An Introduction to Infant Massage

The Benefits of Infant Massage

The benefits of massaging your baby are many: for your baby, for you as parents, for your family, and for society at large. I have always thought of them in those categories.

Interaction
Massaging your baby promotes bonding; it contains every element of the bonding process. Infant massage promotes a secure attachment with your child over time. It promotes verbal and nonverbal communication between the two of you. Your baby receives undivided attention from you; he feels respected and loved. It is one of the only times that all of his senses are nourished.

Stimulation
Infant massage aids in the development of your baby’s circulatory, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It aids in sensory integration, helping your baby learn how her body feels and what its limits are. Massaging your baby helps make connections between neurons in the brain, which helps develop her nervous system. It also aids the generation of muscular development and tone, and contributes to her mind/body awareness.

Relaxation
Regular infant massage improves sleep, increases flexibility, and regulates behavioral states. It reduces stress, levels of stress hormones, and hypersensitivity. Massaging your baby creates higher levels of anti- stress hormones and promotes and improved ability to self-calm. It teaches your baby to relax in the face of stress.

Relief

Infant massage helps with gas and colic, constipation and elimination, muscular tension, and teething discomfort. It also helps with “growing pains,” organizes the nervous system, relieves physical and psychological tension, and softens skin. It helps release physical and emotion tension, balances oxygen levels, and provides a sense of security.

Benefits for Parents
Massaging your baby releases bonding and relaxing hormones into your system. It helps you learn a type of mindfulness as you spend quality time with your infant. It can aid in lactation, self-esteem, and confidence in your parenting. The bonding and secure attachment help you be a better parent. It is a wonderful way for fathers to be intimately involved with the care of their babies, and helps both parents understand their baby’s “language.”


Benefits for the Family
Infant massage encourages the involvement of siblings and extended family in baby care. It promotes a relaxed environment in the home, communication, and respect.


Benefits for Society
Imagine a world where people are trained to be good parent; where newborns, older babies, toddlers, and children are routinely given healthy, loving massages every day; where the entire culture values positive, nurturing touch, respect, and empathy. There would be reduced infant health care costs, less child abuse, fewer behavioral problems in children, and less violence. When I founded the International Association of Infant Massage, this is what I imagined: changing the world, one baby at a time.

Advertisements

MAGIC!

Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues in the penis and clitoris. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.

The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. It is the physical manifestation of vital power, called prana or chi. It is even what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.

Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.

Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. You can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.

Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.

There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered back in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.

Anandamide both reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa, South America, and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.

High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.

INFANT CRYING

Once on a television news spot, I was asked to demonstrate infant massage and talk about its benefits. As we hurried to the newsroom, the host said, “I hear you have a way to stop a baby’s screams in one second flat with massage. I hope you can show us that today!”

The baby, a sweet four-month-old with whom I’d had a lovely conversation in the “green room,” took one look at the newscaster and began to cry inconsolably. I did not demonstrate massage because I felt it would betray her feelings to use it as a trick to quiet her (even if it could have, which I doubt). The host concluded that the infant massage gimmick did not work. She was right. As a gimmick, it does not. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I was confronted with this “quick fix” mentality. Many people still think that babies should be seen and not heard.

Why do babies cry so much? Why does it bother adults so much? Why are people so confused about how to respond to a crying infant? As babies, we had few ways beyond crying to express negative feelings and release pent-up stress. Growing up, we learned how to deal with anger, fear, pain and excess energy in many ways; facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns now help us to convey how we feel. When the stresses of living pile up, we can go for a walk, take a vacation, or talk to a friend. Even when we are healthy, we cry from time to time; but we rarely cry in front of others.

We have learned that crying is antisocial and a sign of weakness. This was probably one of our earliest lessons. The idea of “spoiling” came into vogue in the early part of this century. People began to think that they should let babies “cry it out” alone. The rationale was that babies used crying to manipulate parents into gratifying babies’ desires, and that this was an unattractive character trait. Responding to it could only cultivate spoiled, boorish children leading their parents around by the nose. In order to teach babies that crying was unacceptable behavior and to train them for independence early on, they were left alone to cry until they grew hoarse and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

In the 1970s, a movement away from these earlier infant-rearing practices gained momentum. Many more women began breastfeeding, the front and backpacks were invented, and even baby experts like Dr. T. Berry Brazelton recanted earlier advice not to take a baby into parents’ bed. We finally realized that, like fruit, the only way to spoil a baby is through neglect. Other cultures influenced this change; global communication had become sophisticated enough for us to begin looking more closely at cultures on the other side of the world which had not yet been impaired by so-called modern thinking.

