Fathers today take an increasingly active interest in the care and nurturing of their infants. However, men often feel dissatisfied with their ability to form this meaningful relationship. Fifty years ago, dads were relegated to the waiting room as the birth of their child took place behind closed doors. Fast-forward to the present, and those doors have been thrown wide open. In many instances, however, fathers are still part of the background, playing supportive but limited roles in the upbringing of their babies. Creating a bond should begin at birth, and research has shown that massage can serve as one of the building blocks for father-child bonds.

Research has found that instruction in infant massage for new dads may substantially influence the quality of their relationship. In one study fathers who massaged their babies were found to be more demonstrative, warmer, and accepting with their babies. In another instance, the fathers’ stress and their participation in an infant massage class were studied. It was found that the classes appreciably decreased the fathers’ stress levels; 92 percent had a positive experience. Another study showed that dads acknowledged that infant massage is an extraordinary tool for bonding and a way to become more comfortable with their infants. Still another piece of research on an infant massage class for fathers showed that they had expanded feelings of competency, acceptance of their roles, attachment, support from their partners, and reduced feelings of isolation and depression. According to an article in the Journal of Perinatal Education, “Supporting Fathering Through Infant Massage,” “… infant massage classes appear to offer fathers the positive experience of meeting other fathers and enjoying the opportunity to share their fathering experiences.”

In spite of an eagerness to participate in the baby’s care right from the beginning, a new father may encounter logistical problems. His time may be limited to evenings and weekends. He may be tired after work. He may have to face the added stress of coping with basic household maintenance and increased financial pressure. Dad may be hard-pressed to find time for himself and may seem withdrawn at times when mother and baby want and need just the opposite response. Of course, Mom is coping with the same problems, compounded by the sometimes overwhelming responsibility of caring for the baby around the clock. Add fatigue from the birth, breastfeeding issues, and raging hormones, and she can be exhausted and seriously in need of some “me time.”

Tiffany Field, from the Touch Research Institute in Miami, conducted a study in 2000 that found fathers who massaged their infants were “more expressive and showed more enjoyment and more warmth during floor-play interactions with their infants.” Moreover, fathers who participated in massage experienced increased self-esteem as a parent. Field noted that while the dads reaped benefits, their babies also realized some advantages—they tended to greet the fathers with more direct eye contact, and they smiled and vocalized more.

Another study reported in the Journal of Perinatal Education yielded similar results after observing two groups of twelve infant-father dyads for four weeks. Fathers in the experimental group massaged their babies, while dads in the control group did not. After massaging their infants, the fathers demonstrated a decrease in their stress scores. The authors conclude that infant massage is a “viable option for teaching fathers caregiving sensitivity.” Additionally, the results suggest that fathers who massage their infants experience “increased feelings of competence, role acceptance, spousal support, attachment and health by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression.”

In 2013, Mary Kay Keller, a Certified Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage and an author, educator, researcher, and relationship coach, published her dissertation, in which she investigated the benefits fathers perceived as having received from massaging their infants. In addition to increased sensitivity and competency, the dads reported greater awareness that they were contributing to the child’s well-being. They were also motivated to spend time massaging their infant for two reasons: to give Mom a break and to help decrease stress in the baby. They also valued the opportunity to enjoy their baby and the ultimate bond they were creating. When a bond is forged early on, the chances for a strong, healthy relationship later in life are increased. As men become more actively involved in their children’s lives, it is worthwhile to explore the benefits massage can provide for both baby and dad. Keller has also given TED Talks about her findings, which you can view online.

In the first weeks after birth, a mother may be tired at the end of the day, and the baby may be fussy. Far from fitting some people’s notion of a stay-at-home mom luxuriating in the playful company of her baby and soap operas on television, the new mother has task after task to perform throughout the day, with no breaks and little contact with other adults. Many tasks are repetitive—cleaning, washing, diapering, feeding, comforting, grocery shopping—and there’s not the validation of a paycheck or a pat on the back from a supervisor. So when Dad gets home from his job, most moms aren’t necessarily cheery. One father, whose wife died, says he thought he had been very involved with his children before, but “I didn’t know how removed I was until I had to do all the thousands and thousands of things it takes to raise a child.”

