INFANT MASSAGE: STRESS AND RELAXATION

Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy.

Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

In our great-grandmothers’ day, when a baby developed a fever, the outcome was uncertain. Each century’s children have been plagued with some debilitating disease. Though many contagions have been eliminated through improved environmental conditions and medicine, our century is characterized by a more subtle and insidious malady — stress.

Stress can begin to affect a baby even before he is born. The levels of stress hormones that are constantly present in a woman’s bloodstream directly affect her unborn infant, crossing the placenta to enter his own bloodstream. Studies have shown that prolonged tension and anxiety can hamper a pregnant woman’s ability to absorb nourishment. Her baby may be of low birth weight, hyperactive, and irritable.

If we understand that our experiences and reactions influence our own biochemistry by sending life-enhancing or fear-producing chemicals throughout our bodies, it is not difficult to understand that these chemicals are also sent through our unborn baby’s body. Her cells receive this “information” and program her structure accordingly. Thus, even before birth, a baby can unconsciously perceive the world as a place of anxiety and stress, to fight or be victimized by, or a place of safety and love, to enjoy and fully experience. This is not to say all is lost if life circumstances are less than perfect. Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy. As we evolve to be more conscious beings, we understand more deeply how important our mental states are, both to our own health and longevity and to our children’s health, longevity, intelligence, and ability to experience and give love and joy.

Babies born centuries ago in more primitive cultures had the advantage of extended families, natural environments, and relatively little change. Our children, born into a rapidly advancing technological world, must effectively handle stress if they are to survive and prosper. Thus must give them every opportunity, from conception on, to learn positive, adaptive responses to stress and to believe in their own power and adaptability.

We certainly cannot eliminate stress, nor would we wish to, for in the proper doses it is an essential component in the growth of intelligence. Let’s see how this works. In times of stress, the pituitary gland produces a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which activates the adrenal steroids, organizing the body and brain to deal with an unknown or unpredictable emergency. In experiments with laboratory animals, this hormone has been found to stimulate the production of many new proteins in the liver and brain — proteins that are instrumental in both learning and memory. On being given ACTH, the animals’ brains grow millions of new connecting links between the neurons (thinking cells). These links enable the brain to process information.

The stress of meeting unknown situations and converting them into what is known and predictable is essential for our babies’ brain development. But stress is only part of the cycle that enhances learning. Without its equally important opposite — relaxation — stress can lead to overstimulation, exhaustion, and shock. When stress piles upon stress without the relief of an equal portion of relaxation, the body begins to shut out all sensory intake and the learning process is completely blocked. As neuroscientist Bruce Lipton described, between the two choices — protection-related or growth-promoting — protection-related biological behaviors kick in, thus preventing growth or learning.

How does this apply to infant massage? First, massage is one way we can provide our children with relaxing, joyful experiences. Through the use of conditioned response techniques similar to those developed for childbirth by Lamaze and others, we can teach our babies how to relax their bodies in response to stress. The ability to relax consciously is a tremendous advantage in coping with the pressures of growing up in modern society. If acquired early in life, the realization response can become as much a part of our children’s natural system as the antibodies that protect them from disease.

Stress is a natural part of an infant’s life, but often our babies are not able to benefit from it as much as they could. Our fast-paced society overloads them with input, but it is unacceptable for them to cry to release tension. This double bind leads to many frustrated babies with a lot of pent-up tension and anxiety.

Massage helps babies practice handling input and responding to it with relaxation. Watch an experienced mother massaging her baby. You will see both stress and relaxation in the rhythmic strokes and in the baby’s reactions. The infant experiences all kinds of new sensations, feelings, odors, sounds, and sights. The rumbles of his tummy, the warm sensation of increased circulation, the movement of air on his bare skin — all are mildly stressful to him. The pleasant tone of his mother’s voice, her smile and her touch are relaxing and relieve the discomfort of encountering these new sensations. The reassures him that the world outside the womb is, as Dr. Frederick Laborers says, “still alive, and warm, and beating, and friendly.”