Unfortunately, we had. Mothers who previously might have left baby alone to cry while they felt guilty and tearful in the other room now jumped at baby’s smallest peep. But something remained. Getting the baby to stop crying, or not allowing the baby to cry at all, was still our obsession. There are times when we need to cry. It is a release, and crying in the loving arms of another is often much more so. I believe that babies’ feelings are as deep as ours, that their fears, their sorrows, and their frustrations are not less. From observing hundreds of babies in massage classes and in other cultures, I know that sometimes crying can be a relief for them, and that often after a good cry they are happier, their digestion improves, and they sleep more deeply. This “good cry,” however, is in a loving, supportive atmosphere, where the baby is neither ignored nor hushed. The parent recognizes a cry of hunger or physical pain, or a need for cuddling, and responds appropriately to it.

Many of us brought up in the age of “don’t spoil the baby” have mixed feelings about crying. We get anxious, tense up, want the crying to stop right away. It triggers fear and perhaps a reminder of the anguish (and anger) we may have felt, crying alone in a crib with no response. It can also engender guilt — am I a bad mother if my baby cries?

Our culture reinforces these feelings. Many people are extremely agitated by any noise a baby makes and assail its parent with dour looks at the slightest sound. The embarrassed parent often responds by punishing the baby with loud hisses, apologizing for the baby, and fleeing for the safety of home. Researchers have discovered that we have a built-in response to an infant’s cries. For example, in several experiments, one-day-old infants became distressed upon hearing another infant’s cries, but not upon hearing a synthesized, fake cry or the cry of an older child.

This suggests that the “distress response” is innate.1 How we act upon this distress, however, is determined by cultural factors. Western culture, as it has developed over the last hundreds of years, has systematically reduced our sensitivity to infants’ cues and placed an unnatural distance between parents and babies and between family and community members.2 This split between “nature” and “nurture” has created a vicious cycle of crying babies, sleepless nights, and sometimes, abuse.

Nature
Two types of infant rearing can be found in the animal kingdom: the caching, who leave their young for long periods while the mother gathers food, and the carrying species, who keep their young in continuous contact and closely space feedings. Behaviors which characterize the caching species are not found in humans. The babies must remain silent for long periods of time while the mother is absent, so as not to attract predators. They do not urinate or defecate unless stimulated by the mother, for the scent would attract predators in her absence. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat content due to the length of time between feedings, and the infants suckle at a very fast rate. Humans are in every way the opposite, much closer to the continuous-feeding, carrying mammals. Human milk, in fact, is identical in protein and fat content to that of the anthropoid apes, a carrying species. Human babies suckle slowly, and they cry when distressed or out of contact with the parent.3

Nurture
Konner’s, Brazelton’s, and Mead’s observations and studies of several non-industrialized cultures showed virtually continuous contact between mother and baby. Cultural patterns characterized by close mother-infant contact and prolonged breastfeeding also fostered a highly developed sensitivity to baby signals and subtle cues, such as body movements and facial expressions, that precede crying. This does not mean, however, that babies in these cultures
never cry. While they rarely cried during the day, it was quite common for infants to cry for long periods in the evening.4 Adults knew this was release crying and allowed it. As Sandy Jones says in Crying Babies, Sleepless Nights, “There’s a difference between not responding and responding and allowing, in which you’ve used your judgment about what your baby seems to need.” People in these cultures, because of their own experience of responsive parenting and a strong social support system, are quite able to automatically and naturally discriminate between a baby’s distressed crying out for help and other kinds of communication. The baby’s cry rarely pushes the parent into egoistic impulses.

Egoism and Altruism
Researchers have found that people respond to babies’ cries in either an egoistic or an altruistic manner. Egoistic responses are characterized by agitation and concern with self; one wants to stop the baby’s crying because it is aggravating. Altruistic responses are characterized by empathic discomfort; one wants to alleviate the baby’s suffering. Egoism and altruism are fostered by both biology and culture. Maternal hormones, such as prolactin, have been shown to be a factor in an altruistic response to infant crying; these hormones are elevated by extended contact and breastfeeding.5 Our culture, in many ways, encourages and cultivates egoism. We have isolated people more and more over the last several generations. Thus, the social support network for most new parents is nonexistent. The demands of our economy and our social values motivate both parents to provide financial income, often at the cost of increased stress for parents and infants.

Social Support Crucial to the Parent-Infant Bond
Studies reveal that the social support network is very closely related to the security of the parent infant bond. A lack of external support can distance parents from their babies and thus threaten the baby’s healthy development. Babies who are “high need” — colicky, hypersensitive criers — are especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect in situations where parents are suffering marital or financial difficulties. A good social support system can mitigate problems between baby and parent. Unresponsive mothers, who are given a lot of support, help, encouragement and physical affection can become responsive to their babies, and babies who have a lot of contact with loving friends, grandparents, and caregivers are not as affected by difficulties in the mother-infant attachment6 The philosophies of the behaviorists in the early part of the last century spawned several generations of people who lacked the basic security of a strong parental bond. We, and many of our parents and grandparents, grew up concerned with our own security above all; the anxious attachment created by the anti-spoiling atmosphere of infancy could only bring about self-concern.

