Infant Massage, Bonding, Baby-Wearing and Attachment – Part One

THE LOVING ART OF INFANT MASSAGE

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!

KNEES UP2_m

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

International Association of Infant Massage — IAIM:

http://www.iaim.net

Find an Infant Massage Instructor in the U.S.:

http://www.infantmassageusa.org

Purchase INFANT MASSAGE, A HANDBOOK FOR LOVING PARENTS:

http://www.amazon.com/Infant-Massage–Revised-Edition-Handbook-Parents/dp/0553380567/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414181782&sr=8-1&keywords=infant+massage

Infant Massage, Bonding, Baby-Wearing and Attachment – Part Four

I Massaged and Carried My Baby, and Continued My Research

I began massaging my baby shortly after he was born. I started with the traditional massage I had learned in India, and due to my research and my observations, I gradually added and subtracted elements that were backed up by professional research and because of my yoga teaching, my knowledge of the lymph system and the importance of including massage and movements to stimulate it. Lymph carries toxins through its own system and helps push the toxins out through the gastrointestinal system. It has no innate way to circulate on its own — movement of some kind helps circulate the lymph. The circulation of lymph is one of the foundations of yoga postures.

Baby exercise

STRETCH UPm After my first baby was born, I continued studying bonding and its elements, strapping him to my chest (in a new product, invented by an acquaintance of mind, called a “Snugli”) and heading off to the medical library several times a week. By that time I massaged my baby daily and, as much as possible, carried him in a front pack on my chest.

BABY WEARING

A Massage Routine that Could be Taught

After massaging my baby every day for three months and continuing my research, I developed a massage routine that could be taught. My baby was “colicky” and so I used massage and yoga postures to help mature his gastrointestinal system. The routine I developed was always successful in reducing, then eliminating, the cries of colic. The massage helped move fecal matter and gas through the intestines and down through the colon, easily eliminated by the baby’s natural system. Using the strokes and movements I developed, a baby’s colic is relieved within two weeks. I included my Colic Relief Routine in the curriculum I was developing.

 KNEES UP1_m

Massage Speeds Myelination of the Brain and Nervous System

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 electrical 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.

Research Finds Infants Sensitive to “Pleasant Touch”

There are two studies whose results are that “pleasant touch” is good for babies. They say that a gentle touch or caress, deemed “pleasant touch,” stimulates a baby’s senses and induces a response indicative of parent-infant bonding. New research into the matter now finds that these interactions are not only important for bonding, but that they also build on the child’s social and physiological development.

One article says, “Our results provide physiological and behavioral evidence that sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in development and therefore plays an important role in regulating human social interactions.” The findings are important because they show that the implicit meaning of pleasant touch — to stimulate bonding — develops as early as infancy. In turn, these social interactions carry on into adulthood, as many adults lightly caress, or pet, their partner to express love and affection.

An article in Scientific American reported that children lacking this kind of interaction (“pleasant touch”) — often those who end up in foster care or orphanages — tend to have increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol as they grow older.  High levels of cortisol are present in depression and anxiety disorders. “This lack of affection,” say the researchers, “can result in a child who develops emotional, behavioral, and social problems later in life.”

Cognitive neuroscientist Merle Fairhurst and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, knew that previous studies with adults show that a specific type of touch receptor is activated in response to a particular stroking velocity, leading to the sensation of “pleasant” touch. They hypothesized that this type of response emerges as early as infancy.

Strokes of Medium Velocity Work Best

Babies show unique physiological and behavioral responses to pleasant touch, which helps to cement the bonds between parent and child. For this study, Fairhurst and colleagues had infants sit in their parents’ laps while the experimenter stroked the back of the infant’s arm with a paintbrush. The results showed that the babies’ heart rate slowed in response to the brushstrokes when the strokes were of medium velocity; in other words, the touch of the medium-velocity brush helped to decrease their physiological arousal. The infants’ slower heart rate during medium-velocity brushstrokes was uniquely correlated with the primary caregivers’ own self-reported sensitivity to touch. The more sensitive the caregiver was to touch, the more the infant’s heart rate slowed in response to medium-velocity touch.

