Infant massage is one of the most rewarding ways to bond with your baby. This time-honored technique helps soothe and relax babies while helping parents become more confident in understanding their child's needs. Infant massage also has numerous physical benefits for babies, from alleviating colic to promoting better sleep to boosting the immune system.
We talked to Linda Storm, a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM), and a trainer with Infant Massage USA® and the International Association of Infant Massage Headquartered in Sweden. Linda, who lives in Virginia, has been teaching parents to massage babies since 1999. She is the former executive director of Infant Massage USA®.
What are some of the benefits of infant massage?
Infant massage helps you get to know your baby on a much deeper level and allows you to develop a lasting bond. The benefits include healthy weight gain and healing for premature infants, relaxation, improving sleep patterns, relieving gas pains, building self-esteem, and helping a child develop and learn.
How do babies learn through infant massage?
Babies should be massaged in their "quiet alert" state when they are awake, calm, and peaceful. This quiet alert is a learning state, and research has shown that when parents do infant massage, babies will remain in that learning state even longer. From infant massage, babies learn how to self-regulate and self-soothe, and they become more confident because their relationship with their parent is strong and secure. Infant massage helps a baby build self-esteem as well and develop neuro-pathways to help them do better in school down the road.
How do I massage my baby?
It's important to note that massage is done with the baby and not to the baby. Before you begin, ask your baby, ‘May I give you a massage?' Start by giving your baby a massage with the legs and feet during a diaper change. This approach works and feels less invasive because babies are used to having their diapers changed. You can then move up to the tummy, chest, and arms.
How does infant massage help parents become more confident?
You learn so much about your baby through infant massage. Infant massage can help parents observe cues, for example, before a baby starts to cry. The parent then knows they have the power to help their baby, and the baby feels trust, knowing their parent will be there.
It's all about connection, really. Only 10 percent of language is words, and 25 percent is utterances. When you give a parent the knowledge that 65 percent of communication is body language, they really start watching their baby and looking for cues. This empowers parents to be confident in their role.
How does a parent effectively learn about infant massage?
Take a class to learn the foundation of infant massage so a Certified Educator can help you better understand your baby's cues. Of course, you don't have to take a class, but the beauty of coming to a class is that it helps the parent meet other peers and find support.
Can parents transition and continue infant massage as babies get into their toddler and preschool years?
Yes! Touch memory can bring a parent and child back to the beginning and reinforce that bond. Children also learn appropriate touch, when to say no, and when to stop touching someone else. Continuing massage beyond the baby years creates body awareness and body ownership for a child.
You decided that you wanted to become an infant massage instructor in the 1990s after reading an article about infant massage in The Washington Post. What was it about infant massage that first appealed to you?
The reason I love infant massage so much is because it was something I did with my own children, and it was something my parents did. It's part of our family tradition. When I read The Washington Post article, I was working in a preschool and I began to realize that if we want kids to be better in school, then where do we start? It starts early. Not at age 3, but earlier—even in utero. It's all about relationships and nurturing those relationships. Honestly, everything I've learned I had learned by the time I was in kindergarten.
Are there any misconceptions about infant massage?
Parents often don't understand the benefit. They think it's a luxury and they don't have the time or money to do it. You don't have to do it for an hour. It's just about finding ways to work it into your day, like during diaper changes.
You've dedicated many years of your life to infant massage. What do you hope to accomplish through your work?
I really want to get more parents to understand infant massage and want it for their baby. I want to create that demand.
Do the benefits of infant massage extend beyond the parent and child?
Infant massage can also benefit society as a whole, and infant massage can really snowball for the betterment of our communities. Investing in an infant massage class will help parents feel more confident and help deepen their relationship with their baby. How does that help society? Being school-ready helps and contributes to society. So does a society with individuals who feel self-esteem and trust. We're building the next generation and we're trying to reach those parents who may not have the best modeling along the way so we can make a positive change.