Responsiveness Reduces Crying
The result of this culturally promoted egoism is an overall lack of responsiveness to babies, which fosters more crying. Bell and Ainsworth’s studies showed that not responding properly to babies’ cries in the first six months actually increases the frequency of crying and distress in the next six months and later.8 Battering is an egoistic response. According to Steele and Pollack’s work, abusing parents (often the victims of abuse themselves) frequently have extreme views about spoiling and independence training — views handed down and culturally reinforced — which contribute to their baby’s distress, thus further agitating the already stressed parent.9 In addition, these views inhibit close contact, carrying, and breastfeeding, thus lowering the chances of hormonal support fro sympathetic responses.

It does little good to recoil in shock at the statistics on battered children when our entire cultural set-up actually creates this behavior. Battering is an extreme example; almost all of us are caught in this cycle in one way or another. Most new parents in our culture periodically experience high levels of stress, regardless of their philosophies. Who has not had thoughts of “throwing the baby out the window” or fears of losing control and shaking or screaming at a crying baby?

How Can We Heal the Split?
Like all of us, babies have many different reasons for crying. Unfortunately, we have lost much of our capacity to intuit their thoughts and feelings. Most people are able to recognize a sharp cry of pain, but our interpretation of other cries and fusses are filtered through the veil of our own insecurities and projections.10 It may be easier to adopt a mechanistic philosophy, whereby one always responds in the same way — either ignoring or hushing. But babies are not interested in philosophy and are unable to attend to their parent’s (or anyone else’s) comfort. To begin to get a more centered awareness, observe yourself when your baby (or someone else’s) cries. When you understand your reactions, you will be able to begin to understand the baby. Notice what a crying baby stimulates for you. Breathe deeply, relax your body, perhaps think of an affirmation such as “I release fear and tension, and go with love to comfort my baby.” If it is someone else’s baby crying, imagine that it is you and picture yourself, as an adult, soothing yourself as an infant. In my seminars, I use an exercise that helps people (not only parents) identify the feelings and reactions:

The next time you hear a baby cry, jot down the images and feelings that come into your mind. Circle each word or phrase, and connect it with others. Each word will suggest another, then another. Continue doing this until it feels complete. Now, using this “map,” compose a short poem or paragraph. What does your poem tell you about yourself? Sometimes people find that the anguish they hear in a baby’s cry is really their own. When you let go of this fear, you can hear what the baby is really saying.

It is not necessary to overanalyze yourself or your baby. Just take some time to think about how you respond to your baby’s cues. Eventually you will find the intuitive bond growing between you and your baby, and your confidence in understanding his or her needs increasing day by day. Dr. William Sears, author of The Fussy Baby, advises parents to picture several response buttons on their “internal computer.” “If your baby cries and you push the right response button,” he says, “there is an inner feeling of rightness about your response.” Daily massage can be an aid in this process, because it helps you to literally keep in touch with your baby’s body language and nonverbal signals. Changing our society begins at home. Even so, there are opportunities to influence the culture beyond our own doorstep. We can help grandparents, friends, and prospective parents gain an awareness of babies’ needs. We can make an effort to provide support and encouragement to friends with new babies. We can also model consideration of babies at social functions and in public.

I was standing in line at a department store, and a baby in a stroller began to cry. Several people nearby became uncomfortable, some scowled and whispered. The baby’s mother picked him up and turned with a warm smile to the others standing in line. “He has a lot to say!” she shouted. Instantly, everyone smiled and relaxed. One woman reached over and patted the baby. Forcing babies to “cry it out,” hushing babies’ cries by stopping up their mouths, and letting babies cry “cathartically” can all be excuses for not taking the time to listen to what they have to say. There is no quick fix. A good parent — a good culture — must go through the sometimes difficult process of responding to babies’ cues individually, with compassion and with common sense.

Notes

  1. A. Sagi and M. Hoffman, “Empathic Distress in the Newborn,” Developmental Psychology 12 (1976): 175-176; and M. Simner, “Newborn’s
    Response to the Cry of Another Infant,” Developmental Psychology 5 *1971): 135-150.
  2. A. Murray, “Infant Crying as an Elicitor of Parental Behavior,” Psychological Bulletin 86 (`979): 200- 201, 211.
  3. N. Burton-Jones, “Comparative Aspects of Mother-Child Contract.” In Ethological Studies of child Behavior (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
  4. T. Brazelton, “Crying in Infancy,” Pediatrics 29 (1962): 579-588; I. Devore and M. Konner, “Infancy in a Hunter-Gatherer Life: An Ethological Perspective,” in Ethology and Psychiatry (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1974) ; M. Konner, “Aspects of a Developmental Ethology of Foraging People,” in Ethological Studies of Child Behavior (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972); and M. Mead and N. Newton, “Cultural Patterning of Perinatal Behavior,” in Childbearing; Its Social and Psychological Aspect (Baltimore, MD: Williams and Williams, 1967).
  5. A. Murray, “Infant Crying as an Elicitor of Parental Behavior,” Psychological bulletin 86 (1979): 204-208.
  6. S. Crockenberg, “Infant Irritability, Mother Responsiveness, and social Support Influences in the Security of Infant Mother Attachment,” Child Development 52 (1981): 855-865.
  7. A. Lieberman, “Preschooler’s Competence with a Peer: Relations with Attachment and Peer Experience,” Child Development 48 (1977): 1277-1287: and L. Matas, R. Arend, and L. Stroufe, “Continuity in Adaptation: quality of Attachment and Later Competence,” Child Development 49 (1978): 547-556.
  8. S. Bell and M. Ainsworth, “Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness,” Child Development 43 (1972): 1171-1190.
  9. B. Steele and C. Pollock, “A Psychiatric Study of Parents Who Abuse Infants and Small Children.” In The Battered Child (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
  10. M. Sherman, “Differentiation of Emotional Responses in Infant: The Ability of Observers to Judge the Emotional Characteristics of Crying in Infants,” Journal of comparative Psychology 7 (1927): 335-351.

