How the Infant Massage Keeps on Giving
Infant massage is a beautiful tool to help you bond with your baby. You may feel like you get plenty of talking time, playing time, and just general time together. But below is an interview with Suzanne P. Reese, International Infant Massage Educator, Teacher and Humanitarian, who tells why looking at our babies as whole beings with needs, wants and desires, just like we experience is so important and appropriate in our world today. She shares her passion and compassion for these little beings that just want our love and understanding, and she explains how giving infant massage actually helps fulfill the needs of the babies and the parents. She shares infant massage, and how its concepts will take you through pregnancy into parenthood. Thank you Suzanne Reese, for your work, passion and the time you spent with us! Thank you also for the gift that you are giving to each of us here on the planet. For a briefer article on this interview, enjoy the
article (Infant Massage: Providing A Necessary Shift).
Ashley: I am so excited to be talking to you!
Suzanne: Oh good! I’m glad.
Ashley: Tell me about infant massage and your journey to infant massage.
Suzanne(a.k.a. Infant Massage Educator): Well, like many other things, in my life, all the really amazing things I didn’t seek out, they just sort of unfolded before me. And this was one of them. My background is in child development and typically when you graduate with a degree in child development you go on to become either a teacher or a social worker. Or something in those arenas, and I had dabbled in both of those and chose social work. I was pursuing a Masters in social work and had worked in social services quite a number of years, six years. Working with neglected and delinquent teens and also working in the agency setting where it’s governed, whether by local policy and legislation and funding and things like that and I just all of a sudden thought, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing? Is this the rest of my life?” They say 3-6 years is the burnout for counselors in the social work, and I was at my 6-year mark and thought, “I don’t even have my Masters yet! And I’m just like hugh!” It was also very concerning to me, that here I am working with the adolescent population, I had worked a little bit with families with young children and infants, but for the most part I’d worked with the adolescent population and I’d thought there must be something before this, before these kids get to the point where they feel so isolated and removed from society, from themselves, from their families. And their families feel like they have no other choice but to say get out.
Ashley: So you wanted to help before they got to that point.
Infant Massage Educator: Yeah, it seemed like there must be something and so I searched back in my experience working with families with young children and I just, it wasn’t anything I was searching really hard for, but I thought there must be something. And a colleague of mine who I worked very closely with in social services called me and he said, hey there’s this infant massage training happening up near me. Because I was living in San Diego at that point, I come from the San Fernando Valley and he said, do you want to take it with me? And I said sure! You don’t have to be licensed to touch in order to take the infant massage training. We both happened to be licensed to touch, so it was great because it was continuing ed. for us. But it was also something that intrigued us because of our work in social services. And little did I know at that time, when I entered that training that I was entering something that would really change the course of my life. So, I took the course and really started having a lot of these “aha!” moments. In fact, one of the moments was noted in my exam when the trainer reviewed my exam and sent it back to me and asked if she could use my quote because I said, in all my years of studying child development and working with families, never, ever was this concept of respecting the child, asking the child for consent before something is done to them, or just communicating with the child as a whole human being like everyone else. Like never was that ever presented to me.
Ashley: That’s incredible when your studies are childhood development!
Suzanne: I know! I mean if it was, it was subtle. It wasn’t a core curriculum point. It’s not like, “okay, now we are going to talk about the infant/child as a whole human being.” It may have been implied, but at least for me, not strong enough where I walked away with this concept of the child being his whole person.
Ashley: So, one of the core concepts of the infant massage is that the child is a whole person.
Suzanne: That the child is 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.
Ashley: Before we go on to how they communicate, tell me what other concepts are you working with in infant massage, are there any others that are…
Infant Massage Educator: Another one that is significant and notable, and this is a popular quote in family wellness, is how an infant is viewed influences how an infant is cared for. And I always take it a step further and say, how an infant is cared for influences how that infant will grow up and care for himself, for others and one day his own. So, it really has this life-long impact, that early on if we’re seen as this, separate person from the family that is “done-too” and not really included in the family… and we can move into what I mean by that more, is spoken too, rather than with; done to, rather than done with… then basically what we are learning is disconnect. And when we think about how many people walk around on this planet disconnected from others and how are society has evolved to where it’s so easy to be disconnected to others.
Ashley: Feeling lonely.
Infant Massage Educator: Yeah, they’re lonely and if it starts at home, gosh “if I don’t have this connection at home, how else can I get it?” and I just honestly know I’m not alone in sharing these views, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we see a rise in unhealthy human connections. Whether it’s violence, aggression. Often times those are done for some sort of attention and desperate outreaches for connection, even though unhealthy. And so this falls all back into healthy parent and infant attachment and bonding. There are all these qualities of attachment and bonding so what we are promoting here is a secure attachment. And we aren’t talking about dependence or co-dependence. We’re talking about basic human interdependence because this is how we are, evolutionarily. We are interdependent beings; we need one another in order to survive and to thrive.
