New parents will do just about anything to turn their baby’s cries and grimaces into coos and grins. As it turns out, the answer might be right at their fingertips – literally.
Regional One Health is giving Mid-South parents and other caretakers a unique opportunity to learn the art of infant massage. The health care system is the only one locally to offer free infant massage classes as part of its childbirth education program.
Occupational therapists Emily Bunn, MOTR/L, NTMTC and Kalyani Garde, MOTR/L, CIMI developed the class with the support of Jehan Ellis, DNP, RN, CNL, Regional One Health’s childbirth education program coordinator.
Ellis said adding the class to a lineup that also includes courses on general childbirth education, infant safety and first aid, breastfeeding, maternal nutrition and fitness, skills for new dads, and birth facility tours is important because of the many benefits of infant massage.
“It helps relax and stabilize the baby, and it increases bonding,” she said. “It’s great for calming and soothing the baby, so it helps if you have a colicky baby.”
Bunn, who is teaching the class to Mid-South parents, said participants gain valuable skills that help them care for their babies physically and emotionally.
“Massage is something that is beneficial to pretty much everyone on the planet, and that includes babies – and it’s great for bonding between the baby and the caregiver, too,” Bunn said. “It promotes mind, body and emotional connections. It covers all the bases.”
The class covers techniques any caregiver can use, enhancing their confidence and making them less nervous around their newborn.
Participants can attend prior to their baby’s birth or with infants from 3-6 months old, and the class is open to any caregiver authorized by the mom. Massage oil is provided, and participants with infants should bring a thick blanket to place beneath their baby.
Bunn uses dolls to demonstrate basic massage strokes and techniques, and shows how much pressure to use by touching participants’ arms or hands. She also teaches caregivers to respond to their babies’ cues: some “stress signals” are obvious, like crying; more subtle signs can include a baby turning their face away or putting their arm out like a stop signal.
Caregivers can start using massage when their baby is just a few weeks old, and can do it any time. Some families like to develop a routine, like a massage after every diaper change or before bed, but that isn’t necessary for the practice to be beneficial.
Physically, massage can help babies sleep better, eat better and be more alert. For babies who have gas or other digestive woes, tummy massage can stave off discomfort.
Emotionally, the soothing touch helps babies form positive neuro-pathways: “It’s infant mental health,” Bunn said. “It’s more than just massage – touch is crucial for long-term emotional and psychological development; it’s essential for babies to bond with their caregiver.”
Infant massage helps the caregiver too, as they gain confidence and joy in parenting. “Babies do feed off of their caregiver’s energy, and if the caregiver is anxious or nervous, the baby is more likely to be anxious or nervous as well,” Bunn said. “As occupational therapists, we believe in living life to its fullest. This is a way for the baby, mom and whole family to do just that.”
And to do it with love and affection.
“Unfortunately, it’s in our culture to keep babies in a container, and we want to change that,” Garde said. “It’s a myth when people say, ‘Stop holding that baby, you’ll spoil him!’ It’s OK to swaddle them and hold them and cuddle them. They need that feeling of secure attachment that comes from touch. This is the time you want to hold them as much as possible.”