For More Information
Jones, Sandy. Crying Babies, Sleepless Nights. New York: Warner Books, 1983.
McClure, Vimala. Infant Massage, A Handbook for Loving Parents. New York: Random House/Bantam Books, 1979, 1982, 1989. 2000, 2017.
Sears, William, MD. The Fussy Baby: How to Bring Out the Best in Your High Need Child. Franklin Park, IL: La Leche League International, 1985.

BEING PRESENT — PART TWO

We all think our autobiographies are terribly interesting, and most of the time we are right. But children live now. They will be interested in your story later, when they become fascinated by their own, as adults. Observe your tendency to project your own experience onto your children. When you do that, you respond not to them but to a long-gone you. It doesn’t help them. If that long-gone you needs attention, get it in the therapist’s office. Try to see your child without that filter.

For example, when you hear your baby cry, do you analyze its meaning through your own autobiography? Perhaps you were left to cry for hours alone in a crib because a pediatrician told your mother to “let her cry it out” or not to “spoil the baby.” So when you hear a baby cry, especially your own, it triggers those feelings of abandonment and fear in you. The unthinking response would be to get the baby quiet at all costs so you don’t have to re-experience that pain. You may empathize with a feeling that is yours, not your baby’s, and so your response doesn’t fit your baby’s need. True listening begins in your child’s infancy when you begin to practice removing your autobiography in order to understand your baby’s language and to mirror appropriately what he tries to tell you. This requires getting into present time with your whole being.

Early childhood experts, doctors Eileen and Tom Paris say it well:
“Learning the developmental themes of bonding, mirroring, and separating and the skills that support them from early on will give your baby the best possible start. These themes are ongoing and lifelong. We all need to be attached and bonded. We all need to feel understood, and we all need to be respected as individuals with experiences and feelings of our own”

Sometimes your baby may need to cry, in the warmth and safety of your presence. Your practice is to be present with her, mirror with your expression and speech what you hear, and check yourself for autobiographical projection, until you are sure your baby feels heard and can be comforted. Breathing deeply and relaxing can get you through this. Each time you do it, you will find it is less stressful and more interesting. You will find yourself engaged in the process of learning from your baby. You learn to accept your baby’s pain in the same way you feel his pleasure, without the attachment of craving, but with the compassionate love that is true non-attachment. Practicing in this way affects the way you love everyone else in your life as well. It teaches you how to be more truly compassionate, not only with the suffering of others but with yourself. This sets the foundation for your relationships and your child’s for the rest of your life.

Being present with your children requires that their well being is your top priority. After you have decided to be present, you will revisit that decision often and begin to find ways to do it that fit your lifestyle. You will design your lifestyle to fit this decision. Rather than just another “should,” being present for your little ones will become a fun, creative, and exciting endeavor that will teach you valuable lessons and bring joy to the most mundane of your everyday experiences. One dad said, When my wife goes away on business and I’m at home with the baby, I don’t expect to get a lot done. I have learned to take a deep breath, shut off the computer, and give my baby my undivided attention. A great thing about this approach is that it gives me a rewarding break from things that only seem important, and I get back in touch with what really is important.”

Cultivate a deep curiosity about your child, or each child if you have more than one. This curiosity opens you to the moment and allows you to discover all the things that make him unique. Your interest, in turn, invites your child to show you how unique and beautiful she is because a child who has not been judged and beaten down knows he is special and wants to share himself with you. Your delight feeds her joy, like an ever nourishing figure eight of love between you.

BEING PRESENT — PART ONE

In every spiritual tradition in the world you will find the key to true enlightenment is to “be here now.” That means to be in the present, in the moment, with no thought in your mind about the past, the future, or what is happening anywhere but where you are. A simple teaching, but increasingly difficult to achieve in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by distracting stimuli. But it is only difficult because of the way we are raised and conditioned, not because it goes against the natural flow of who we are.