Ashley: So, what does that look like as a parent with a newborn?
Suzanne: A very simple, basic example would be an inborn reflex and what it facilitates. So, you put your finger in a baby’s palm and baby’s palm will grasp the finger. Okay? That’s a reflex, it’s a very primal, survival reflex to hold on and not let go. Well, parents often don’t know that, they don’t sit there, and of course we’ll know it when we are holding our own babies, because we’re talking about it, but the average parent doesn’t know enough to sit there and analyze every reflex and realize okay, “this is a primal reflex of survival”! So, what they feel and they experience is: baby needs me, baby wants me, baby likes me, and baby loves me. And immediately there becomes this reciprocal exchange of smiles and coos, and girgles and laughs, and “look at you!” and reaching out over and over again! Because what it’s doing is releasing, essentially, a drug in the brain we get addicted to, and that is oxytocin!
Suzanne: That’s what love is really.
Ashley: The high of oxytocin?
Infant Massage Educator: Yeah. And I mean if we’ve really examined our emotions on a bio-chemical level, what we realize is that’s what they are. The brain is the greatest pharmacy on the planet, essentially. So, how we respond to stimulus in our environment emotionally is driven by these bio-chemicals. The stimulus will govern what bio-chemicals will be released. But it’s also driven by the patterns that we create in our brain, so every time parent and baby have these positive exchange, it’s creating patterns in both their brains that say: I am wanted, I am needed, I am loved. And they begin to associate all these wonderful feelings, which we’ve wrapped up in this one word: love, with this loving and nurturing exchange. And we will continue to seek it out and every time they seek it out that bio-chemical is released, that neuro-network that is associated with that experience is enforced and it becomes ingrained.
Ashley: What’s interesting to me is that sometimes, or even a lot of times is we have that, you know most of us will see a newborn and get that gooey feeling and feel that, but at some point along there becomes this, as you said “disconnect”. So, you get to a point where you look at your child and you don’t feel that same thing. You’re like, “oh my god! Get away!” We can’t handle it for some reason, or so how can infant massage help with this.
Infant Massage Educator: So, what I just described to you was very basic. Going further into the healthy development in that relationship, infant massage is providing something for the parent and infant that is different from other daily interactions: they’re bathing, they’re feeding, they’re diapering they’re talking to each other, and there is play. Which is really important, it’s a key element of bonding, if you don’t have play, there is an element of bonding that is missing. But what infant massage provides is something that is totally infant or child focused. It’s baby-led. We don’t dress or bathe our babies baby-led because we have to get it done. There’s very little that can be negotiated here; we have to get the shirt on you! So the concept of saying, “may I dress you now” just doesn’t exist.
Ashley: Or we would be living in a nudist colony basically!
Infant Massage Educator: Exactly! So, what babies learning through infant massage is “I’m important! And I know that because I have opportunities to express what I want, what I don’t like. What I need, what I don’t need or don’t want. And my parents seek to understand me. And my parents seeks to meet that need.” So it offers the infant a sense of control over their body because he doesn’t really, I mean in the end, they do own their body and it is so important for them to know, besides all the brain-body connections, the appropriate boundaries and all of that. Babies are learning a sense of self and they learn that through our interactions with our primary care givers. With our tribe, you might say.
Ashley: So, if they are respecting that sense of your body…
Suzanne: That sense of existence. Exactly. And baby is learning I exist, and I exist inter-dependently. That’s what’s key here, the “inter” part. It’s not, when I talk about baby is a whole human being, yeah he’s a whole human being but he’s not separate from the family. They depend on one another for this healthy growth and development. And parents, no matter what, I don’t care how old you parents get, my father is 84, my mother is 78 and they still thrive on knowing that I depend on them, that I need them. And if I don’t exhibit, like a perfect example would be my dad, when I am visiting with them, I notice this, if I don’t go to him for “hey dad, what do you think about this… or that” he’ll just give me unsolicited advice! Or he’ll chime in a conversation where he’s teaching me something essentially. And just if we look at psycho-social stages and basic human needs, evolutionarily, in the span of one’s lifetime what my father is seeking to fulfill is his sense of significance, and the need to be needed. Regardless of the fact that I’m an adult, I’m almost 40, I’m gonna be a mom! You know, some people might say she doesn’t need you anymore, and she’s okay without you. But 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. And it’s starts with something as simple as baby massage. Baby needs it as much as parent needs it. And the bio-chemicals are released respectively in both parties. And both are learning aspects of themselves that they didn’t know existed. And in the parent often what’s happening is they are realizing they can provide a sense of nurturing and growth opportunities that maybe were not offered to them, and that’s really a wide awakening for some families. I’ve literally seen families, a parent or a couple just drawn to tears because they realize they don’t need all these gadgets and gizmos in order for them to fill their baby’s heart. That it’s that simple. You don’t need a truckload coming to your house from babies-r-us to fulfill the need that your baby has to whole in the world, to feel connected to other human beings. And really to be able to grow up, leave the house, be independent, be inter-dependent, be successful, in which I don’t mean becoming a CEO of a company, but just a successful, productive, responsible member in society. But also, know that they can come back to that home base, wherever that might be and that’s a safe, predictable, and reliable source of human connection.