CHEST3_m

The most engaging response came with the medium-velocity strokes, which not only lowered the babies’ heart rate, but also caused them to become more curious about the brush as it stroked them. Further strengthening the relationship between pleasant touch and parent-child bonding, the researchers found that parents whose self-reported sensitivity to touch was higher were more likely to have children who responded more to the pleasant touch of the paintbrush.

Pleasant Touch Plays a Vital Role in Human Social Interactions

The researchers noted that this link between caregiver and infant could be supported by both “nurture” and “nature” explanations. “Social touch is genetically heritable and therefore correlated between caregiver and infants,” Fairhurst said. According to the researchers, the findings “support the notion that pleasant touch plays a vital role in human social interactions by demonstrating that the sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in human development.”

With Massage, Babies Experience Bonding in their DNA

This study indicates that a baby who is massaged regularly, receiving “pleasant” touch, will experience bonding in the infant’s very DNA, and is therefore more likely to naturally bond with his/her own children later in life. It also reminds us to teach the strokes in a way that is “medium velocity”; that is, not too light, not too heavy. In my experience, most parents err on the side of too light a stroke, and often need to be encouraged to be a little more firm in their massage. When they know that their baby responds better to a firmer stroke, they gain confidence. I often asked them to think of a cat licking her kittens; the “stroke” is just right; the kittens rely on the mother’s strength to feel grounded and cared-for.

Research Suggests that Touch is as Important to Infants and Children as Eating and Sleeping

Dr. Tiffany Field has said, “Our research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping.” She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowing 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.

BABY FATHER_n

Premature Babies Benefit Tremendously from Massage

Studies with premature babies using the massage and holding methods in my book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. In 1984, an instructor from my organization did an in-service talk at the University of Miami Medical Center. Dr. Tiffany Field became very interested in the effects of touch and massage on premature infants. She founded the Touch Research Institute after a groundbreaking study on premature babies and massage. Her research has shown remarkable results and eventually earned her the “Golden Goose Award,” which honors scientists whose federally funded research may not have seemed to have significant practical applications at the time it was conducted but has resulted in major benefits to society.

MOM DAD NEWBORN 2

The key discovery — that touch, in the form of infant massage, can vastly improve the outcome for babies born prematurely — has affected millions of lives around the world and saved billions of dollars in healthcare costs in the United States alone. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times daily 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 — a long time for parents, and thousands of dollars of care.

I included a chapter on premature babies in the manuscript for my book. Because of the support of a noted pediatrician, I was able to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of a prominent Denver hospital. I did not touch or massage the babies myself, feeling it is important for parents to bond with their newborns, even in the NICU, with their babies often attached to cords, tubes, etc. I taught parents one-to-one how to use Touch Relaxation and Resting Hands, methods I developed to begin a skin-to-skin bond preceding massage. The experience I had with these parents and babies was amazing. Regardless of their age or the amount of care they needed, every baby responded remarkably well to parents’ touch.

© 2014 Vimala McClure

Infant Massage, Bonding, Baby-Wearing and Attachment – Part Four

I Massaged and Carried My Baby, and Continued My Research

I began massaging my baby shortly after he was born. I started with the traditional massage I had learned in India, and due to my research and my observations, I gradually added and subtracted elements that were backed up by professional research and because of my yoga teaching, my knowledge of the lymph system and the importance of including massage and movements to stimulate it. Lymph carries toxins through its own system and helps push the toxins out through the gastrointestinal system. It has no innate way to circulate on its own — movement of some kind helps circulate the lymph. The circulation of lymph is one of the foundations of yoga postures.

 CHEST3_m

After my first baby was born, I continued studying bonding and its elements, strapping him to my chest (in a new product, invented by an acquaintance of mind, called a “Snugli”) and heading off to the medical library several times a week. By that time I massaged my baby daily and, as much as possible, carried him in a front pack on my chest.

A Massage Routine that Could Be Taught

After massaging my baby every day for three months and continuing my research, I developed a massage routine that could be taught. My baby was “colicky” and so I used massage and yoga postures to help mature his gastrointestinal system. The routine I developed was always successful in reducing, then eliminating, the cries of colic. The massage helped move fecal matter and gas through the intestines and down through the colon, easily eliminated by the baby’s natural system. Using the strokes and movements I developed, a baby’s colic is relieved within two weeks. My Colic Relief Routine was included in the curriculum I was developing.