In older times this teaching was easier to follow because the center of life was relatively small. It must have been more natural to keep your mind in the present if you lived in a village or on a farm with no transportation except a horse or mule and no television or radio or other technology, and in order to survive, you had to move from task to task each day. I noticed this in my travels to India years ago. In the country villages, not much that went on beyond the compound made any difference. Each day was concerned with what was going on at the moment, and plans for the future were limited. Ruminating on the old days was the pastime of the elders, whose memories served as teachings for you. I believe this is one reason I found it so much easier to meditate in these places — the present moment permeated all existence, and the pressure to be somewhere else was not there.

The Girl with the Pot on Her Head

There is a fable I often heard in India, in different versions but with the same ending. A simple, orphaned village girl lived in a hut, and her only possessions were a cow and a jug for its milk. Each day she took the jug full of milk to the market to sell.

One day this girl became possessed by ideas about the future, as she set the jug of milk on her head and began to walk to the village market. In her mind, she began to plan. If she could save half the money from this jug of milk, and so on each day for so many days, she would have enough money to buy a goat. Then if she could make cheese from the goat milk, and take it with her to the market and sell both milk and cheese, she could double her money. She went on like this until, in her mind, she could attract the most handsome and prosperous young man in the village to be her husband, and life for her would be so much easier! At that moment, she felt so much happiness she jumped for joy. The pot on her head clattered to the ground, spilling all the milk and breaking into a thousand pieces.

Being present doesn’t require that we have no dreams or plans for the future, but it does require that we set aside times to make those plans in a way that involves concrete steps with reachable goals, and that we then return our minds to the present moment to experience it. We may also need to set aside appropriate time for reviewing the past in order to learn from it which remembering to return our minds to the present again, for the present is all we really have. The past and the future don’t exist, so if we miss the present moment we are living in a world that doesn’t exist and therefore does not matter and doesn’t nourish our souls.

Process and Goal

Being present allows you to give yourself more to the process rather than the goal. Modern people are very goal oriented; we want machines to do all the processing for us so we can have the result to enjoy right now. You don’t need to build your own car or bake your own bread to be in the present when you enjoy having them. But because much of what we really want is not what we think we want, it is hard for us to enjoy the process of each day’s passing.

We think we want a new car. It will bring us happiness, a feeling of security and accomplishment, and make our lives easier. When we get a new car, our minds are on something else we want for the exact same reasons, and we begin to complain about the car payments and dream about a day when we no longer have to worry about them. But by the time that day comes, we will either have new car payments or something else to worry about. Most of what we worry about never happens, and when we achieve our goals the feeling of satisfaction and joy we get only lasts a limited time, then we must have new goals and achievements to look forward to.

I learned this fairly quickly as a writer and an artist. The published book and the “Best of Show” awards have their moments of true joy, completion, and satisfaction about a job well done. But by the time those moments arrive, my mind was usually well into another project. I realized early on that the doing of the thing is more important than the result.

The process itself is a kind of meditation for me. I learn about timeless things from the concrete work that comes from my mind, heart, and hands; patience, perseverance, faith, flow, and presence. Misery only comes when my limited mind takes the driver’s seat. I begin to worry about selling or showing my work, or I compare my work with that of others, or obsess about how others will judge it. I have many examples of art pieces that I sent to juried or judged shows, and that came back with comments from the judges. On one piece, there are comments about certain aspects “needing work,” while another judge at another show will praise those same things a “excellent, very fine work.” Ideally, I listen to both, see whether the criticism has any learning value, and then put them both away in favor of what I think and feel about the work.

A recent example is when I was giving the keynote speech at an international conference of the International Association of Infant Massage in Spain. I had prepared a speech that I was very excited about. Knowing the importance of visualizing what I want, I did so. When it was time to give my speech, the outer atmosphere was completely different than what I had imagined — the room was a kind of party atmosphere, with no chairs for participants! Speaking to a big group of people standing threw me off completely. I began to speak, and searching the room for friendly faces, I managed to focus on a few people who were solemn and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. As the moments went by, I became stressed, my mouth dried up and I had to drink water every few minutes. I left out a large part of the speech in a desperate attempt to end it. I managed to get across most of what I wanted to — but the moment was almost ruined for me. I’m pretty sure the audience didn’t think it was a disaster, as I did.

I berated myself, what had I done wrong? Isn’t it good to visualize a great outcome? I finally realized it wasn’t completely my fault; the environment wasn’t made suitable, and thus was pretty difficult to overcome; I told the organizers what had happened and requested a different kind of venue if I were to speak again. When I got home, I analyzed it from the point of view of what I had done. It was a lesson for me — to be flexible and try not to be attached to the external. Being able to be present with what is there and still do my best would be my visualization in the future.