Ashley: So tell me, you’re with your newborn, how do you understand them as a whole being when they aren’t speaking to you in your language?
Suzanne: So, what I’m hearing is that how do parents and babies communicate because they don’t speak the verbal language we speak as adults.
Ashley: And to really understand their desires, you know with the message, you go to message, and you said you ask their permission, and then how do you understand what they want?
Suzanne: How do I understand if my baby’s saying yes or not?
Suzanne: You might say statistically 80% or more of all language is non-verbal. So…
Ashley: You are talking adults, children, everything?
Infant Massage Educator: Yes. How we negotiate in a crowd on the street: who steps to the left and who’s going to the right, so you don’t bang into each other! Things like that, very simple, there are all kinds of ways for how to spot a liar. What direction they look? Do they look up, do they look down? To the left? To the right? Other non-verbal cues come into play, respiration, how quickly someone is breathing. Their physiology will change maybe their tone will become more red and pink, or go pale. There are so many non-verbal cues and signals that we give off to others that we are communicating with. Even animals! They say relax, because an animal can tell if you are afraid. They are picking up on all these non-verbal cues and these are part of our interdependent primal, normal, basic form of survival. And this is what we rely on as parents because baby can’t say: hey I feel lonely right now and I could use a hug! This concept of encouraging and empowering parents, you will get to know your baby or you already know your baby and you can get to know them more. So to take something that’s working and helping to make it better. So baby is ready for a massage, they are going to give off cues that look and sound and feel like: the body opens, like the arms will spread out, the chest open, the legs and feet start to move, they start to do this little dance. Especially if you can picture a baby on his back, on his blanket, they’ll start to reach, like they are reaching for their parent. They’ll smile and coo, giggle and gurgle and gaggle. Eyes are often bright and open, muscle tone is relaxed, color is good, if a baby’s screaming and crying they can get red. If they’re not well, they’ll be red or pale, so the skin tone is more even. And they just kind of get a little excited, essentially. If they are saying no they’re saying no through their body and their sounds and they might start to cry, the “huh, huh” fuss. They may look away, they break eye contact. Eye contact is huge for an infant, if an infant looks away and we have to be careful because they might just look away because they are interested in something over there! So, we always encourage parents to look for clusters of signals and cues, don’t just look for one. A child might be totally okay with a massage but be interested in the baby next to him and the parent might say: oh, the baby doesn’t want a massage! But that’s not necessarily true, but if a child looks away it is often a cue that he’s saying: I can’t interact anymore, this is too much. And it’s amazing to me with infants and young children how there is almost this demand for eye contact, this sort of look at me when I’m talking to you. But with an adult, we do the same thing! If we are communicating to an adult, and that other person for whatever reason is uncomfortable or maybe just “done”, for whatever reason, maybe they don’t feel safe, or emotionally don’t feel like revealing any more of themselves, they’ve reached their ceiling, they look away, right? But do we run over to the other side to meet their eye contact?
