Saturday, August 1, 2009

Infant Massage

I am trying to remember the last time I had a professional's been a while. But what I do remember about the massage session was that the therapist was playing nature music in the background, had a candle burning, dimmed the lights, and was wearing white and blue tennis shoes. I remember what her tennis shoes looked like because I was up on this special table with my head faced toward the floor looking between a special pillow with a hole in the middle. What I also remember about that massage as well as all of the other professional massages I have received, was that she started to massage my back first then progressed to the legs/feet, went back to my back muscles next, progressed to my arms/ shoulders, and finished off with my neck/ head. I am relaxed just thinking about it except for the special pillow apparatus that you stick your face on...those things are never comfortable for me, maybe because I am short and they just don't fit me right.?.?

Massaging babies is a completely different experience than a professional massage for an adult. There isn't a certain progression of body parts that must be massaged and the baby can be in a variety of postures. Also, the time can vary from 3 minutes to as long as the baby and/or you last. This is different from the 1 hour massage you pay for as an adult, because when the clock strikes a certain is over!

Both of my babies thoroughly enjoyed being massaged. I went through the training to be a certified infant touch & massage instructor (CITMI) when my daughter was two years old. At the time, I needed someone to practice on, so my daughter was quite lucky. For the whole next year everytime she had a belly ache, she would come lay next to me and say "Soj me mama"...translation "Please give me a massage on my belly, mom". She not only enjoyed the touch and bond between her and I, she figured out that her belly ache went away shortly after the massage.

You can massage your baby anywhere: on the changing table or floor right after a diaper change, after a bath, during play while sitting upright, before a nap while lying down, as you are holding the baby over your shoulder- especially when he/she has constipation, and the list goes on. Don't worry about the baby squirming or being in a "just right" position. The touch and massage is the important part. It is usually best to use slower, slightly firm strokes with an open palm when giving a baby a massage.

Massage is safe for the majority of infants even those who are medically fragile. There are numerous benefits to massage including (all of which have been researched):

  • enhanced motor development

  • reduction of stress

  • improved sleep patterns

  • increased weight gain in premature infants

  • improved immunity

  • help for depressed infants and mothers

  • improved bonding and attachment with parents, both Dad and Mom

  • helpful for babies exposed to cocaine in-utero

  • improved digestion

  • improved sensory awareness & sensory integration

Typically when I train parents in how to massage their own baby, I break up the lessons in to at least 3 sessions. This is because there are sooooo many strokes and reasons for a massage. Of course, the babies that I work with as an occupational therapist may have tight muscles such as with cerebral palsy, indigestion due to medical problems or reflux, touch sensitivity due to problems with sensory integration, floppy muscles due to a genetic syndrome or developmental delay, as well as a few other issues. So, if you want to attempt infant massage on a typcially developing infant (or toddler or child), then the strokes may be learned in less sessions...maybe.

If you do not have access to a massage group or individual instructor in your area, that is okay. There are lots of good manuals, DVD/videos, and books out there on massage. If you are not into reading or watching DVDs, then at least massage your baby in a way that you would think might feel good. Though, be aware that without reading or being instructed, you may not know certain precautions. For example, always stroke the belly in a clock-wise direction which is with the flow of digestion in the intestines. You wouldn't want to stroke the opposite way and cause or worsen the constipation! In class, video, or in a book, you may also learn how to read the signals a baby is giving you and his sleep / wake levels. Understanding these two things lets you know when is and isn't a good time for a massage. At on the "alertness & crying" page this information is given in detail.

Also, remember to not use lotion or scented oils like you would with an adult. This is because babies and young children often have their hands in their mouth or are licking things. Instead use a small amount of non-allergenic cooking oil such as olive or canola. I took my son to a massage group and out of respect used the scented massage oil they gave me. Well, guess what. He had an allergic reaction to it! So, be careful. You could also use arrow root powder. Do not use talcum or baby powder. Now, go on, go massage your little one!

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