The Terrible What-If

Many baby boomers were brought up on the idea of “what-if” because our parents were so profoundly affected by World War II and the Great Depression. The question of “what-if” is based on an assumption of permanence, that if we just get it right, we can achieve a state of permanent peace, harmony, prosperity, security, and happiness, and we can prevent bad things from ever happening. This is a false premise because impermanence is the stuff from which the entire universe is made. Nothing is permanent. So if we wish, we can “what-if” ourselves into the grave.

The fact is, most of our fears never occur. To dwell on and fear what could happen in the future robs us of the enjoyment of the moment. If you string all the present moments together, you have a beautiful, impermanent, constantly moving, growing, changing life. You get to experience it when it’s happening, not as a memory or a false projection of your mind. This doesn’t get us off the hook in terms of taking responsibility to appropriately plan our lives, secure our futures, and tend to our family’s well being. Taking time to do that is part of being an adult, and not taking that responsibility is to insist on never growing up, which is a type of craving.

Craving occurs when the mind becomes the master rather than the servant, and, as master, it blows its power all out of proportion and would have us believe we control or can strive to control just about everything. This causes us to worry, desire, regret, obsess and seek endlessly for pleasure and relief.

With our plans in place and a flexible attitude, we can then enjoy the present moment with all our hearts. With our children it is particularly important to understand craving, because falling into its traps robs us of moments we can never retrieve.

With our Children

When you massage your baby or change his diaper, use the opportunity to be fully present. Empty your mind, just for this short time, of anything else and be in the same space as your baby. Experience life through her eyes. Breathe deeply, relax, and allow your love to communicate through your hands, your eyes, your expression, and how you speak to and handle your baby. Using the “love bucket” concept, this is the time to fill your baby’s chalice to the brim. The stress of daily life, both good and not so good, can drain that chalice. It is your job to continually fill it again to overflowing. In this way you return the favor; your baby teaches you how to be present and you can give him the gift of inner security for life.

Our babies have a rich gift they give to us freely and openly, 24 hours a day. If you have ever longed for or fantasized about going to a far off land to sit at the feet of a spiritual master and receive the teachings that will free your soul to enlightenment, guess what? Your master has decided to come to you, through your own body— indeed, made out of your own body— and she has nothing better to do than offer you her wisdom at any moment you choose to receive it. Remember this when, just as you fill with pride at how cute and good your child is, he bites your new friend’s leg or kicks over her best vase. Remember this as you watch your baby nurse or sleep, with the total surrender of one secure in the now and empty of mental cravings.

THE EFFECTS OF BABY MASSAGE ON ATTACHMENT BETWEEN MOTHER AND THEIR INFANTS

A study was made from June 2008 to February 2010 in Turkey. There were 57 in the experimental group, 60 in the control group. Between the dates of the study, all healthy mothers giving birth for the first time and their healthy babies were included. Data were collected about their demographic characteristics and by using the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI). All mothers were assessed on the first and the last days of the 38-day study period. In the experimental group, the babies received a 15-minute massage therapy session everyday during the 38 days.

The MAI was developed to measure maternal affectionate attachment. This is the unique, affectionate relationship that develops between a woman and her infant. It persists over time, and is a key element of maternal adaptation (Muller, 1994). The MAI consists of 26 items representing maternal activities and feelings that indicate affection. Before development of the MAI, maternal affectionate attachment had been most frequently determined by observing the rate or pattern of maternal attachment behaviors (Muller). Observational measures, however, are time-consuming and generally difficult to apply in a clinical setting. In addition, there is little agreement that one behavior or group of behaviors constitutes evidence of maternal attachment. By direct measurement of mothers’ feelings through the MAI, these validity concerns in relation to interpreting mothers’ behaviors can be avoided. Although mothers’ feelings about their infants are not sufficient to define the complexity of mother–infant attachment, they are thought to be indicators of the probable presence of attachment.

For the study, massage techniques were a combination of effleurage and petrissage to the baby’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, waist and legs. The effleurage consisted of smooth, long, rhythmic strokes up either side of the spine and out across the shoulders, with both hands working simultaneously, while the petrissage consisted of gentle kneading. Additionally, slow steady pressure was applied intermittently to the shoulders, neck, face, and lower back. All massages were demonstrated by the same trained person and mothers were advised to choose a moment when both she and her child are relaxed and calm; a half hour after the baby had eaten was recommended.

Baby massage education was given twice at the first home visit and the second home visit (15th day). The mother’s application of baby massage was observed at the second home visit and evaluated for correct technique. These babies received 15-minute massage sessions every day of the week for 38 days; the number of massage sessions are a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 38. The researcher followed a detailed visit-by-visit protocol to help women improve their health-related behaviors, the care of their baby, and observed the status of baby massage application. On the last day of the study, the MAI was filled out on the last home visit in the experimental group.

There was no significant difference found in the pretest mean value baseline of the MAI score in both groups. The posttest mean values of the MAI of the experimental group mothers were significantly higher than those of control group. There was a significant difference between groups. The results of the study have shown that baby massage is effective in increasing the mother–infant attachment.

