The Importance of Infant Massage

This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks.

The mothers of India have given the world one of the most important parenting tools known to humanity: infant massage. It is probably hard to imagine raising a baby without this gentle, everyday experience, but in some western cultures (particularly the U.S.) it is just being discovered! In her book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, American author Vimala McClure describes her visits to India in the early 1970’s and witnessing mothers all over India giving their babies a daily massage. She was fascinated by this beautiful ritual and soon learned that it was much more than just a sweet gift to sooth a baby, it was a deep spiritual, physical, and emotional connection that had tremendous benefits to the whole family.

Of the five major senses of smell, taste, sight, hearing, and touch have you ever thought about which of these senses are critical for a human being’s survival? Touch is the only sense that a human being cannot live without. Yet in many modern cultures, parents provide very little touch to their children. Infants in the U.S. often spend a majority of their lives going from container to container (i.e. baby seats, infant carriers, car seats), rather than being picked up and held or receiving the nurturing touch necessary for healthy emotional and neurological development. Babies are now experiencing plagiocephaly or “flat head syndrome” because of spending more time on their backs in cribs, swings and carseats.

In her book Essential Touch, Frances Carlson describes her experience as a classroom teacher and her observations of the devastating consequences of lack of touch on students. She found that when a child’s need for touch is not met, he may be more at risk for abuse; he is more vulnerable for unhealthy, negative touch, and more prone to engage in fighting and bullying, craving hurtful touch rather than no touch at all.

Science tells us that when our skin receptors are stimulated they release a pharmacy of beneficial hormones that help regulate our babies’ gastrointestinal track, promoting good digestion and growth. More research tells us that nurturing touch improves intellectual and motor development immediately from birth. It also helps regulate babies’ temperature, heart rate, and sleep-wake patterns, especially when the baby is held skin-to-skin. Oxytocin, the ‘mother love’ hormone that is so beneficial to the mother during childbirth and breastfeeding, is also released when the mother is stroking or massaging her baby.

In our busy lives today, we see so many babies who rarely receive the type of nurturing touch that is critical to their development and survival. Using infant slings and carriers is one simple way that Attachment Parenting advocates have found to meet their child’s need for touch, while carrying on with their daily routines. Taking a few minutes every day to give your baby a simple massage is another way to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company, attuning to each other and giving each other the precious gift of deepening your loving relationship.

– Barbara Nicholson, API Co-Founder and Co-Author of Attached at the Heart

7 thoughts on “The Importance of Infant Massage”

  1. I think this is something that we should consciously work on – to sit aside time each day and just cuddle our babies or children, to show them they are important enough for us to take the time to be with them. Very true indeed that we sometimes ‘forget’ to touch each other – a good reminder to be consious of this!

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