Infant Massage

Posted on January 19th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

Infant Massage


Denise Koonce OTR

Infant massage has a long history in mother infant relationships dating back to ancient India, China and the Pacific Island cultures.  It was part of the infant care routine whether at bath time or before feeding.  It was considered to be healthy not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally.

Infant massage was formally introduced to the United States in 1978 by Vimala Schneider McClure, a yoga practitioner who served and spent time in a Northern India orphanage.  She observed a difference between the preterm infants who received massage and those who did not.   In 1986, she founded the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM).  This non-profit organization is now in 45 countries around the world educating and training families on infant massage in their own culture.

During the pregnancy of my daughter and upon a recommendation of my obstetrician, I began to receive pregnancy massages in my last term.  The same therapist who provided relief through her gifted hands also had training and experience in infant massage. Not only could she provide infant massage but she was certified to provide education, instruction and training to other massage therapists.   After my daughter was born an opportunity arrived where she invited my daughter and me to be the demonstration clients for a therapist training workshop on infant massage.  My daughter was a few weeks old but awake and alert enough to respond to a designated touch therefore providing me with precious feedback.   She was engaged both with her eyes and with her mouth through sounds and smiles.  In addition, I noted during the process of the massage she demonstrated a couple very deep breaths with a relaxing exhalation.   We enjoyed the process of learning, the act of giving and receiving together, which mothers and their infants share.   That early learning provided me with a foundation that I have continued throughout her life and still provide massages to her for various reasons.

Not everyone in the medical community agrees with all the stated benefits of infant massage.  However, research conducted in 1990 had positive confirmed results on premature infants with and without cocaine exposure en utero.   The research showed that the infants who received massage had a faster weight gain, higher neonatal assessment scores and decreased stress reactions.  More research is needed to continue to confirm the benefits and efficacy of infant massage; however, there is enough research to conclude the following:

Some areas in which experts suggest infants will benefit, including the Mayo Clinic, are

Parent child bonding and interaction between parent and baby

Relaxation and sleep

Positively affect infant hormones that control stress


Some areas with ongoing research to confirm the benefits are

Relief from gas buildup and colic

Improved Feeding and Digestion

Improved Weight Gain in the Premature Infant Population

Getting started is very easy and justifiable if only for the agreed upon benefits within the medical community.  If additional positive outcomes occur, consider them just “icing on the cake.”  Below are some the basic areas to think about prior to taking a class on infant massage.

Precautions -Caution should be used when performing infant massage and a very delicate touch used when performing the massage techniques.  If your infant was born premature you should wait until they are at least 32 weeks gestation and medically stable.  It is good to confirm with your child’s physician when it’s safe to begin massage especially on the premature population.

Side Effects -No known adverse side effects if performed within correct criteria.

Preparations – research shows that a vegetable oil should be used instead of mineral oil and it should be warmed in the caregivers hands prior to applying to the infant.  The environment should be warm and have subtle light.  The infant can be wrapped or draped in their blanket in order to maintain body temperature and if necessary the massage can be performed through the blanket in order to prevent the infant from becoming cold.

If you are interested in learning more on the benefits of infant massage or in taking a class on infant massage visit the International Institute of Infant Massage for a class in your area.  You will appreciate the benefits both you and your infant will receive, just as my daughter and I have appreciated them.  Please share with us your experiences both professionally and personally from the use of infant massage.

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