When maternal attachment levels of experimental group mothers applying massage to their babies and control group mothers not applying massage to their babies were compared in posttest measurements, it was found that the maternal attachment of the group applying massage significantly higher. Maternal attachment of the control group also increased in the posttest measurement; however, this increase was very low when compared to the experimental group.

The relative youth of the mothers and the fact that they were undertaking the primary care of their first baby increased compliance with the study and attachment. This may explain the minor increase in maternal attachment behavior of mothers in the control group.

In Turkish culture, children are very precious and important. Women want to have a child as soon as they get married. If a woman does not have a baby, she is exposed to negative reactions from her husband and his family. Being a mother is very important, in particular, to have a male baby is extremely important. For this reason, it is expected that maternal attachment level naturally increases. The aim of this study was to determine how baby massage affects this increase. This result confirms the hypothesis of the study—baby massage strengthens the attachment between mother and baby. Most of the mothers in both groups were 26–35 years of age group, who are graduates of secondary school and not working. Traditionally, these women’s common goal is to get married and give birth to a child in the eastern part of Turkey. However, educated women have more roles than being a partner or a mother.

The first year of life is extremely important in terms of the baby’s psychological development. It is during this period, that the sense of basic trust is formed. The relationship between the mother and the baby has been the subject of several research studies (Muller-Nix et al., 2004; Zeanah, Borris, & Larrieu, 1997). Attachment is an emotional and expected condition between the mother and the baby that begins in the first days of life.

Attachment theory is an assessment of the response to the baby’s physical and emotional needs (Mills-Koonce et al., 2007). According to Mercer, maternal attachment begins during pregnancy and continues with delivery. Maternal attachment is a unique, tender loving relationship that develops between the mother and the baby; its consistency leads to the development of feelings of trust in the infant as a result. Postpartum attachment and care between the mother and the baby is important for the baby to lead a physical, spiritual, and emotional health in life.

Mothers have an important role as the primary caregiver. If the relationship between mother and baby is inadequate, the baby may have severe developmental and psychological problems (Brandt, Andrews, & Kvale, 1998). Attachment is therefore accepted as one of the fundamental processes in order to improve psychological development and to establish the baby’s relationship to the outside world (Wilson et al., 2000).

A healthy attachment is also of great importance in the determination of the baby’s character and habits. The first touches greatly strengthen attachment behavior (Kavlak & Şirin, 2007). The sense of touch is very important in the newborn period and infanthood for perceiving the environment. Proper stimulation of the baby’s sense of touch affects psychosocial development positively.

Massage is one of the easiest and most natural ways of establishing a sense of touch and eye contact which improves attachment between mothers and babies. The early contact between mother and her newborn gives confidence to the mother’s breastfeeding, in addition to developing the mother’s attachment behavior (Matthiesen, Ransjö-Arvidson, Nissen, & Uvnäs-Moberg, 2001).

Ferber et al. (2005) determined that mothers who applied massage to their premature infants achieved an easier interaction. Lee (2006) also reported that baby massage encourages the interaction between mother and baby. Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant affects the infants’ health, decreases their crying, and increases the mother–infant interaction. Onozawa, Glover, Adams, Modi, and Kumar (2001) reported that the mother–infant interaction was increased among those mothers who had performed massage on their infants.

In 2009, Kavlak and Şirin studied healthy babies and mothers to evaluate and determine validity and reliability of the Maternal Attachment Inventory (MAI) scale for the Turkish population. Moreover, Bal Yilmaz and Conk (2009) studied mothers who had 15-day-old healthy babies to investigate the effect of four months of massage application on sleep duration, growth and development of babies, and mothers’ anxiety levels. Bal Yılmaz and Conk reported that infants’ sleep duration was increased when their mothers spent more time with them and massaged them. In a study conducted with mothers who recently delivered healthy babies, İnal and Yıldız (2005) investigated the effect of massage applied for 6 months on the babies’ growth and mental-motor development. Inal and Yildiz found statistically significant results that infants who received massage gained more weight and increased their mental–motor development. In a study conducted with premature and low birthweight babies and their mothers, Sarıkaya Karabudak and Öztürk (2008) reported that regularly applied baby massage positively affected weight gain and the mental–motor development of babies.

Massage is one of the oldest forms of treatment in the world, having first been described in China during the second century B.C. and soon after in India and Egypt. Maternal attachment depends on two important factors; (a) interaction between mother and her baby and (b) sensual contact between them. Baby massage is the simplest and easiest way of communication, that makes contact between mother and her baby. In eastern Anatolia, Turkey, the families have many children. The mothers who live in this region generally avoid touching their babies. The main reasons are cold weather conditions, socioeconomic conditions, and swaddling. In addition, there is no work regarding the effects of massage on mother-infant attachment in Turkey up to now. For this reason, this work has been carried out to determine the applicability of baby massage in Turkish families and its effects on the level of maternal attachment. It is of note that the Turkish edition of Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents (Vimala McClure, Bantam/Random House, NY) has been in production in 2018.