KNEES UP1_m

Massage Speeds Myelination of the Brain and Nervous System

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 electrical 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.

Research Finds (again) Infants Sensitive to “Pleasant Touch”

Cognitive neuroscientist Merle Fairhurst and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, knew that previous studies with adults show that a specific type of touch receptor is activated in response to a particular stroking velocity, leading to the sensation of “pleasant” touch. They hypothesized that this type of response might emerge as early as infancy.

Strokes of Medium Velocity Work Best

Babies show unique physiological and behavioral responses to pleasant touch, which helps to cement the bonds between parent and child. For this study, Fairhurst and colleagues had infants sit in their parents’ laps while the experimenter stroked the back of the infant’s arm with a paintbrush. The results showed that the babies’ heart rate slowed in response to the brushstrokes when the strokes were of medium velocity; in other words, the touch of the medium-velocity brush helped to decrease their physiological arousal. The infants’ slower heart rate during medium-velocity brushstrokes was uniquely correlated with the primary caregivers’ own self-reported sensitivity to touch. The more sensitive the caregiver was to touch, the more the infant’s heart rate slowed in response to medium-velocity touch.

Pleasant Touch Plays a Vital Role in Human Social Interactions

The researchers noted that this link between caregiver and infant could be supported by both “nurture” and “nature” explanations. “Social touch is genetically heritable and therefore correlated between caregivers and infants,” Fairhurst said. According to the researchers, the findings support the notion that pleasant touch plays a vital roles in human social interactions by demonstrating that the sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in human development.” 

STRETCH UP 1_m

With Massage, Babies Experience Bonding in Their DNA

This study indicates that a baby who is massaged regularly, receiving “pleasant” touch, will experience bonding in the infant’s very DNA, and is therefore more likely to naturally bond with his/her own children later in life. It also reminds us to teach the strokes in a way that is “medium velocity”; that is, not too light, not too heavy. In my experience, most parents err on the side of too light a stroke, and often need to be encouraged to be a little more firm in their massage. When they know that their baby responds better to a firmer stroke, they gain confidence. I often asked them to think of a cat licking her kittens; the “stroke” is just right; the kittens rely on the mother’s strength to feel grounded and cared-for.

Research Suggests that Touch is as Important to Infants and Children as Eating and Sleeping

Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has said, “Our research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping.” She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowing 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.

QUOTE 7 TOUCH OPPORTUNITY_n

Premature Babies Benefit Tremendously from Massage 

Studies with premature babies using the massage and holding methods in my book have demonstrated that daily massage is of tremendous benefit. In 1984, an instructor from my organization did an in-service talk at the University of Miami Medical Center. Dr. Tiffany Field became very interested in the effects of touch and massage on premature infants. She founded the Touch Research Institute after a groundbreaking study on premature babies and massage. Her research has shown remarkable results and eventually earned her the “Golden Goose Award,” which honors scientists whose federally funded research may not have seemed to have significant practical applications at the time it was conducted but has resulted in major benefits to society.

EINSTEIN MIRACLE_n

The key discovery — that touch, in the form of infant massage, can vastly improve the outcome for babies born prematurely — has affected millions of lives around the world and saved billions of dollars in healthcare costs in the United States alone. In one study, twenty premature babies were massaged three times daily 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 — a long time for parents, and thousands of dollars of care.

I included a chapter on premature babies in the manuscript for my book. Because of the support of a noted pediatrician, I was able to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of a prominent Denver hospital. I did not touch or massage the babies myself, feeling it is important for parents to bond with their newborns, even in the NICU, with their babies often attached to cords, tubes, etc. I taught parents one-to-one how to use Touch Relaxation and Resting Hands, methods I developed to begin a skin-to-skin bond preceding massage.

The experience I had with these parents and babies was amazing. Regardless of their age or the amount of care they needed, every baby responded remarkably well to parents’ touch.