Infant Massage Educator: No, we don’t! So, why don’t we offer the same courtesy to babies and young children? And this is what baby massage is, it’s allowing them to control their environment, to allow them to say I’ve had enough, I’ve had a break. I just need a break because social interaction for infants and young children is a big deal! It takes a lot of energy, they are learning so much about themselves and their environment and their place in their tribe. What’s okay and what’s not okay? And if it’s not met, they’ll start to protest, there is the eye aversion, they might actually try to push their parents hands away they’ll bat them, they’ll cry, if they can they’ll roll away or physically try and remove themselves from the situation. And then physiology will change, if that’s not acknowledged their need isn’t being met, they might start turning red, their respiration will increase and they get upset! They start out with politely saying: hey, I’m done, I’m over-stimulated or maybe I just don’t feel well or I’m interested in other things right now! And then it can escalate into a full-blown: I don’t want this! The result in that for the parent is the anti of what we love to see when the baby is in the mood for massage. Where a parent feels accepted, acknowledged, validated. If the parent doesn’t understand their infants cues or it’s their own agenda, all well intended, we always assume they love their baby and they want the best for their baby. So all well intended, it’s still their agenda: I’m going to massage you! Because it’s a good day, dammit! And you’re going to have fun, and we’re going to have fun together! But, despite that and despite all their efforts if the baby rejects them, then they feel disconnect, rejection. “My baby doesn’t want me”; “my baby doesn’t love me”. And that’s the breakdown in the parents sense of confidence and competence and this pattern of miscommunication, going back to one of your questions how does it go from this loving: oh, you’re grasping my finger! To get out of my sight, I’m tired of looking at you! This pattern of misunderstanding and not really knowing who their baby is, in the sense of how he or she communicates can result in this: I’ve had enough of you! Dr. T Berry Brazelton who is one of the most famous pediatricians on the planet and one of the his quotes is: if there is one thing that I could do for every parent is to capture the image so they could review it over and over and over again; capture the parent actually reading the baby’s cues appropriately. Because then they could see themselves of getting it, getting their baby. And their baby feels: I’m important, because the parent is saying is: you’re important and your feelings matter to me and what you like or don’t like matters to me. Gosh, it just flows right into early childhood experiences on the playground. If our needs are met in a nurturing, compassionate, considerate way that validates us as a human being and acknowledges our needs you get the kid on the playground who says: this is mine and I don’t care what you think! What you need doesn’t matter to me, you’re not important. And it escalates until there is the point of physical contact that’s not healthy or nice! So we are also talking about laying down foundations of building compassion and empathy. That sense of knowing: I don’t hit another person because I know that being hit doesn’t feel good, or everything that I’ve witnessed about being hit doesn’t feel good. So, I don’t want to instill that or impose that on anyone else. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else having that experience because of me. And that’s why I’d like to say the vast majority of us don’t go around hitting each other, we don’t want to do that because we know what it feel like and it’s not good.
Ashley: Right, right.
Suzanne: So that sort of concedes to there’s good in everyone concept.
Ashley: So, do you recommend infant massage on a daily basis to help increase that understanding?
Suzanne: Absolutely, and I think it doesn’t have to be “a session”. Where you have to set aside 30 minutes, or 20 or 15 minutes, no set time. What a lot of parents will find who pursues it on a regular basis is it just sort of integrates into their interactions. So it can become part of their routine, whether it’s bathing or changing or going to sleep. Waking up…it becomes how they interact with their infants and then ultimately: and this is one of those aspects of this work where I myself experience this in many ways, and my students report as well is that it improves relationships with other humans, adults, animals, plants.
Suzanne: Yeah! I’ve become, since infant massage, I’ve become one of those people who I will consciously step around the line of ants on a sidewalk. And it has nothing to do with reincarnation! It’s just that why would I step on something when I don’t have to. I can make the choice; it becomes a conscious effort to avoid hurting another life. And so that just seems really kind of simple, and for some of us it’s like: of course we would step around it. But how many of people actually modeled that. And that goes into everything that we are with our infants, our infants become. And I’m sort of drawing on the work of Joseph Chilton Pearce, I don’t know if you are familiar with him, but he is a very well known and respected man in the field of infant, child and family development and wellness. And what he says is you can’t teach emotional intelligence, you have to be it. Because you can’t stop the brain from absorbing what is presented in the environment. And when I heard this I just about fell out of my seat, because “oh my gosh, that’s it!” I’ve known this, but it compartmentalizes everything!
Ashley: What would you recommend to parents to help develop that, because I think a lot of parents feel like they hear that and go: “Oh my god!”
Suzanne: Right, what have I done?!
Ashley: “Oh my god, I’ve got a lot to work on!” So what would you give as encouragement for that?
Infant Massage Educator: You know it’s true! We do have a lot to work on, our responsibility as not only parents but as members of society. As far as I’m concerned we are all responsible for the healthy growth and development of every child on this planet! Everything that we do influences their growth and development regardless of what direction it is going in, and sadly for a lot it’s not going in a good direction. So, if we’re driving in a car and we’re upset, think about the mom or the dad with their child in the car, and no agenda against the world, they cut someone off, they don’t see someone, they make a booboo on the road and this person comes up and starts screaming at them and flipping them off, and it’s like… I really wish people could see themselves sometimes, like if people could be recorded.
Suzanne: With their behavior it’s like: okay, let’s just take a step back for just a moment and really examine this. And so it’s like asking oneself and it requires a sense of humility and integrity. And I’m going to quote Joseph Chilton Pearce in a second again, because again he compartmentalizes it. But it’s like: if everything that I do is somehow modeling something for my child, that he ultimately becomes, then I have to consider in everything that I say and do, “would I want my child to do that, to say that, to be that?” So, it is a sense of consciousness that goes into every interaction. And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to make mistakes, but going back to the humility and integrity factor, it also means acknowledging those mistakes. I remember years ago, I have a cousin who said, “one of the hardest things for me to do is to apologize to my children, but she said I have too! I must, because they must know that A: it’s okay to make a mistake and B: we have a responsibility to take responsibility for that mistake!” And it doesn’t mean throwing oneself out in front of a truck to be run over, it just means: I’m human and I’m not perfect and we can work this out… it can be okay, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship or the end of this or that. And what Joe talks about, and sadly, he says: I just, I really struggle with being able to see adults, families, parents, society taking that responsibility and understanding who we are our children become. And if we don’t like what we see in our children, then we have to look in the mirror.