A daily massage gradually raises an infant’s stimulation threshold. Babies who have difficulty handling stimulation gradually build tolerance. High-need babies begin to learn to regulate the manner in which they respond to stressful experiences, which reduces the level of tension they develop throughout the day. Colicky babies are calmed and able to relax their bodies so that tension doesn’t escalate their discomfort. A regular massage provides our babies with an early stress management program that will be valuable to them in years to come.

INTO ADULTHOOD

Psychologists study the types of attachments we form in our infant as predictors of the types of relationships we will have as adults. People whose infancy was secure, who were held and listened to, who had good eye contact with their parents, and who were generally cherished tend to have healthier relationships with others. Getting close to others is easy, and they have no problem with interdependency (the ability to depend on and be depended on, appropriately). They have happy, trusting relationships; their romances last the longest and end in divorce the least often of groups studied. On the other hand, babies whose attachment bonds are insecure or anxious are later less sympathetic to others and less effective in getting support and help from other people. Their relationships lack trust and intimacy; jealousy and commitment problems and fears undermine friendships as well as marriages. People whose bonds are constantly broken in infancy have a much greater risk of becoming sociopathic criminals in their adulthood unless they receive serious intervention at an early stage.

The bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood. Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with compassion and altruism and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved — to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.

© 2019 Vimala McClure

Maternal singing during skin-to-skin contact benefits both preterm infants, mothers

Source: Maternal singing during skin-to-skin contact benefits both preterm infants, mothers

This is why we teach a lullaby to accompany infant massage (in the case of NICU, holding methods and “Resting Hands.”

MASSAGING YOUR BABY WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Bonding is a matter of reciprocal interaction. It depends upon a parent stimulating the infant with appropriate cues or signals, which trigger a response in the baby. The infant’s cues or signals then trigger further involvement by the parent, including eye contact, smiling, speech sounds, and body movements. The baby or young child with developmental impairments or delays sometimes cannot respond in the ordinary manner to parental cues. Interactional synchrony thus may be inhibited, which can lead to the parent feeling out of touch with her child. In addition, parents of babies with special needs are often overwhelmed by all of the information they need to absorb, by the therapies they are expected to carry out, and by the double bind of grieving and celebrating a new baby at the same time.

Parents’ emotional reactions to the discovery of a special need in their child differ greatly. They can include confusion, guilt, anger, wishful thinking, depression, intellectualization, and acceptance. These natural feelings can overlap and recur as parent and child adjust to their life together and to each new stage of the baby’s development.

Infant massage can be wonderful bonding tool for parents and children with special needs. While physiological benefits to accrue, the focus and goal of infant massage is the interaction and connection of these two people. It is something you do with your child rather than to your child. It is not another therapy but an opportunity to share your love. A daily massage connects parent and baby in a way that no other type of interaction can match. Babies with special needs benefit from this intimacy even more than other babies. Because some avenues of communication may not be open to them, their parents ned to know them well; the way the body feels when tense or relaxed, the look and feel of the abdomen when gassy or not, the difference between pain and tension. Often such parents need to be acutely aware of their infants’ bodies because life-threatening infections can arise. A parent who is attuned to the look and feel of her baby’s body at all times will more likely be able to detect toxicity in the early stages.

Of course, I cannot tell you how to best use massage with your child in various challenging situations since there are too many types of challenges, and within those categories may different babies with varying needs. What I can do is give you some general information and hints to start with, so you can then approach your baby’s physician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist with a basic knowledge of infant massage.

Before beginning a massage routine with your baby, check with the baby’s door and therapists. They will help you design the massage and relaxation sequence to suit your baby’s needs. Then, trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone else. You are his or her specialist, and a companion in a way to one else ever can be.

