Infant Massage and its many Benefits
By: Michelle Fletcher
Massage is no longer solely the refuge for overworked athletes and office workers suffering from carpal tunnel. The littlest in our lives are now reaping the many benefits of massage-infants.
Massage applied specifically to infants is deemed infant massage, used to enhance blood circulation, stimulate the nervous system, promote relaxation, decrease the production of stress hormones, and relieve discomfort associated with colic, gas, congestion, and teething. Applied by certified massage therapists or parents who have undergone training in this healing method, infant massage provides many positive benefits for parents and children.
The University Of Miami School Of Medicine and the Nova Southeastern University have been the flagship institutions researching the effects of massage in infants, citing the numerous benefits in clinical studies. According to their numerous studies, “Research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping. Touch therapy triggers many physiological changes that help infants and children grow and develop. For example, massage can stimulate nerves in the brain that facilitate food absorption, resulting in faster weight gain. It also lowers levels of stress hormones, resulting in improved immune function.”1
Infants who receive massage therapy may reap numerous benefits, including a feeling of relaxation, relief from stress, involvement and interaction with adults, and stimulation to the nervous system, which aids in many bodily functions. “When infant massage therapy is properly applied to preterm infants, they respond with increased weight gains, improved developmental scores, and earlier discharge from the hospital.”2
Infant massage also provides benefits for those giving the massage. Parents gain an increased awareness of the baby and his or her needs while enhancing the bonding process between child and caregiver. In the advent of postnatal depression-a common occurrence among mothers following birth-both child and parent are in danger of suffering long-term adverse consequences in their relationship and the infant’s development. Improving a mother’s depression through massage techniques that not only physically aid the infant but also heal both individuals emotionally may be the key to encouraging positive mother-infant interaction. “Learning the practice of infant massage by mothers is an effective treatment for facilitating mother-infant interaction in mothers with postnatal depression.”3 Further, “Parents of the [infant] also benefit because infant massage enhances bonding with their child and increases confidence in their parenting skills.”4
The benefits of massage on both infants and their parents are overwhelmingly positive, with research indicating that infant massage is increasingly recognized as a legitimate health care treatment.
1 Field, T. Massage therapy for infants and children. Developmental and Behavioral Psychology. 1995 Apr;16(2):105-11.
2 Beachy, JM. Premature infant massage in the NICU. Neonatal Network. 2003 May-June;22(3):39-45.
3 Onozawa K., et al. Infant massage improves mother-infant interaction for mothers with postnatal depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2001 Mar;63(1-3):201-7.
4 Beachy 201.