I learned about the ancient art of infant massage while I was studying and working in an orphanage in Northern India in 1973. I made a connection in my mind observing the children there. Their play was happy and inclusive. They had rhythmic songs and dances they would do together, whether anyone was watching or not. They looked me straight in the eye, no shyness or fear at all. I remembered observing children playing in U.S. playgrounds; their games were often “war” games, they gathered in little bunches, bullied the “nerds” or “weird” kids. They fought for time on the “monkey bars.”
I began to think that perhaps Indian children were so kind, inclusive, responsible for the younger ones and “others,” happy in their play, because they had been massaged regularly as babies. Massage is a normal thing in Indian families, especially in the villages and towns where “modern” ideas have not yet influenced them. Women usually live with their husband’s family; when pregnant, their mothers-in-law massage them every day. After giving birth, they learn to massage their babies as part of their everyday life.
I returned to the U.S., and spent a couple of years researching the power of touch. I found a boat-load of studies on mammals — how they bond with their young, the licking, grooming, and massage that make up the bonding process. Though there weren’t, at that time, studies on humans, it seemed natural to me that we would be like other mammals in that regard.
I continued researching throughout my first pregnancy. Ashley Montague’s groundbreaking book, Touching, provided ample studies on the importance of “pleasant touch” in various mammal species. I studied the work of Harry Harlow, Konrad Lorenz, and Kennell and Klaus — who had just come out with their findings on maternal-infant bonding — and may other proving the importance of touch, scent, and prolonged gazing to the healthy development of newborns.
When my baby was born in 1976, I massaged him every day using the strokes I learned in India, combining them with what I already knew — Swedish massage, reflexology, and yoga postures I adapted for babies. Because my baby suffered from colic — a lot of crying, tensing, pulling his knees up, I devised a “Colic Relief Routine” that ended his colic in two weeks. At one point I stopped massaging him for almost two weeks; the change was noticeable. He was less cuddly, happy, eager to bond. I began massaging him again and didn’t stop!
To make a long story short, I started teaching other parents, then certifying people to teach the class I had developed, and eventually certifying instructors to certify other instructors to be Trainers. I wrote Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents (Bantam/Random House) and founded the nonprofit International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM). Since then I have been able to revise and update my book several times; it has been translated into 14 languages. IAIM has grown to over 50 chapters around the world and a 50-member Circle of Trainers.
In my book (the first and most comprehensive book on infant massage), there are chapters on the physiological benefits, the elements of bonding and attachment that are naturally included in massage, and clear photographic instructions. There are chapters dedicated to music, fathers, crying and fussing, colic, preemies, special needs, your growing child, sibling bonding, adopted and foster babies, and teen parents. The massage routine I developed is more than just touching your baby. Each part of the massage, each stroke and the order of strokes — all are important, each has a reason.
I urge you to 1) massage your pregnant belly and talk/sing to your baby, 2) have your partner massage you as well, 3) learn infant massage so that you can begin as soon as possible after your baby is born. You will love it! And so will your baby.
— Vimala McClure
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