Developmental Challenges

Developmental challenges such as cerebral palsy manifest in many different ways. The child’s physical therapist will use procedures that either inhibit (relax) or facilitate (stimulate) muscle tone according to the child’s state. Inhibition lessens muscle tone for babies with stiff, tense, tight musculature. Facilitation increases muscle tone for “floppy” muscles.

Inhibitory techniques may include slow stroking, gentle shaking, positioning, rocking, and neutral warmth while facilitating techniques may include icing, brushing, positioning, pressure, and vibration. The massage strokes in my book Infant Massage, a Handbook for Loving Parents, can be modified to either inhibit or facilitate. To inhibit, use long, slow, sweeping strokes and Touch Relaxation. To facilitate, use a more vigorous stroking and more playful interactions such as bouncy rhymes and songs.

The massage can be delivered in the same sequence as the “regular” massage, with the following changes. Stroking the bottom of the foot often causes a reaction of extension and tightening of the leg. If this occurs, in “Under Toes,” “Ball of Foot,” and “Thumb Press,”changes the stroke so that pressure is exerted on the outside rather than on the balls of the feet. The “Thumbs to Sides” stroke on the tummy is particularly helpful in improving and stimulating diaphragmatic breathing. Babies with developmental challenges often show signs of resistance when the shoulders are stroked. For the chest, begin with “Resting Hands,” then try just one stroke, such as the “Butterly” stroke across the chest, which includes the shoulder, and gradually increase the number of strokes as the child’s stimulation threshold increases. For the face, the “Smile” strokes and lip closure promotes good swallowing. These are particularly good for babies who drool and breathe through the mouth. The facial massage is an excellent prelude to oral stimulation and feeding therapy for the child who is sensitive around the mouth. When doing the “Colic Relief Routine,” do not hold the knees against the stomach for more than a count of five, so as not to inhibit respiration.

Babies who are tactile defensive — that is, hypersensitive and reactive to skin contact — benefit from firm pressure and stroking. Warm baths and brisk rubbing with a terrycloth towel before massage can increase acceptance of skin-to-skin massage.

According to cerebral palsy experts, a slow, firm stroke down the center of the back can increase brain organization. Do not stroke up the back against hair growth.

If your baby has a shunt or other type of bypass, her physical therapist will be able to tell you how much pressure is appropriate and how to work around these areas, even if at first the only thing you can do is use the “Resting Hands” technique on another part of the body such as the legs.

If your baby has had surgery, you can use massage, holding techniques, and “Touch Relaxation” with other parts of his body, with the support of his physician. Your loving touch and the security of it can be very important to your baby’s recovery.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

INFANT MASSAGE: STRESS AND RELAXATION

Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy.

Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

In our great-grandmothers’ day, when a baby developed a fever, the outcome was uncertain. Each century’s children have been plagued with some debilitating disease. Though many contagions have been eliminated through improved environmental conditions and medicine, our century is characterized by a more subtle and insidious malady — stress.

Stress can begin to affect a baby even before he is born. The levels of stress hormones that are constantly present in a woman’s bloodstream directly affect her unborn infant, crossing the placenta to enter his own bloodstream. Studies have shown that prolonged tension and anxiety can hamper a pregnant woman’s ability to absorb nourishment. Her baby may be of low birth weight, hyperactive, and irritable.

If we understand that our experiences and reactions influence our own biochemistry by sending life-enhancing or fear-producing chemicals throughout our bodies, it is not difficult to understand that these chemicals are also sent through our unborn baby’s body. Her cells receive this “information” and program her structure accordingly. Thus, even before birth, a baby can unconsciously perceive the world as a place of anxiety and stress, to fight or be victimized by, or a place of safety and love, to enjoy and fully experience. This is not to say all is lost if life circumstances are less than perfect. Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy. As we evolve to be more conscious beings, we understand more deeply how important our mental states are, both to our own health and longevity and to our children’s health, longevity, intelligence, and ability to experience and give love and joy.