© 2014 Vimala McClure

Infant Massage, Bonding, Baby-Wearing and Attachment – Part One

Infant Massage is Research-Verified

Skin sensitivity is one of the earliest developed and most fundamental functions of the body. Touch is the first sense to develop in utero and it is the last sense to leave us before we die. Research indicates that our sense of touch develops during six to nine weeks gestation. Our skin is the largest organ and our most important and primary connection to the world. Stimulation of the skin is, in fact, essential for adequate organic and psychological development, both for animals and for human beings. When asked what he thought of infant massage, anthropologist Ashley Montague, author of the iconic book Touching, commented,“People don’t realize that communication for a baby, the first communications it receives and the first language of its development, is through the skin. If only most people had realized this they would have all along given babies the kind of skin stimulation they require.”

WHEN A BABY IS BORN_n

Photo courtesy of http://www.janetlansbury.com/

My Research

A couple of years after I returned from India in 1973, I began researching infant massage. Realizing there were no such studies, I got a copy of the late Dr. Ashley Montague’s book, Touching, and used his bibliography as a guide toward what I wanted to know. Montague’s book was life-changing. He included studies made on various mammals and extrapolated them to humans. The main subject was not massage per se, but the effects of massage, holding and petting on the subjects, which were usually mice. Many studies also covered observations of cats and dogs, monkeys and gorillas and how they held, nursed, touched, and massaged their infants. When the parent animal was separated from her infant and no bonding-type activity took place, the subjects became irritable and violent. Montague spoke of how the elements of bonding are applicable to humans and have a powerful effect on our babies — physical, mental, and spiritual. I saw how these studies and their outcomes could and should be applied to human babies. I was fortunate, several  years later, to meet and talk with Dr. Montague.

Mice “Fat and Fluffy”

The first group of studies using mice hooked me. One group of mice were housed in a box-like enclosure, the other group exactly the same. The difference was that one group of mice were massaged and petted by the researchers every day. They even spoke to and sang to the mice. The other group was left to its own devices. After a certain period of time, the mice that were handled were larger, fat and fluffy — you could even say they were friendly. They seemed to be happy, and they often slept with each other. The other group grew skinny and they fought each other; generally, they were mean and rejected any handling from the researchers. Montague compared this to humans — that babies who are massaged, carried and held and generally treated with love and affection, grow to be people with the qualities of kindness, joy, and inclusion.

Cache or Carry?

Scientists have discovered behaviors and responses in mammals that parallel those of our own young. Behaviorally, animals tend to fall into the “cache” or “carry” type. (cache: store, stash) The caching species leave their young for long periods while the mother hunts and gathers food. The infants must remain silent for long periods of time so as not to attract predators; therefore, they do not cry. For the same reason, they do not urinate unless stimulated by the mother. In addition, the young have internal mechanisms that control their body temperature. The mother’s milk is extremely high in protein and fat, and the babies suckle at a very fast rate, and not often.

In contrast, the carrying species maintain continuous contact with their infants and feed often. The babies suckle slowly, they urinate often, they cry when distressed or out of contact with their mother, and they need their mother to keep them warm. The mother’s milk is low in protein and fat, so infants need to suckle often. Humans are designed like the carrying species, in fact, human milk is identical in protein and fat to that of the anthropoid apes, a carrying species. Our babies need to be in close physical contact with us as much as possible.

Contact More Important than Food

Harry Harlow’s famous monkey experiments were the first to show that for infants, contact comfort is even more important than food. Infant monkeys, given the choice of a wire mother figure with food or a soft, terrycloth figure without food, chose the terrycloth mother figure every time. Human infants with failure-to-thrive syndrome exhibit the same type of behavior; though given all the food they need, they continue to deteriorate without intervention that involves emotional nurturing and contact comfort.

No Colicky Kittens!

Physically, massage acts in much the same way in humans as licking does in animals. Mammals lick their young and maintain close skin contact. Animal babies  that are not licked, caressed, and permitted to cling in infancy grow up scrawny and more vulnerable to stress. They tend to fight with one another and to abuse and neglect their own young. Licking serves to stimulate the physiological systems and to bond the young with the mother. A mother cat spends over fifty percent of her time licking her babies — and you will never see a colicky kitten! Without the kind of stimulation that helps their gastrointestinal system begin to function properly, newborn kittens die.