Both parents can be hard pressed to find time for themselves and their relationship in addition to being good parents. A father may seem withdrawn at times when the mother and baby want and need just the opposite response. Moreover, the sometimes overwhelming responsibility of caring for the baby around the clock usually means, at least in the beginning, sleep deprivation for both parents.

These stressors present fathers with a high barrier in learning to nurture their children with soft and gentle care. So does their lack of learned “maternal” behavior: because most men have not grown to manhood learning the same behaviors toward babies that most women do, they may need special help and encouragement in the beginning. But fathers can walk, rock, sing to, dance with, read to, and massage their babies as well as feed, change, and bathe them. Many people don’t realize that fathers, too, have “parenting hormones” that are activated by close contact with their infants.

Psychologist Tom Daly comments, “In the process of giving the massage, fathers get to know their children in an extraordinary way. They connect with a deep part of the child and with a deep part of themselves—their nurturing side. Boys, by and large, are conditioned to suppress this part by the age of nine, but working with infants in this way opens up that old place. Dads find they are great nurturers when given a safe situation in which their manhood is not compromised.”

When their fathers give children extra attention, he notes, the children have more self-confidence and exhibit more creativity. “Men and manhood are changing,” he says. “Let us continue to get fathers more seriously involved in child rearing. Infant massage is a golden opportunity to assist in this transformation. The world is a better place every time an infant is massaged, and men need to be part of this.”




I am happy to announce that the new updated, expanded edition of Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents has been released by Random House. It is available on Amazon.com and from most bookstores.


  1. Why Massage Your Baby?

  2. Your Baby’s Sensory World

  3. The Importance of Skin Stimulation

  4. Stress and Relaxation

  5. Bonding, Attachment, and Infant Massage

  6. The Elements of Bonding

  7. Attachment and the Benefits of Infant Massage

  8. Especially for Fathers

  9. Helping your Baby (and you) Learn to Relax

  10. Your Baby’s Brain

  11. Music and Massage

  12. Getting Ready

  13. How to Massage Your Baby

  14. Crying, Fussing, and Other Baby Language (including cues, reflexes and behavioral states

  15. Minor Illness and Colic

  16. Your Premature Baby

  17. Your Baby with Special Needs

  18. Your Growing Child and Sibling Bonding through Infant Massage

  19. Your Adopted or Foster Children

  20. A Note to Teen Parents


References and Recommendations


Author Bio


Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. Touching and handling her baby assists the new mother in milk production by aiding in the secretion of prolactin, the “mothering hormone.” By regularly massaging her baby, the mother not only sets up a cycle of healthy responses which improves her mothering abilities day by day, but also enhances her baby’s well-being, his disposition, and the relationship between the two of them. The process begun at the embryonic stage thus continues, allowing a natural unfolding of the baby’s potential within the safe and loving arms of his mother.

Nurturing stimulation of the skin—handling, cuddling, rocking and massage—increases cardiac functions of the human infant; massage stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, and gastrointestinal systems—benefits especially appreciated by the “colicky” baby and his parents.

A baby’s first experience with the surrounding environment occurs through touch, developing prenatally as early as 16 weeks. Nature begins the massage before the baby is born. As opposed to the extremely short labors of most other animals, it has been suggested that a human mother’s extended labor helps make up for the lack of postpartum licking performed by other mammal mothers. For the human infant, the contractions of labor provide some of the same type of preparation for the functioning of his internal systems as early licking of the newborn does for other mammals.