Babies born centuries ago in more primitive cultures had the advantage of extended families, natural environments, and relatively little change. Our children, born into a rapidly advancing technological world, must effectively handle stress if they are to survive and prosper. Thus must give them every opportunity, from conception on, to learn positive, adaptive responses to stress and to believe in their own power and adaptability.

We certainly cannot eliminate stress, nor would we wish to, for in the proper doses it is an essential component in the growth of intelligence. Let’s see how this works. In times of stress, the pituitary gland produces a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which activates the adrenal steroids, organizing the body and brain to deal with an unknown or unpredictable emergency. In experiments with laboratory animals, this hormone has been found to stimulate the production of many new proteins in the liver and brain — proteins that are instrumental in both learning and memory. On being given ACTH, the animals’ brains grow millions of new connecting links between the neurons (thinking cells). These links enable the brain to process information.

The stress of meeting unknown situations and converting them into what is known and predictable is essential for our babies’ brain development. But stress is only part of the cycle that enhances learning. Without its equally important opposite — relaxation — stress can lead to overstimulation, exhaustion, and shock. When stress piles upon stress without the relief of an equal portion of relaxation, the body begins to shut out all sensory intake and the learning process is completely blocked. As neuroscientist Bruce Lipton described, between the two choices — protection-related or growth-promoting — protection-related biological behaviors kick in, thus preventing growth or learning.

How does this apply to infant massage? First, massage is one way we can provide our children with relaxing, joyful experiences. Through the use of conditioned response techniques similar to those developed for childbirth by Lamaze and others, we can teach our babies how to relax their bodies in response to stress. The ability to relax consciously is a tremendous advantage in coping with the pressures of growing up in modern society. If acquired early in life, the realization response can become as much a part of our children’s natural system as the antibodies that protect them from disease.

Stress is a natural part of an infant’s life, but often our babies are not able to benefit from it as much as they could. Our fast-paced society overloads them with input, but it is unacceptable for them to cry to release tension. This double bind leads to many frustrated babies with a lot of pent-up tension and anxiety.

Massage helps babies practice handling input and responding to it with relaxation. Watch an experienced mother massaging her baby. You will see both stress and relaxation in the rhythmic strokes and in the baby’s reactions. The infant experiences all kinds of new sensations, feelings, odors, sounds, and sights. The rumbles of his tummy, the warm sensation of increased circulation, the movement of air on his bare skin — all are mildly stressful to him. The pleasant tone of his mother’s voice, her smile and her touch are relaxing and relieve the discomfort of encountering these new sensations. The reassures him that the world outside the womb is, as Dr. Frederick Laborers says, “still alive, and warm, and beating, and friendly.”

A daily massage gradually raises an infant’s stimulation threshold. Babies who have difficulty handling stimulation gradually build tolerance. High-need babies begin to learn to regulate the manner in which they respond to stressful experiences, which reduces the level of tension they develop throughout the day. Colicky babies are calmed and able to relax their bodies so that tension doesn’t escalate their discomfort. A regular massage provides our babies with an early stress management program that will be valuable to them in years to come.

INTO ADULTHOOD

Psychologists study the types of attachments we form in our infant as predictors of the types of relationships we will have as adults. People whose infancy was secure, who were held and listened to, who had good eye contact with their parents, and who were generally cherished tend to have healthier relationships with others. Getting close to others is easy, and they have no problem with interdependency (the ability to depend on and be depended on, appropriately). They have happy, trusting relationships; their romances last the longest and end in divorce the least often of groups studied. On the other hand, babies whose attachment bonds are insecure or anxious are later less sympathetic to others and less effective in getting support and help from other people. Their relationships lack trust and intimacy; jealousy and commitment problems and fears undermine friendships as well as marriages. People whose bonds are constantly broken in infancy have a much greater risk of becoming sociopathic criminals in their adulthood unless they receive serious intervention at an early stage.

The bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood. Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with compassion and altruism and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved — to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.

© 2019 Vimala McClure