Infant Massage (Fourth Edition)

A Handbook for Loving Parents

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Master the techniques of infant massage and incorporate this joyful and wonderful healing art into your baby’s life with this revised and updated edition.

For generations, mothers around the world have known that the soft touch of their hands soothes, calms, and communicates their love to their babies. The latest scientific research confirms that physical affection is vital to the development and wellness of children—easing discomfort, releasing tension, improving sleep, helping premature infants gain weight, even aiding asthmatic children to improve their breathing. Now Vimala McClure, founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, has revised and updated her beloved classic. Inside you’ll find

• specific routines tailored to help relieve colic, fever, and chest and nasal congestion
• easy-to-follow instructions and photographs demonstrating each step
• new information on the benefits of skin-to-skin contact
• instructions for premature infants and babies with special needs
• lullabies, rhymes, and games to enhance the massage experience
• a special chapter dedicated to fathers
• compassionate advice for foster and adoptive parents

Praise for Infant Massage

“Speaking as a pediatrician, the best advice I can give you is to try the techniques described in this book.”–Stephen Berman, M.D., F.A.A.P., former president,  American Academy of Pediatrics

“What a brilliant way to love and nurture a child! The first connection between parent and child is physical, through the body; by using the techniques Vimala McClure has developed, your parental relationship will be off to a magnificent start.”—Judy Ford, author of Wonderful Ways to Love a Child

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Infant Massage (Fourth Edition)

Chapter 1

Why Massage Your Baby?

Being touched and caressed,

being massaged,

is food for the infant.

Food as necessary

as minerals, vitamins, and proteins.

—Dr. Frédérick Leboyer

An Age-Old Tradition

A young mother gently cradles her baby in her lap as the afternoon sun streams through cracks in the wooden door. For the second time that day, she carefully removes the tiny cap and begins to unwrap the swaddling bands of soft white linen and wool.

Freed from his snug encasement, the baby kicks and waves his little arms, listening to the now-familiar swish-swish of the warm oil in his mother’s hands and the comforting sound of her balmy lullaby. So begins his twice-daily massage. The scene is in a Jewish shtetl, one of the small enclaves in Poland in the early nineteenth century, but we could be anywhere in the world, in any century, for it is a familiar tableau of motherhood in every culture throughout the ages.

From the Eskimos of the Canadian Arctic to the Ganda of East Africa, from South India to Northern Ireland, in Russia, China, Sweden, and South America, in South Sea Islands huts and modern American homes, babies are lovingly massaged, caressed, and crooned to every day. Mothers all over the world know their babies need to be held, carried, rocked, and touched. The gentle art of infant massage has been part of baby caregiving traditions passed from parent to child for generations. Asked why, each culture would provide different answers. Most would simply say, “It is our custom.”

Many of the family customs of our ancestors, turned aside in the early twentieth century in the interest of “progress,” are returning to our lives as modern science rediscovers their importance and their contribution to our infants’ well-being and that of whole communities. Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that in societies where infants are held, massaged, rocked, breastfed, and carried, adults are less aggressive and violent, more cooperative and compassionate. Our great-great-grandmothers would stand up and utter a great “I told you so!” were they to observe our “new” discoveries in infant care.

Before your baby is born, you may envision yourself calmly and blissfully being a parent, or you may be terrified that you don’t know what to do with this new human depending on you for its very existence. It is fairly easy now, with the Internet, to read a lot about infants—what they need, what they don’t need, how to provide the best environment for them, how to respond to their cries and fusses, and so on.

Scientific research has blossomed over the past decades, and many of the parenting styles of our grandparents’ day have been proven to be almost barbaric. Figure out how to both take care of yourself and provide your infant with the love, attention, and healthy environment that she desperately needs. Those who say, “Well, I turned out all right! The way my parents did it will work for me,” don’t recognize the many problems and the physical, mental, and emotional health risks they faced or will face because of how they were raised.

If you can be firmly rooted in who you are, you will find that you can intuit the right decisions as you live with your baby. You will make mistakes, but as you relax, slow down, empower yourself with good information, and have confidence in who you are, you can correct your course as you go along. In this way, no permanent damage is done. Your child responds to you “being yourself.” Trying to parent in some way that isn’t coming from your deepest principles is confusing for your child, and damaging in the long term.