Infant Massage Educator: He says it’s really hard to imagine that that will come to fruition at such a global level because it will require people to undergo a bit of discomfort! And people don’t want to do that. It’s kind of like that one family at a time concept, and that one good deed, or one act of kindness at a time will hopefully set things in motion. One more child being touched and influenced by the nurturing and compassion and empathy that this can create. What starts with infant massage becomes a lifelong approach to human relationships. The term infant massage, I actually don’t really like it because it’s misleading. People will often say, well, how long do I do it? And I say: Forever. Which then segues into a conversation that we’re having: well, what does that mean? And the short answer is 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. What incentive do we have to reach out to someone who isn’t reciprocating with the human virtues that we’ve been talking about? Everyone. Everyone wants to know that they are wanted, loved and understood. And that’s what this does.
Ashley: And I think a beautiful thing with our society as a whole, I think is really at an uncomfortable place so we are starting to really take stock of what we have created and where we want to go from here. And I think we are at a beautiful transition spot.
Suzanne: Yes we are! I’m trying to visualize that on a really grand scale. And I think that helps too, just sort of wanting it, wishing it, manifesting it, in a way. And it’s really fascinating because we can! Just something so simple, just smiling at someone as you stand in line at the market. You know, how simple is that.
Ashley: Because a lot of times we go into not recognizing someone’s existence, we close ourselves off, and close them off.
Suzanne: I don’t know how much you’ve perused my website
, but I have a little story about the first time I went out with a friend and stood out on the streets of San Diego at a corner, in front of Whole Foods with signs that we held up that said “Free Hugs”. And it was a fascinating social experiment.
Ashley: What happened?
Infant Massage Educator: Actually, we were really nervous at first because we’d never done it, but we’d heard of it recently and thought: oh, that’d be so much fun and cool and the message we’d send out there. So, we piddled around Whole Foods a while and finally we were like: we came here for a reason! So we went out there and pulled our signs out of the car and it took less than a minute to get our first hug! And then once others see you hugging others then it kind of makes it okay! And then they want to do it. But there were a small percentage of people who looked at us like we were absolutely out of our minds! Like: what? How? And people thought, which was kind of flattering because we were way beyond this point, but they thought it was some kind of sorority thing! Which is cute! And a mom was having mom with her, maybe 3-4 year old daughter at the counter that looks out the big window to the street. So, while they were having lunch they were watching us, and her daughter was probably older, more like 4-5. And her daughter was asking, “Mommy, what are the ladies doing?” And she said, “I don’t know, let’s go find out.” So they did and I explained the whole idea that everyone needs to acknowledged and validated as a human being and it’s for the sake of compassion among human beings. And she was like, “are you getting something? Is someone paying you? Is it a bet?” And I said no, and she just kept fishing for what are we getting in return. And I finally said, it just feels good!
Ashley: Right! You’re getting a hug in return.
Suzanne: Yeah, it just feels good. And she was just floored, she couldn’t believe, though she was happy and thought how wonderful it was and all these things. So it really kind of hit home the misunderstanding of human contact and relationships that people walk around: we all have to be guarded, and yeah, we do! I’m not going to let my kid walk around without any supervision, but I also want my child to know the joy and the fulfillment of human connection. So I guess as an interviewer the next question would be, “yeah and how do we do that?”
Ashley: Go ahead!
Suzanne: Well, it goes back to the cues concept. If early on we are able to practice that non-verbal language and we become better in-tune with ourselves and the cues that we give off. And we’re better in-tune that society is giving us. You know that person who just doesn’t get it when the conversation is over… you’re like: okay, that’s really great, we can pick that up next time! And you’re physically trying to remove yourself, right, from that little bubble, and they just keep on going! And our sarcastic mind might be like: don’t you get it, I mean, come on!
Ashley: I’ve always found it hard to extract myself from that! I’m like, it’s hard to put my foot down.
Infant Massage Educator: I understand, because you have empathy, you don’t want to be mean, you have consideration for this person, and at what point do you just say: okay, we need to stop here! But when you think about it, however subtle or not subtle it might be, that person has captured our attention and is enjoying it and having a need met, that probably in other areas of our life, which probably started very early on, were not met! And that need is: I’m seen, I’m heard, and I’m understood. Someone’s interested in me.
Ashley: That’s incredible. From that perspective, of fulfilling a need that they have, it changes the dynamic of the situation.
