Let's be honest, there is no shortage of baby classes to choose from. It's highly recommended that Baby Massage classes are the ideal place to start, but how do you know which to choose?
Let's start by saying that Infant Massage is one of the only baby courses endorsed by health professionals, leading experts in infant mental health and attachment specialists. Quality providers such as the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) additionally have their training accredited by many professional bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives. The benefits for both infant and parent and widely recognised and well researched. Many family services and children's centres have their staff train or outsource qualified instructors to offer this service to their parents, which is not the case for most available baby classes. They know its value.
The growing reputation of Infant Massage has made it a popular offering for many baby course providers, however by some sadly choosing to add a little massage to their existing programmes, add 'extras' such as music or sensory, or to condense courses, the true benefits of our full programme are being diluted.
Infant Massage is not simply about strokes. In fact, massage itself does not even feature in our IAIM mission statement. Our courses are about connection and communication and research such as Dr Angela Underdown's study with the University of Warwick shows that every element of our IAIM classes is crucial in order to see results.
The logic model or mechanisms for change underpinning intervention programs have been identified as key to their effectiveness (Mayeske & Lambur, 2001). Fourteen such mechanisms were identified as potentially being important in terms of the effectiveness of infant massage programs (Underdown & Barlow, 2011), such as the use of personal invitations, delivery by the same facilitator , the setting meeting the physical needs of the mother–infant dyads, the facilitator having the necessary qualities and skills, and the teaching involved learning about infant states and cues. Support from other mothers and having an opportunity to discuss issues with peers and the facilitator were important to program participants , many of whom were socially isolated. ...
So how do you choose your Baby Massage class?
1) Find a Certified Infant Massage Instructor
This should be your first question. What training has the course provider had in Infant Massage? A few hours learning strokes or a comprehensive training programme, exam and certification process? Who trained them too? What are their qualifications to act as an Infant Massage Instructor Trainer? Don't be fooled by clever marketing.
2) What's offered in the class?
As a parent, getting more for your money is always appealing, but in this case, less is more! Baby Massage courses should offer baby massage, some gentle movements and nothing more. The simpler the better. Adding more can be hugely overstimulating for your baby and expecting them to be able to accept various different activities in one class is unrealistic. Additional stimulation such as adding extra therapies, sensory elements or music takes away from the main purpose of the class - connection. Your baby gets all the stimulation they need to develop happy, healthy brains by looking in to your eyes, imitating you, hearing your voice and focussing solely on you.
3) How long is the class and how many families?
A simple one, but is your provider keeping parents and babies at the heart of their offering or are they more business orientated? Yes of course they are running a business and good for them, but are families being rushed in and out or crammed in and are they skipping on elements of the course that make it so special in order to do so?
4) What does your course include?
A good Baby Massage class will not simply cover strokes. We also do not focus on the therapeutic benefits of each stroke, rather we discuss the benefits as a whole. As well as the massage routine we include relaxation, relevant theory and discussion and social time as a group. This is why our extensive training is so important. You also need to know how to identify the right time to massage your baby according to their behavioural states, how to recognise and identify your baby's yes and no cues, when you should avoid massaging and why and how to recognise and understand your baby's communication, improving your own confidence and self esteem as a parent. (Among many theory and discussion topics.)
Most importantly, massage instructors are not there to give you advice, judge or comment on your parenting. We believe you are the expert of your baby, and we know that our programme does the talking. We are there to facilitate this special time for you both.
5) Simply put, find an IAIM certified instructor.
You can't rush things that need time to grow. If you truly want the most for your money or the best experience to nurture both you and baby, Certified Infant Massage Instructors (CIMI's) take great care to ensure all the above. We offer the gold standard of Baby Massage Courses. The original and the best. Why settle for anything but the best for your baby?
Lets be clear, the more babies that receive nurturing touch the better. The more providers, the better ... under the right conditions. As always this is about babies and parents. It's a bold statement but if you are offering baby massage in an overstimulating environment that aims to take their focus away from you, or through a course that is not cue-based or baby-led, there may be little value in doing it at all. The aim is not to keep babies quiet, it's to truly listen to them, understand them and respond with love and respect. It's a mistake to consider Infant Massage a therapy.
Photographs captured during Connected Babies massage class by @sadiewildphotography