Rats Benefit with Higher Immunity

In one study, rats with their thyroid and parathyroid (endocrine glands that regulate the immune system) removed, responded remarkably to massage. In the experimental group the rats were gently massaged and spoken to several times a day. They were relaxed and yielding and not easily frightened, and their nervous systems remained stable. The control group rats, which did not receive this type of care, were nervous, fearful, irritable, and enraged; they died within forty-eight hours. Another study with rats showed a higher immunity to disease, faster weight gain, and better neurological development among those that had been gently stroked in infancy.

Moving Up the Animal Scale

Dogs, horses, cows, dolphins, whales, and many other animals have also shown remarkable differences when lovingly handled in infancy. Gentle touching and stroking improve the function of virtually all the sustaining systems (respiratory, circulatory, digestive, eliminative, nervous, and endocrine) and changed behavior patterns drastically, reducing fear and excitement thresholds and increasing gentleness, friendliness, and fearlessness. In Touching, Ashley Montague writes: “The more we learn about the effects of cutaneous [skin] stimulation, the more pervasively significant for healthy development do we find it to be.”

Massage and Self-Massage Important in Pregnancy

In nearly every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact has been found to be essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In the previously mentioned studies with rats, if pregnant females were restrained from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. Additionally, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

Mothers Who Experience Stress in Pregnancy ‘More Likely to Have Babies Who Cry Longer’

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cried excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from digestive or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said:

“Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

CRYING INFANT 3_ml

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. They were asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and were interviewed during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. Women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods.

Massage During Pregnancy, and Infant Massage, Benefit Both Mom and Baby
It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells. Infant Massage addresses this by:

1. helping the baby’s gastrointestinal system mature,

2. addressing the baby’s (and a mother’s) need for close, loving contact, and

3. helping mothers feel empowered to help their infants feel secure, loved, and attached.

Moms Have Easier Labors, are More Responsive to Their Infants

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 are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

MOM KISS 5_n

Research Proves Touch is as Important to Infants and Children

as Eating and Sleeping

Dr. Tiffany Field has said, “Our research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping.” She notes that loving touch triggers physiological changes that help infants grow and develop, stimulating nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption and lowing 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”

© 2014 Vimala McClure

An Age-Old Tradition Helps to Create a Peaceful World

AN AGE-OLD TRADITION

“Being touched and caressed,
Being massaged, is food for the infant.
Food as necessary as minerals,
Vitamins, and protein.”
— Dr. Frederick Leboyer

A young mother gently cradles her baby in her lap as the afternoon sun breaks through cracks in the wooden door. For the second time that day, she carefully removes the tiny cap and begins to unwrap the swaddling bands of soft white linen and wool.

Freed from his snug encasement, the baby kicks and waves his little arms, listening to the now-familiar swish-swish of the warm oil in his mother’s hands, and the comforting sound of her balmy lullaby. So begins his twice-daily massage.

The scene is in a Jewish shtetl, one of the small enclaves in Poland in the early nineteenth century, but we could be anywhere in the world, in any century, for it is a familiar tableau of motherhood in every culture throughout the ages.

From the Eskimos of the Canadian Arctic to the Ganda of East Africa, from South India to Northern Ireland, in Russia, China, Sweden and South America, in South Sea island huts and modern American homes, babies are lovingly massaged, caressed, and crooned to every day. Mothers all over the world know their babies need to be held, carried, rocked, and touched. The gentle art of infant massage has been part of baby caregiving traditions passed from parent to child for generations. Asked why, each culture would provide different answers. Most would simply say, “It is our custom.”

Many of the family customs of our ancestors, turned aside in the early twentieth century in the interest of “progress,” are returning to our lives as modern science rediscovers their importance and their contribution to our infants’ well-being and that of whole communities. Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that in societies where infants are held, massaged, rocked, breastfed, and carried, adults are less aggressive and violent, more cooperative and compassionate. Our great-grandmothers would stand up and utter a great,”I told you so!” were they to observe our “new” discoveries in infant care.

AAFATHERNEWBORN4

Creating a Peaceful World Through Parenting

Mahatma Gandhi, at the Montessori Training College, London, October 28, 1931, had some wise words to share with parents that still make sense. He said, “If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children. And if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Everything starts somewhere. Every baby beams when there is peace in the home, and looks perplexed and cries when there is not. To an infant, conflict is a puzzle. Infants not only want everyone to get along, they expect it. They are born expecting peace. But, as the Natural Child Project says, “We know that each day, in far too many places, there will be conflict, fighting, killing, and even war. If we are all peace lovers in our infancy, what makes us so divisive in adulthood? What goes wrong? How can it be fixed?”