Suzanne: Absolutely. And so now this brings me into what Joe calls the end of evolution. Which I’ve heard this being referred to in other ways, and there’s a film that my husband and I watched because I rolled my eyes through the whole film, because it’s a film where it’s just so stupid you can’t believe you’re spending an hour and half of your life watching it! You can be doing so many other things for humanity in that hour and a half! But at the same time, the message is so important, regardless of how stupid the film is. It’s a film called Idiocracy, did you see it?
Ashley: No, I didn’t see it.
Suzanne: It’s one of those, I recommend it because of what we’re talking about, but don’t hold me responsible for how you feel you’re using your time!
Ashley: What is their message?
Infant Massage Educator: The message basically is how, and it’s not my language but just how the movie is, but it’s like: stupid people keep breeding and they breed more stupid people which creates this de-evolution of human beings! And we loose points on the IQ scale and we become these blithering idiots! These two very average people, in our time, who end up preserved in these time capsules through some government project that are forgotten about. These capsules are forgotten and opened some 1000 years later and even though in our time they were very average people with average IQ, they didn’t win the Bound to be Most Successful vote in high school! And yet, that many years later they are the most intelligent people on the planet. But, going back to what I was saying about Joe, and what he’s alluding to is the world we live in now really is marking the end of evolution, in terms of how we communicate, because we rely so heavily on the written word and verbal exchanges. When you think about technology: computers, telephones, email, things like that. And emails are very different than picking up a pen and actually writing on a piece of paper, there are a lot more emotion that goes into writing on a piece of paper because you need a brain body connection to write and there’s feelings emitted in the style of your handwriting, how far you deviate to the left or to the right in your angles and lines… so there’s a whole lot to read in a letter in between the lines! Okay, so because we’re not exorcising this very basic, primal non-verbal language the way we used to, we’re actually losing our ability to read one another. And therefore what is happening, is people avoid the human connection that we so desperately need, because we don’t know how to do it! We don’t understand it, it’s uncomfortable! And a perfect example would be to really notice the next time you have a shopping day. Notice how, especially how if the people that are at the registers, or bagging your stuff, or helping you choose whatever it is you’re looking for. If they are under 30, I can bet that the vast majority of people will seem disconnected. Kind of distant, cold, they don’t make much eye contact. They don’t have that, and I don’t mean to sound cliché, but what is that: the Cleaver family and that whole thing, that show Opie was in, the town of Mayberry…that sort of: Hi, how are you? It’s not a canned statement they make, now they make no eye contact with you and they say it in passing while they beep, beep, your things are being scanned. Or they don’t express a genuine interest in trying to help you. Many times I’ve said, “oh can you tell me where, I don’t know the glue is” I’m looking for glue and they say, “I think its on aisle 5.” Okay, well, to me “think” means a level of uncertainty, you know, so in my mind I go through this whole thing: are you gonna find someone who can say, “I know it’s on aisle 5.” Or are you going to look with me. That kind of thing. So, I call them kids, and I can’t believe I’ve reached a stage in my life where I’m calling them kids, but these kids are trained to do certain things so sometimes there is an illusion of interest, because they are trained to walk the customer to the aisle, if you don’t know where it is look with them, act genuinely interested, act like you care. But left to their own devices it is absolutely shocking. I went through a check-out line just a couple of weeks ago, and even though I verbally communicated with the gal that was at the register and the gal who was bagging my stuff, neither one of them made eye contact with me or answered me in full sentences. They were more like grunts and just mild, subtle acknowledgements.
Ashley: It’s kind of like we’re shutting off to human connection and really connecting to our computers and all the technology.
Infant Massage Educator: Absolutely! It’s like text me if you want my attention. There’s a book called, I could read you like a book and it’s written by a PH.D in something, not just language, but in human behavior, and the whole book is about how to read others, but he doesn’t fail to mention this phenomenon. Which is so important. He says we are losing our ability to read each other non-verbally because of technology we are not relying on these skills. So generation, after generation, after generation these skills are going to be lost.
Ashley: And they are huge skills: I mean knowing someone is lying to you, or not, is going to take you far!
Suzanne: Yeah, or just being okay and comfortable with someone making eye contact with us and smiling! Because with some people that’s too intimate! So what people don’t realize, and the conversation that I’m having with you is a conversation that I’ll have with the person on the flight who asks me: so where’ve you been and what took you there? And I think to myself: you’ve no idea what you’re asking!
Ashley: That’s great though because you’re opening people’s eyes wherever you are go!
Infant Massage Educator: Yeah! But it’s like, okay we’ve got 4 hours or so! But what’s fascinating is, providing they give me the cues that they’re interested!
Ashley: Right, as long as you’re listening to their cues!
