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Why Parents Should Massage Their Babies, and Only Parents

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

"Infant massage is not a fad, it is an ancient art that connects you deeply with the person who is your baby and it helps you to understand your baby’s particular nonverbal language and respond with love and respectful listening. It empowers you as a parent, for it gives you the means by which you become an expert on your own child and therefore can respond according to your baby’s unique needs." - Vimala McClure

It would be mistake not to look past the physical benefits of infant massage. Sadly, there seems to be a new fad of massage being offered to babies by those who are not the parent or primary caregiver, and it's completely missing the point.

Lets be clear about the definition of a parent as of course there will be situations where a biological Mother or Father are not present. In this instance the person whose role it is to bring up, take care of and nurture the baby is acting as a parent and also a suitable person to massage them. Sometimes that's a foster parent, care-giver or a Grandparent for example but where a parent is available, it should be a parent that massages the baby. A parent is not a nanny, childminder, massage therapist, infant massage instructor, friend or relative when a parent is present. If a parent, as well as choosing to massage their baby themselves, would like to show somebody that's very close to the baby how to massage them also, involving siblings for example can be deeply rewarding, then that is of course their choice, but think carefully about who this is because your baby is likely to become deeply attached to them.

Infant Massage incorporates all of the main elements of bonding

Dr Suzanne Zeedyk discusses in her keynote talk on early years provisions: "To children's brains, staff aren't staff, they're family. If children understood that people were paid to take care of them, they would be appalled. They think that you are there because you love them, because that's what their brain assumes. If we really understand what the neuroscience is telling us, our babies are born in connection, they think that's what you're doing with them they don't think you're caring for them they think you're connecting with them and their brains and biology think you're doing that because you are their extended family."

Babies are already in love with their caregivers. How will that baby feel when the nanny moves on? Dr Zeedyk suggests that babies will experience a bereavement. We want our children to be loved and cared for and to have a great bond with their carers, but the level of intimacy and connection and long lasting benefits experienced through infant massage should ideally be reserved for a parent. The IAIM do not allow childcare workers to attend their courses with their cared for babies.

It's also unwise to allow a stranger to massage the baby. Cue the rise of the baby spa! Babies are constantly learning , do we want them to grow believing that it's acceptable for a stranger to touch them intimately? Might the baby be wondering who on earth this person is? Or where they went? As a Certified Infant Massage Instructor I have been asked many time across the years if I can come and massage somebody's baby for them through an incorrect assumption that I would do a better job. After a short explanation of why parents should massage babies (and that CIMIs only ever demonstrate strokes on their dolls) I can't say I have ever had a parent push me on it, of course parents want to experience these wonderful benefits for themselves. Now there are several charities across the world doing amazing work with infant massage where parents are not present, because all children deserve to experience the benefits of nurturing touch - they key here is, the parents are not present and permission and respect are of the highest importance. Nurturing touch is essential for all children. This is why the IAIM ritual of permission is key.

The ritual of permission

The ritual of permission consists of several steps. By going the through the same ritual every time, the babies soon come to know what is about to take place and that we are seeking their permission. This routine gives babies the opportunity to let us know if they would like to be massaged or not through the cues that they respond with, and we always respect their answer. Sometimes it's just not the right time for a massage. Additionally we never massage a baby who is sleeping or crying. Would babies give permission to be massaged by a stranger? Would they even get the chance to in an allocated slot at the baby spa?

As certified instructors with the International association of Infant Massage (IAIM) we are taught from the start that infant massage is not a therapy. Whilst it's true that there are many therapeutic benefits, we do not focus on these during our classes, rather we discuss the benefits as a whole. Infant massage is about communication, connection and attachment. The art of massage and nurturing touch helps us to understand our babies, to learn about their cues and to teach them the important skills of empathy, trust, respect and love. Infant massage is about falling in love - so we should carefully consider who it is we want our babies to fall in love with and the impact this will have on our infants.

Connected Babies run Infant Massage courses and Instructor Training

The International Association of Infant Massage

All IAIM infant massage instructors, throughout the world, receive a comprehensive programme of practical and theoretical training. IAIM Certified Instructors of Infant Massage (CIMIs) share the belief that every baby deserves respect, tenderness, warmth and a listening heart. Infant massage is a communication process that parents and babies share which promotes these values.

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