Infant massage for primary caregivers and high-risk babies is now used more often. It is reported that massage regulates the baby’s sleep, respiration and urinary requirements; decreases colic and stress; and affects mother–infant interaction in a positive way. Studies have determined that mothers giving massage to premature babies have more interaction with their babies. In their studies, Moore and Anderson (2007) found that skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby in the early period affected the health status of baby, decreased crying and increased mother–infant interaction.

Infant massage is a simple, cheap and effective technique supporting infant development. It is accepted as a new practice that is gradually gaining popularity by being applicable to both the babies and their mothers; it can be performed independently. However, many mothers do not know that they can communicate with their babies by touch as they think that they may easily hurt their babies. Those mothers should be instructed by using various interactive methods such as tactile, visual, auditory contact. For those families who cannot have direct early contact with their baby for various reasons, nurses should advise them that this situation would not directly cause a problem. Their concerns should be alleviated because although early contact is a factor that strengthens attachment development, it is not an essential prerequisite.

The effects of massage in terms of mother–infant attachment and other general benefits for baby health should be considered; all medical personnel, especially nurses, should encourage mothers to apply massage to their babies. Encouraging the use of massage provides an important contribution to healthy babies. In the literature, the effects of baby massage on the maternal attachment levels in mothers with healthy infants and weight gain of preterm infants have been investigated. Mothers with babies who were born prematurely or had some defects or illness, have more risk of attachment deprivation. Accordingly, it might be suggested that nurses include baby massage among the routines of mother and baby care in both healthy and ill babies, and that facilitating baby massage and mother–infant attachment should be included in the internal training given to neonatal nurses as well as providing counseling to the mothers in this regard.

RESEARCH FINDS THAT MATERNAL SEPARATION STRESSES THE INFANT

A woman goes into labor, and gives birth. The newborn is swaddled and placed to sleep in a nearby bassinet, or taken to the hospital nursery so that the mother can rest. Despite this common practice, research published in Biological Psychiatry provides new evidence that separating infants from their mothers is stressful to the baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against co-sleeping with an infant, due to its association with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. This notion has been debunked in the last couple of years, by the physician who first made a case for it. Safe co-sleeping has been shown to positively impact breastfeeding, infant and parent sleep.

Dr. James J. McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame says, “It is a curious fact that in Western societies the practice of mothers, fathers, and infants sleeping together came to be thought of as strange, unhealthy, and dangerous. Western parents are taught that cosleeping will make the infant too dependent on them or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide.” Research has suggested that many mothers who have been diagnosed as having postpartum depression are actually suffering extreme fatigue from waking to go to their babies at night.

Having done research on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Professor McKenna believes that low-level arousals, which did not actually awaken either parent, give the baby practice in arousing himself. This can lessen a baby’s susceptibility to some forms of SIDS, which are thought to be caused by failure to aruonse from deep sleep to reestablish breathing patterns.

Professor McKenna says that millions of years of cosleeping and night feeing have not developmentally prepared young babies to “sleep through” in a solitary crib, involving, as this does, long periods of deep sleep. Videos taken show that cosleeping mothers, even in deep sleep, seem aware of their baby’s position and move when necessary to avoid overlying. Some of the lowest rates of SIDS are found among cultures where cosleeping is predominant.
It is standard practice in a hospital setting, particularly among Western cultures, to separate mothers and their newborns. Separation is also common for babies under medical distress or premature babies, who may be placed in an incubator.

Humans are the only mammals who practice such mother-infant separation, but its physiological impact on the baby has been unknown until now. Researchers measured heart rate variability in 2-day-old sleeping babies for one hour each during skin-to-skin contact with mother and alone in a cot next to mother’s bed. Neonatal autonomic activity was 176% higher and quiet sleep 86% lower during maternal separation compared to skin-to-skin contact.

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented on the study’s findings. “This paper highlights the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant. We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is a major physiologic stressor for the infant.”

“Skin-to-skin contact with mother removes this contradiction, and our results are a first step towards understanding exactly why babies do better when nursed in skin-to-skin contact with mother, compared to incubator care,” explained study author Dr. Barak Morgan.

The research addresses a strange contradiction: In animal research, separation from mother is a common way of creating stress in order to study its damaging effects on the developing newborn brain. At the same time, separation of human newborns is common practice, particularly when specialized medical care is required (e.g. incubator care).

More research is necessary to further understand the newborn response to separation, including whether it is sustained response and whether it has any long-term neuro-developmental effects.

Skin-to-skin contact has known benefits, and certainly, most would agree that unnecessarily stressing a newborn is unacceptable. As further evidence emerges, the challenge to doctors will be to incorporate skin-to-skin contact into routine treatment while still safely providing the other elements of newborn medical care.