Suzanne: And I have to admit that at least sometimes I will keep talking because it’s like, I know they’re going to hear something that sets off a bell in them, to where they’re like: oh my gosh, I know someone like that! Or I had no idea! You know what I mean? So we’re in a capsule at 30.000 feet in the air, what are they going to do! But all well-intended, changing one life at a time! But providing they are interested and by the end of the flight, they are like: I had no idea! I mean this is, a common response from people who listened, absorbed and understood is like: you should be on Oprah! If people had an ounce of understanding about what this could do for humanity, something so simple, that doesn’t require any technology yet that has so many multifaceted and complicated benefits that are so far-reaching! When I say to people I teach baby massage or I teach healthy parent-infant bonding, a lot of times: why do babies need to be massaged? Or parents will say: I’m bonded with my baby! But, when we get into the concepts with many people it’s really difficult to wrap around the brain because okay, where’s the switch? What do I need to plug in? We’re so connected with these technological gadgets that we think, we’ve lost the confidence in ourselves as human beings to be able to just do what we do naturally and trust that it works. Like birthing…and I won’t even get into that because it’s a whole other interview.
Ashley: I did actually want to ask you, because I think these concepts can go into while you’re pregnant, so how do you see that?
Suzanne: Well, I’m pregnant and it’s, we know that the baby is bathing in bio-chemicals, they are floating around in the amniotic fluid. So, everything that I experience, baby experiences.
Ashley: And multiplied, right?
Infant Massage Educator: Yeah, absolutely! So, that conscious parenting begins, and a whole other conversation would be conscious conception, but that conscious parenting begins in utero. I am almost 7-months pregnant now, and so baby can hear what is going on outside the womb and do we want baby to hear happy sounds? Or not so happy sounds? It’s really proving that safe, predictable, reliable exchange and environment early on. Everything is being delivered to baby in bio-chemical messages. If I have an oxytocin rush, baby is going to have oxytocin rush, and that’s the love hormone. If I’m scared, baby is going to receive bio-chemicals that communicate I am scared, lonely, worried so on and so forth. So, that’s why, and I’ll quote Joe again, but Joe says that the key to gestating and creating a successful human brain, what he says is a whole human brain, is full support of the mother. Full support of the mother, so she doesn’t feel isolated, so she doesn’t feel that she doesn’t have anywhere to go, essentially. And when you think of what’s going on with the military, we’ve had more military they’re called the New Parent Support Programs, in the military. We’ve had more home visitors and agency staff come to our infant massage educator training because they are just in need of more tools to help these often young parents who are isolated from their families and what is familiar to them, and help them deal with being a new parent and to understand who their new baby is!
Ashley: That’s incredible. I’m glad they are coming.
Suzanne: Yeah, they are, but not fast enough as far as I’m concerned. Shaken baby syndrome is rising in almost epidemic proportions.
Suzanne: Yeah, in military families, the stress and anxiety is just so high. And especially that parent who comes back from tour and are just integrating back into society is a job in and of itself. And trying to learn about a baby that doesn’t know them and they feel disconnected to, there is delayed bonding. So, infant massage is a really great channel to connect these two.
Ashley: Well, we hit an hour, we’ve gone over our 45 minutes! I have one more question because I remembered you talked about infant massage with colic, and I just wanted to briefly bring that up. So, can you tell us how that helps?
Infant Massage Educator: Sure, Well, we don’t really know what colic is, the only definition is that it’s uncontrollable crying, sustained crying for a certain length of time, usually 2-3 hours, though it could be 6 hours, and it can happen at the same time every day. So there are different theories about what colic is, there’s the Harvey Karp approach which is that our nervous system isn’t really developed enough to be able to handle the stimulation of the environment and there are other approaches that will point to the mother’s diet, if she’s breastfeeding, she should cut out certain things. Some diets advocates will say if it’s the formula, you need to change the formula… and any number of things. So, because we don’t know what it is we don’t know what it is about infant massage that helps, but what we do know is that does! It could be, I always point to a couple of things: if it is gastrointestinal distress, then what the colic routine does is helps move the gas through, it helps move the matter through because we always go in a clock-wise motion, which is the direction of peristalsis, which is the constriction and expansion of the large intestine: it’s the direction poop moves, in family-friendly language! So, there could be that, the very physical aspect of it! The emotional aspect of it, which is the other reasons why baby crying, if all the physical needs are met, then why are they crying? They’re communicating something, they have an emotion to communicate. And it could be that if they are overwhelmed by what’s going on in their environment, and to the average adult, it could seem like it’s not a big deal, but if it’s true, and I tend to lean this way: you know the Harvey Karp approach of the nervous system and needing that fourth trimester time, do you know what I’m talking about when I say that?
Ashley: I know Harvey Karp, but not what you’re talking about with the fourth trimester.
Suzanne: Well, that’s his thing, this fourth trimester, that we’re actually born a little early for some babies and that their nervous system isn’t developed enough to handle the stimulation and the environment. So actually it would behoove a parent, with a baby like this, to recreate the womb and create this sort of 4th trimester for them.