Only you can decide, according to what feels best to you, whether you give birth at home or in a hospital or birthing center, choose to immunize or not, breastfeed or not; whether your children wear exclusively natural fibers or not; whether or not you choose day care; how you discipline and communicate with a toddler; and so on. After doing your own research about the issues, make your decisions from a deep inner place that makes you feel like a good parent, instead of simply going with what your parents tell you or with the current cultural flow.

Over and over again, it has been shown that the current cultural flow is often wrong. At one time it was common and accepted to give babies opium to keep them quiet. At one time mothers were told to wear masks and not to breathe on their babies or breastfeed them for fear of “contaminating” them. At one time parents were told not to respond to infants’ cries for fear of “spoiling” them. At one time it was widely believed that babies didn’t feel pain and that they could not see or hear in the womb or for the first weeks of life. Take the experts with a grain of salt, and listen to your own heart about what is right for you and your family.

Both for babies and parents, the benefits of infant massage are more far-reaching than may at first be obvious. For infants, massage is much more than a luxurious sensual experience. It is a tool for maintaining the child’s health and well-being on many levels.

For parents, it is vital to feeling secure in your own ability to do something positive for—and get a positive response from—this squealing bit of newborn humanity suddenly and urgently put in your charge. It is not a therapy that you do to your baby; it is a deep communicative art that you do with your baby.

Can Babies Be Spoiled with Love and Attention?

Research can help us understand why traditional practices are so important. Knowing why, we are less quick to cast adrift customs that can deeply enrich our lives. Our concern about raising “spoiled” children comes from an earlier time when behaviorists, after discovering behavioral conditioning, thought that we could condition our babies to behave like little adults by ignoring their cries and not offering too much affection.

That approach eventually became popular again. (Fads swing like a pendulum from one extreme to another, and parenting advice is not immune to this phenomenon.) Popular baby care programs used to advise parents to put babies on rigid schedules, allow them to “cry it out” alone, and punish them for behavior that was not convenient for parents. The leaders of these movements also managed to convince parents that they damaged their infant’s metabolism by breastfeeding on demand (despite all research to the contrary) and created spoiled, selfish children if parents responded to their needs and comforted them when they cried. Parents were admonished never to allow their infants to sleep with them, for they could easily kill them (again, despite all research to the contrary). These ideas represent a swing away from the natural parenting practices that had gained momentum in the 1970s and achieved recognition from pediatricians as healthy and normal by the 1990s. Here is a more practical and research-verified approach:

•In order to become well-adjusted, kind, empathic adults, babies require a lot of attention, affection, and response to their needs.

•Breastfeeding on demand, breast milk in a bottle, and bottle-feeding that emulates breastfeeding as closely as possible are essential to a baby’s physical, mental, and emotional health as well as to continual bonding with parents.

•Cosleeping can easily be made completely safe if parents learn appropriate ways to make it happen.

Proof abounds that babies who are neglected and punished suffer bonding breaks and, without intervention, often grow up to be troubled if not antisocial or sociopathic, individuals. Since the mid-1970s, working with parents to bond more deeply with their infants, respect them, learn their nonverbal “language,” and respond to them with love, I have received countless letters from parents saying infant massage changed their entire life as a family, and their children turned out to be lively, creative, inquisitive, secure, intelligent, social, loving, humanitarian human beings. I had this experience with my own two kids, now amazing adults; my own “laboratory” proved to me that my research and ideas are correct. Authoritarian advisers neglect to mention that parents all over the world have naturally responded with love to their babies, breastfed on demand, slept in “family beds,” and carried infants in various types of slings for millennia—and that if you read the biographies of terrorists, serial killers, and cruel dictators, you will invariably find neglect or authoritarian treatment in childhood.

Infant massage, as it is shared in this book, 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. Rather than growing up selfish and demanding (though all kids go through such stages), a child whose voice is heard, whose heart is full, and who is enve loped in love overflows with that love and naturally, unselfconsciously gives of himself to others. He learns what healthy, respectful touch is by being touched that way. She learns self-discipline by watching her parents and imitating them. He has little to rebel against because there is no festering resentment of parents’ authoritarian or autocratic, unpredictable rules and punishments. The deep emotional bonds formed in infancy lay a foundation for a lifetime of trust, courage, dependability, faith, and love.

Infant massage is not just for parents who embrace a certain lifestyle. Whether your baby sleeps with you or in her own room, is breast- or bottle-fed, is weaned early or late—all these decisions are up to you. Massaging your baby simply communicates love, releases tension, and helps you better understand your baby’s needs. The fact that it is fun is a wonderful added benefit!

