Bonding by touch

Baby – May 2008

By Elizabeth Heubeck

In the mid ‘80s, when registered nurse Marian Malinski was a new mom, the idea of infant massage was foreign to most of mainstream society. Nevertheless, she had a hunch it might help her son, who was delayed in hitting large motor skill milestones such as rolling over and crawling.

So, she took out books on infant massage from the library, taught herself the technique, and began massaging her baby regularly—all the while ignoring the scoffs she received from those close to her. Soon, Malinski began to notice her infant’s developmental progress speed up.

Now, 20 years later, the scoffs murmured when Malinski mentions infant massage have been replaced by keen interest in the technique. The growing acceptance of infant massage can be credited in part to mounting scientific evidence within the past decade that demonstrates its benefits. Malinski also theorizes that the recent surge in interest may represent a backlash to the hurried nature of our society, in which simple pleasures such as bonding with a newborn infant too often take a back seat to busy schedules.
Whatever the reason, Malinski has had no trouble filling the spots in her infant massage class, which she teaches at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

Bonding by Touch

In teaching infant massage, Malinski’s primary aim is to get parents comfortable with the idea of bonding with their babies through touch.
“We’re not a touch society. We’re not taught to touch,” Malinski says.
She points out that even the way many parents choose to transport infants from point A to point B—in strollers or car seats—provides little opportunity for closeness.
“There’s a movement away from carrying babies. I thought this would be a great way for parents to get that contact,” she adds.

While parents benefit from massage, so too do infants.

“When he is fussing in the evening, if we massage his legs and back he calms down,” describes Megan Pape, a Baltimore-area mom who recently participated in the infant massage class at St. Joseph’s.
Scientific evidence supports parents’ anecdotes about the benefits of infant massage. The Touch Research Institute, part of the University of Miami School of Medicine, has conducted a number of studies on how massage affects infants. Results, published in peer-reviewed journals, are quite remarkable. They include reduced sleep problems in infants with prior trouble settling down to fall asleep, less crying, which suggests lower stress levels, and even developmental gains in fine and gross motor function.

“The sooner parents get comfortable touching their baby, the sooner it becomes part of their life. It’s best to do it early, when the neurons are firing and the muscles are developing,” Malinski says. BC

Elizabeth@BaltimoresChild.com

Tips on Infant Massage

Ask the baby permission before you begin the massage.
To enhance the massage, use a natural oil such as olive oil, as it is well-tolerated by infants.
Introduce infants to massage any time, but between birth and 6 months is ideal.
Avoid massaging an infant’s belly immediately after he or she has eaten. Also, if the baby has just had shots, don’t massage the immediate or surrounding area for a few days as it may be particularly sensitive. These are the only contraindications for infant massage.

For More Information

To learn more about infant massage, go online to www.infantmassageusa.org. The website also lists local infant massage educators in the Baltimore area.
Find out more about the infant massage classes at St. Joseph Medical Center at its website, www.sjmcmd.org or call the Family Education office, 410-337-1880.

@ Baltimore’s Child Inc. May 2008

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