To reduce the potential for violence in general, it may be more constructive to look at the earliest links, not the most recent ones. While there are many factors that can lead to violence, the best prevention is always the earliest —the one that keeps the first domino from falling.

Several ways this can happen:

Encourage young men and women to consider carefully their readiness to love and nurture a child; push for high school classes which have this as their focus.

Offer local maternity classes and support groups that focus on the parent-child connection, such as La Leche League meetings and parent-baby support groups.

Give parents the support they need, so they can have time to fall in love with their baby — everything else can wait. Push for legislation that allows good maternity/paternity leave with no threat of suspension because of that absence.

Encourage parents to attend infant massage classes and massage their baby every day. Let them know that infant massage re-creates the crucial bonding with their baby over time, and impacts the baby in every way for life. A bedtime massage can help a baby to sleep more soundly, giving her more resilience and energy the following day. A massage in the afternoon, before stress builds and babies have the “five-o’clock fussies,” can prevent late afternoon-evening from becoming a chaos of crying baby, trying to make dinner, welcoming home a working parent, and fried nerves of the stay-at-home parent, which can lead to abuse including neglect, shaken-baby, and stress between partners.

Remind parents of the substantial benefits of breastfeeding with child-led weaning. (This emphasizes the importance of making bottle-feeding as much like breastfeeding as possible).

Educate everyone on the importance of responding to a baby’s cries quickly and lovingly.

Encourage parents to teach their babies sign language so they can communicate their needs and feeling before they have words.

Promote baby-wearing, especially skin-to-skin. Even a little bit of this every day can have a wonderful, positive impact on the baby’s physical needs (like daily massage, it helps with gastrointestinal functions, respiratory functions, and emotional/spiritual bonding). In many Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs), this is called “Kangaroo Care,” and is encouraged by nursing staff. Often a special room is assigned for Kangaroo Care, where a parent can remove upper body clothing and hold their naked baby on their chest. Parents can push for this in their communities, among NICU hospital staff and their own pediatrician.

Recommend that parents avoid unnecessary baby gear, which can interfere with the parent-child bond. Once American Baby Magazine put on their cover a tiny infant in a carrier, in the middle of the page. In the rest of the picture (the entire cover), the baby is surrounded by all the devices, implements, furniture and gadgets that we buy as if they are necessary. It was a powerful picture, showing that we have forgotten the importance of an infant being cared-for in a natural way; that all the “stuff” we think we must have mostly gets between us and our infants. Encourage parents to allow their babies to gaze at the movement of leaves on trees, other children playing, flowers, the rhythmic bouncing of walking outside, the rhythmic rocking in a rocking chair (ideally, one that is outside).

Help parents learn about empathetic alternatives to punishment to foster cooperation based on love, not fear. Read an article about this at: http://www.cnvc.org . It includes “22 Alternatives to Punishment.”

Train family and marital counselors to emphasize the critical importance of treating children with dignity and respect. 

Intervene on behalf of children whose needs and feelings are not being heard. These last two are addressed by daily infant massage; parents are given tools and educated about how to treat their infants with dignity and respect, how to understand their baby’s communication and respond to body-language cues.

Above all, remind parents to take their children’s feelings and needs

seriously and respectfully, from birth.

The Natural Child Project says, “Unfortunately, we often receive misguided advice to use approaches such as spanking, time-out, denial of privileges, and cry-it-out. While this advice may be well-meant, such strategies inevitably create anger and frustration in the child, which can build up over time and lead to aggressive behavior. They can also damage the child’s self-esteem and hinder their ability to connect with their parents or anyone else.”

As adults, we know that the more kindly we treat a friend the more cooperative and helpful that friend will be, because they will be motivated by love, not fear. Parents who relate to their children with patience and empathy model peaceful problem-solving skills that children automatically use throughout their lives.

The most constructive thing we can do to create a peaceful world is to focus on increasing the capacity for empathy in every child. The importance of meeting a child’s needs with understanding and compassion has been recognized by psychologists and researchers for decades. Focusing on the early lives of our children will not only help to prevent future tragedies, but can give our children the best possible start toward a joyful and fulfilling life.