Touch impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, and has long-term effects. Through this contact, newborns are able to learn about their world, bond with their parents, and communicate their needs and wants. Eighty percent of a baby’s communication is expressed through body movement. When parents engage in appropriate touch, young children have an improved chance to successfully develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Infants who experience more physical contact with parents demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction. This improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their parents are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.

Studies with premature babies using techniques similar to those taught in this book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. Research projects at the University of Miami Medical Center, headed up by the Touch Research Institute’s founder, Dr. Tiffany Field, have shown remarkable results. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times a day for fifteen minutes each. They averaged forty-seven percent greater weight gain per day, were more active and alert, and showed more mature neurological development than infants who did not receive massage. In addition, their hospital stay averaged six days less. After many years of study and observation, the International Association of Infant Massage has established guidelines for using massage and holding techniques with premature babies.

Dallas psychologist Ruth Rice conducted a study with thirty premature babies after they had left the hospital. She divided them into two groups. The mothers in the control group were instructed in usual newborn care, while those in the experimental group were taught a daily massage and rocking regime. At four months of age, the babies who had been massaged were ahead in both neurological development and weight gain.

The natural sensory stimulation of massage speeds myelination of the brain and the nervous system. The myelin sheath is a fatty covering around each nerve, like insulation around electric wire. It protects the nervous system and speeds the transmission of impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. The process of coating the nerves is not complete at birth, but skin stimulation speeds the process, thus enhancing rapid neural-cell firing and improving brain-body communication.

In 1978 transcutaneous oxygen monitoring was developed, which enabled physicians to measure oxygen tension in the body through an electrode on the skin. It was discovered that hospitalized infants experienced tremendous upheavals in oxygen levels when subjected to stress. Touch Relaxation, holding techniques and massage have been found to mitigate these fluctuations, and these methods are being used in hospitals routinely now to help infants maintain a steady state through the stresses of diaper changes, heel sticks, and other intrusions.

New research demonstrates similar results every day, confirming what age-old tradition has told us: infants need loving touch. Lawrence Schachner, M.D., a professor at the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine, advises that touch can benefit babies with skin disorders such as eczema. “It may furthermore improve parent-baby interaction,” he says. Dr. Tiffany Field concurs. She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowering stress hormone levels, resulting in improved immune system functioning. A report by the Families and Work Institutes states that during the first three years of life, the vast majority of connections between brain cells are formed. They conclude that loving interaction such as massage can directly affect a child’s emotional development and ability to handle stress as an adult.

Loving skin contact and massage benefits mothers and fathers as well. Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies were filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

Fathers who make the effort to bond with their infants by giving the mother loving massages, talking and singing to the baby, feeling its movements in his partner’s belly, attending classes with their partner, and reading up on infant development and psychology, and massaging their infants, tend to be more attentive and accomplished fathers. By regularly massaging your baby (and getting some loving massages yourself during pregnancy), you set up a cycle of healthy responses that improve your mothering skills day by day and enhance your baby’s well-being, disposition, and the relationship between all three of you.

Serve and Return

Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When caregivers are responsive to children’s signals, they help them build critical skills.

Source: Serve and Return

Because responsive relationships are both expected and essential, their absence is a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being. Healthy brain architecture depends on a sturdy foundation built by appropriate input from a child’s senses and stable, responsive relationships with caring adults. If an adult’s responses to a child are unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, the developing architecture of the brain may be disrupted, and subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may be impaired. The persistent absence of serve and return interaction acts as a “double whammy” for healthy development: not only does the brain not receive the positive stimulation it needs, but the body’s stress response is activated, flooding the developing brain with potentially harmful stress hormones.

Infant Massage: Another Tool for Parenting Toolbox

Source: Infant Massage: Another Tool for Parenting Toolbox

Infant massage is one tool that new parent support nurses from Naval Support Activity Bethesda’s Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) want to add to a parent’s toolbox.

The two nurses have been teaching a class onboard NSAB about the benefits of infant massage for the past two years as well as going to parents’ homes to teach infant massage techniques.