Ashley: So, that’s why the swaddling and the noise…
Infant Massage Educator: Exactly. So, and I tend to lean more in this direction because of my knowledge and background with human development and infant health. And so given that what the colic routine can provide is that sense of the care and compassion, the nurturing, the close physical contact, the support that the baby needs to get through that bought of over stimulation. And it helps them regulate their state, it helps them understand they aren’t alone. They’re also better able to co-regulate, which is parent and baby are spending a lot of time together and they are in close physical contact, then parents and babies biorhythms and circadian rhythms start to co-regulate.
Ashley: Sync up.
Suzanne: And so baby has someone to co-regulate with. Whereas if baby is in a crib, in a carrier, in a stroller, in what we call containers and physically separated from their infants and they don’t get that nurturing and compassionate touch as much as they might need, then they have a really hard time to co-regulate. They need something to lock onto. Does that make sense?
Suzanne: So then they have to depend on themselves.
Ashley: Like you are their center, like grounding.
Suzanne: Exactly, and they are not equipped with what they need to self-regulate, so it’s just sort of chaos and what we call disorganization.
Ashley: And so I think you said with the colic, it’s the only one that you don’t ask permission, it’s a routine you do regularly, is that like…
Infant Massage Educator: Twice a day for two weeks is the general recommendation. And rather than the, “may I massage you, is this a good time for a massage?” instead it’s, “I know you are really uncomfortable sweetie, this is something we’re trying and we are going to get through together.” So, it’s still a “do with”, rather than a “do to”. Does that make sense?
Ashley: Yes, so it’s not them leading it’s you doing it together.
Suzanne: Yes, and it’s for a very set, we always say to parents: this is baby-led, this is up to you and your baby, you do as many strokes, however long is good for you and your baby. But with the colic routine, it’s a set number, a set routine of strokes, period, when you’re done, you’re done.
Ashley: And this isn’t just for when your baby is crying, this is actually for when you have a baby that is colicky.
Suzanne: Yes, so it can be done as a preventative, say come 6 o’clock you know all hell breaks loose, then yes it can be done as a preventative. Some parents will attempt it in the middle of the colic spell. And it’s totally up to them in terms of their comfort level and what they find to be successful.
Ashley: Beautiful. So, where do women go to find out about classes on infant massage?
Suzanne: If we are talking about on a national level, they go to infantmassageusa.org.
Ashley: And on an international level?
Infant Massage Educator: On an international level they go to iaim.net. And the net is really important, just because it’s so common to go to .com or .org. And their they can find all the chapters and representatives in the world, so like if you want to find someone in Italy, then they’ll find the contact for the Italian chapter, then they can contact that person and then that person can help connect them with the area in Tuscany, or whatever.
Ashley: Nice! I think I need to go to Tuscany real quick for some infant massage! That’s fun. Well, is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you want to close with that you want women, or parents to know or to be reminded of with infant massage?
Suzanne: Yeah, this is something parents are already doing. They are already naturally equipped for it, the infant massage classes offer them a very baby-friendly approach and that considers baby: it’s done in a certain order regarding infant development and starting with the most non-invasive part of the body, which is the legs or feet. If you started at the face or chest, it might be like, wait a minute, what’s going on! So, parents are able to learn an approach that can really considers the child and there are a social aspect to the classes. The other thing, is infant massage is really important for dads too! And dads are often left out of the loop for a lot of things and their interactions with their babies are often task related, because it’s like: support your wife, or support your partner and do the laundry, bathe the baby and because dads are not naturally equipped or recognized with a lot of the nurturing attributes, having carried the baby for nine months, or however long gestation was and didn’t get all that attention, you know with the blooming belly and all. It’s hard, dad’s often feel left out. What this can do is, even if they incorporate it in a routine, it provides a special dad, or primary male figure, and baby time that is just really focused on them and their relationship. And clinically fathers report feeling more confident and competent in they’re care-giving role and they discover their nurturing selves. It’s like: I am a nurturer! And to think that something so simple is actually affecting the healthy growth and development of my child is like: wow! That is so cool! Totally beyond changing and bathing and dressing! Light years beyond that and important because it’s often associated with the mom, but it doesn’t have to just be with mom.
Ashley: And long term I’m sure it’s just beautiful developing that with baby and father, or baby and male energy so that they are comfortable with that energy as well.
Suzanne: Exactly and it can move beyond the taboo, as far as what if they start developing any real identifiable genitalia, we don’t touch our babies. You know what I mean, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
Ashley: That’s so beautiful. Well, thank you so much Suzanne! I really, really appreciate it!
Suzanne: You’re welcome. I appreciate it too! I mean I hope you can tell I love talking about it! I could talk about it for days.
Ashley: That’s great; it means you’re in the right business, that’s what I know!