After more than fifty years of intensive research, it has become obvious that, as with fruit, neglect rather than attention spoils a child. “I’d gotten so much pressure about spoiling the baby, even before she was born,” says Judith, mother of three-year-old Kelsey. “But I felt differently inside. The information about the benefits of infant massage gave me permission to be the kind of mother I want to be and the research to back me up when I am contradicted.” When we know why our caress is so important to our babies, we are more likely to follow our intuition, to relax, and to give way to our natural inclinations.

Chapter 2

Your Baby’s Sensory World

Two little eyes to look around,

Two little ears to hear a sound,

One little nose to smell what’s sweet,

One little mouth that likes to eat.

—Traditional nursery rhyme

A Baby’s Senses Develop in Sequence

An infant’s senses develop in sequence: first the proximity senses (those that need the nearness of some object to operate effectively), and then the distance senses (those that help the baby perceive things that are farther away). Of the proximity senses, the first and most important is touch.

Touch and Movement

The sense of touch has been detected in human embryos less than eight weeks old. Though the baby is less than an inch long and has no eyes or ears, her skin sensitivity is already highly developed. A fetus will pull away from an object that touches its face at eight weeks; by fourteen weeks, the infant can feel with most of his body. Her neural pathways for pain are fully developed at twenty-six weeks—indeed, premature infants born around this age have responded to painful stimuli. Medical scientists have recorded chemical stress reactions to potentially painful touches, such as that of a needle during amniocentesis, as early as twenty-three weeks, although they debate whether the baby can feel pain at this stage.

Nature begins the baby’s massage long before she is born. First she rocks and floats, then slowly her world surrounds her ever more closely. The gentle caress of the womb becomes stronger, gradually becoming the contractions that rhythmically squeeze and push, providing massive stimulation to the infant’s skin and organ systems. For babies birthed by Cesarean section, infant massage becomes an important way to stimulate the skin and organ systems.

Infants are accustomed to the tactile stimulation of constant movement, and they need the reestablishment of those rhythms after birth. In two studies, mothers in one group were asked to carry their infants not only during feeding or crying but for extra periods of time each day, in a soft front pack. These infants were compared with infants who were held and carried normally. At six weeks, the infants who received the extra touching and movement cried half as much as the others. Today kangaroo care is a common practice in hospital nurseries because of its beneficial effects on premature infants’ physiological, social-emotional, and psychological health. Similarly, premature babies often receive massage as part of their care, now that Dr. Tiffany Field’s studies have proven its remarkable impact on growth and development. More about this in Chapter 16.

Not only do newborns have a well-developed sense of touch, but this sense is vital to their survival. Many infants institutionalized in the United States in the early 1900s, and more recently babies in orphanages in Romania, died from what is now called failure to thrive. The cause of their death was not unsanitary conditions or lack of nutrition but the absence of human contact. Infants who survive their first six months but whose mothers fail to provide adequate touch fail to grow properly, researchers reported in 1994 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Your baby’s skin is her largest organ. More of her body is devoted to the sense of touch than to any other sense. Touching your baby, whether to feed, bathe, and change her or to cuddle, massage, and play with her, not only helps her grow but may also release endorphins, which make her happy, reduce pain, and heighten her other senses. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, infant massage may help strengthen your baby’s immune system, improve her digestive and nervous systems, increase her muscle tone, and allow her to sleep more.

A May 2012 report from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews states that newborns who had early skin-to-skin contact were warmer, cried less, interacted with their mothers more, and had greater levels of mother-infant attachment than babies who did not have this contact.

Taste and Smell

Other proximity senses are taste and smell, both of which are connected with touch and are significant to the newborn. A baby only five days old can differentiate her mother’s smell and the taste of her milk from that of another mother. Infants, too, have special “chemical signatures” that their mothers are able to detect. Research shows that many mothers can pick out their infants’ garments by scent alone after only two hours of exposure to their newborns.

- About the author -

For more than thirty years, Vimala McClure has worked with parents and babies using the ancient practice of infant massage to help create warm, intuitive bonds of love in families. She is the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage and the author of Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, The Tao of Motherhood, A Woman’s Guide to Tantra Yoga, and The Path of Parenting.

More from Vimala McClure

Infant Massage (Fourth Edition)

A Handbook for Loving Parents


Infant Massage (Fourth Edition)

— Published by Bantam —