Infant Massage Grows Steadily Among Parents and Professionals

In the years since my early classes, interest in infant massage has grown steadily among parents and professionals alike. I began training instructors, then trained experienced, dedicated instructors to train instructors. We now have an international nonprofit organization, the first and largest of its kind, for the preservation and dissemination of this ancient practice; we have a 50 member Circle of Trainers around the world. The International Association of Infant Massage has truly become international, with chapters in over 67 countries. My book has now been translated into fourteen languages, the latest foreign rights purchased by a large publishing company in China.

Many hospitals now train nursery staff to use massage and holding techniques that I teach with premature and sick babies and offer instruction to parents in an effort to promote bonding and ease babies’ discomforts. In addition, the benefits of this simple tradition, intuitively developed and refined in the “laboratories” of thousands of years of human experience, are being recognized day by day in modern scientific research (in India, I have met with many a joke in this regard, teased gently as a Westerner who needs double-blind studies to prove that grass grows if you water it!).

My children are grown now, and the impact of our experience with massage during their infancies has not diminished. The daily massages provided a foundation for physical, emotional, and spiritual harmony and closeness that we all carry with us for life.

I want to share a letter I received from a mother who learned infant massage from my book when I first began teaching (since then I’ve been able to revise and update the book). It is not meant as medical advice, certainly if your baby has medical problems, you should work with your medical professionals and be sure the massage you deliver is appropriate for your baby’s needs. I share it to show you how profoundly this simple practice can affect a family. I thank the mother who sent me this priceless letter.

Dear Vimala,

I wanted to personally write and thank you for the invaluable contributions you made to my children.

My son was born addicted to a drug that I had been given to stop seizures from toxemia and premature labor. Additionally, I was treated several times with other intravenous drugs. Thought the pregnancy, repeated physicians scolded me and my husband for continuing the pregnancy. We were assured that our baby would be handicapped, a “vegetable,” and so on. We fought hard and well as he survived to thirty-eight weeks gestation, born at a robust eight pounds, fifteen ounces. It was soon obvious that his nervous system was badly affected by the drugs and stress.

He cried endlessly or slept nonstop, missing feedings. If he was startled, his little arms and legs would jut out and shake uncontrollably. The doctors suggested more drugs to calm him. They again asserted that his nervous system (and probably brain) were irreparable harmed. A wonderful neighbor and breastfeeding professional came to our rescue. She taught me your methods of infant massage to calm him and showed me how to swaddle him to prevent jarring his sensitive nervous system. To make a long story a tad bit shorter, he grew to be an inquisitive and absolutely delightful toddler. The shaking subsided, and a brilliant intellect came forth combined with an energy that was tiring to us poor adults. Today my supposedly “handicapped” child is in college, a National Merit Scholar, a recognized leader, a wonderful volunteer worker, and engaged to be married to a dynamic and equally bright young woman. He was nationally recognized as a teen and was offered more than $375,000 in scholarships. He works with severely handicapped adults and plans to become a physician.

My second son was also the product of a terribly high-risk pregnant. Drug therapies were a bit more advanced and, with the help of diet, controlled the toxemia. He was born with noted neurological deficits. By the age of five months, we were cautioned that he had begun to show the symptoms of autism. He was highly irritable and, to put it simply, a challenging baby.

I once again drew on my experience with massage. The tension in his little limbs would melt away, and he remained in contact with the world. I kept him close tome, leaving him only with caregivers for short periods of time who were willing to comfort him as he needed, to hold him and massage him. Though still plagued with a few problems, he is a very bright and caring sixteen-year-old. He is already doing computer design for toy and software companies.

Without the help of my neighbor who had studied your techniques, I do not believe that either of these young men would be where they are today. I believe that their intellectual, physical, and emotional development is attributable to the comfort they received as infants. How can I ever thank you? Please know that this mother will be in your debt forever.

Sincerely,

A grateful mother

Infant massage can promote the kind of parenting that this attentive mother was able to provide. Its benefits go far beyond the immediate physiological gains. As parents massage their babies regularly, they discover that they develop a bond with their child that will last a lifetime.