of the baby so the child in turn feels love and security. It is the parent who has the greatest impact on the life of a child and it is the child who can have the greatest impact on that parent, laying the foundation upon which their relationship grows.

Becoming an infant massage instructor can only better humanity’s future.
Anyone wishing to attend an IAIM Certified Training Course to become an Infant Massage Instructor should contact Gregoria Kanaris on 99 581964 or [email protected], www.iaim-cyprus.org. The next Infant Massage Certification Course will be held in Limassol from May 30 to June 2 (4 days inclusive from 9am to 5pm) at the Inner Science Centre for Clinical Exercise, Hypnotherapy and Yogatherapy

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