Infant Massage: Providing a Shift

Infant massage is a wonderful approach of parent-child interaction that promotes health and growth of the baby, and a powerful shift in the family. An interview with Suzanne P. Reese helps us understand what infant massage is, and what it can give to us. There are several basic concepts that are encouraged:

The first concept

is a popular quote in family wellness that says, "how an infant is viewed influences how an infant is cared for," and Suzanne takes it one step further and says, "how an infant is cared for influences how that infant will grow up and take care for himself, for others and one day, his own (children)." This makes perfect sense when you think of your child as the great imitator, or mirror! They model your every step, so it is natural that how we see them and care for them is how they see themselves, and will one day care for themselves and others.

The second concept

is too see and know "as a whole human being, with needs, wants, likes and dislikes just like anyone else: meaning adults, and that they just have different ways of communicating." When we start with this given, our jobs as parents become easier because we approach our children and infants with an attitude of: how can I better understand your cues, or your behaviors, so that we flow easier together? It does not mean giving into every one of our children's desires, there is always a point where other needs, safety or ideas may come first, but when we understand them, and validate their feelings, we can then direct them in a direction we need to go, and they will more easily follow, because of this feeling of being understood. When we apply this directly to an infant, it means we don't just let them cry, "because it's good for their lungs" (as the old fib goes) but it prompts us to better understand and investigate their needs. One of the keys to infant massage, as taught by Infant Massage, USA is to ask permission of your baby for the massage, for example "Would you like to be massaged now?" or "Is this a good time for massage?" Suzanne says that even a newborn will respond yes or no, you just have to look for it in the body language. Yes might look like the infant reaching out to the parent, making eye contact, giggling and girgling, opening up the body or stretching it's limbs out to you. No might look like the infant or baby pulling in, turning away or even starting to fuss. To actively listen and respect their bodies and their desires from day one is a great gift that they will one day emulate and give back to you.

The third concept

is that we are interdependent beings; "we need one another to survive and to thrive" says Suzanne. "We need to know that we are important and that we matter to someone else. And the only way we can know that is through healthy human interaction and communication." To know what's healthy, lets look first at the opposite: an unhealthy connection is when we dismiss others around us as unimportant, or important only in giving us what we want. When we are willing to do whatever it takes to get our own way, including violence, and when we think the world is out to get us. And so what infant massage does is models and encourages the behavior that says to baby: I am important, and those around me are important, that yes I may be bigger and stronger than you, but I as a parent am respecting you and your little body. Your needs and desires are important to me, and that the world is a fair and loving place where you, my precious baby, can feel safe and be nourished.

So the question is: what exactly happens in infant massage that sets this tone of respect and love?

Infant massage is baby-led. We first ask permission to our little ones, the day is full of parent-led activities: we have to-do lists and chores, we have bathing, feeding and changing. Basically we have a day full of activities, and we're talking to baby and we're playing with baby, but even these are often parent-led. Baby-led activities remind everyone that they're on a team, that everyone's desires are important, and it reinforces the team bond. Infant massage is a time for nurturing and bonding with the baby, if the baby wants it! Baby might be too tired for a massage, or too excited. So remember, look for a cluster of your yes or no clues. And remember that it's one of the few things they control at this stage in their life, so empower them in their desires.

Infant massage deepens the connection and ease of reading non-verbal cues. According to Suzanne, 80% of language is non-verbal in adults as well as children, so learning to listen and respect the non-verbal cues with your infant is what you are already doing all day long. It's natural to our species, that doesn't mean though that we can't use more practice by paying closer attention, and sometimes we get stuck in our head and it's important to quiet all the racket and really be with baby. And it means that you can trust the vibes that you are getting. It must be strange to be an infant, you are this whole being in this tiny body, and you are dependent on your caretaker to want to listen to you and help you be comfortable and happy. Infants can't yet say: I need a hug, but they'll reach out, their use their body as much as they can to say just that, and if we as caregivers still aren't understanding, they'll start to cry from frustration and desire. So, pick 'em up! Listen to your gut, mostly just be willing to pay attention to them, and you will get it! Infant massage lets us regularly check in and watch and respond to our babies' cues. Remember, they will one day be 6-7 and 13, so we want to already have the habit and the ability of non-verbal reading them so we can really know what's going on in their lives and avoid unnecessary difficulties.

On the biochemical level infant massage is an incredible "love" rush. We all have brains that are incredible pharmacies, those same one's that make birth easier, make parenting easier! As we smile and look into our babies eyes and giggle our way through massage, we and our babies are both releasing a drug called oxytocin: A drug that gives us that in-love feeling, whether for our mate, or our children. It's a rush or surge of good feeling swimming through our brains and then your whole body, who gets addicted and wants to feel it again and again! (Don't worry the great news is it's all-natural!) Imagine releasing this drug, not only when we look at our yummy infants, but when we look at our 2-year old, our 7-year old and our 19-year old! It changes the dynamic of our whole parent-child relationship, and all our other relationships, because we've learned how to release these love rushes: basically a way to induce happiness, calm, joy and love in ourselves and give that out to our little one (and others). And as Suzanne says, "we hope that we never stop reaching out to our children with that level of care and compassion, and validation and empathy because when that stops, human connection stops."

Infant massage is not the only tool, but it's certainly a simple, profound tool to help us on a daily basis bond with our babies to a new level of understanding, and it's great for moms, dads or any primary caregiver! It's a tool that easily becomes part of our day, and we use long after our infants are infants. For more information, visit Suzanne P. Reese, International Infant Massage Trainer and Educator at www.compassionatechild.com , or www.infantmassageusa.org or internationally at www.iaim.net. And remember, our kids are what we model, surely the mistakes will come, but we can just as easily step up to the plate and become what we want our children to be! As we embrace our nurturing, loving and compassionate self, so shall our babies (and our teenagers)!