Let's talk Baby Massage

I decided to talk about baby massages this week because I sincerely think that they bring something special to our relationship with our children and also, we just don’t know enough about the topic. I started early giving massages to my baby and I noticed right away a positive response from her. Most of the time, she was calm, was looking in my eyes and was smiling… I use the past tense because since a few months ago she moves way too much to appreciate it, maybe I will start again when she is a bit older.

Babies need touch and a feeling of connection to learn and develop. I know that every parent touch their kids everyday but I think massaging them lets us take the time to feel closer and just slow down everything for a moment in our busy lives.

Rikki Fontaine is a certified instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM). She is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Social Work. She works at the Max Rady Faculty of Sciences at the Manitoba University as the Confidential Intake and Triage Specialist. I met her to talk about the benefit of baby massages.

Where does IAIM baby massages comes from?

IAIM baby massages were created by Vimala McLure in 1976. She was inspired during the time she spent working in an orphanage in India after witnessing indian mothers giving massages to their babies in the street. IAIM offers its courses all over the world. It is managed by a board of directors which includes people from different origins and professions like nurses, pediatricians, social workers, and more. What hit me most during my training is that all of the decisions made by IAIM needs to be approved by the board, that means that the content of the program is easily adaptable to many cultures.

What are the advantages?

The advantages of massaging your baby are numerous, not only for babies but also for the parents/guardians. Massages help reinforce the attachment bond between parent/guardian and baby. When babies feel secured, they can better explore the world around them and it helps their development. Other advantages for babies is that massages gives them the opportunity to interact with their parent/guardian or with other babies. Massages can also help them sleep better, reduce the effects of colics, and decreases constipation. It can also help with their flexibility and reduce muscular pains. It is also great to stimulate babies and help them relax and feel relieved. We know that when our baby is content and comfortable, there is less stress and it helps us appreciate better our role as a parent. The benefits don’t stop there when you think that the wellbeing of families affects society in general.

Can you briefly talk about the massage techniques?

The massage techniques for babies are present in India since many generations and these specific techniques inspired the IAIM program. This type of massage helps with the circulation of the blood, especially to the extremities. The creator was also inspired by Swedish massages, that has the goal of bringing the blood to the heart. There are also other inspirations like yoga and reflexology.

When is it the best moment to start massaging babies (what ages)?

IAIM program is destined for newborns up to one year olds. If the baby doesn’t have any complications, and under a health professional’s recommendation, you can even massage your premature baby. However, a positive touch is encouraged at any age with the permission of the child.

How will I know if my baby likes it or not?

One of the first thing we discuss with the parents/guardians is that we should never give a massage to a crying baby. Crying is one of the main ways babies communicate their needs. At every session, we make sure to revue every technique learned at the last class because we know that every baby won’t want to be massaged every single session. There is a relaxed atmosphere and we encourage parents/guardians to take things as they come. We know that it is the parents/guardians that knows their babies the best and only they will know what they like and dislike.

Signs that babies are receptive to the massage are that they have open eyes and are alert, they look at their parent/guardian and they smile, they make little happy sounds, they laugh and their bodies are relaxed with an open posture. Babies do not have to show all the signs, we just have to make an informed decision about the receptiveness of baby to the massage.

On the contrary, to know if it is not a good time to offer the massage, we need to observe if their eyes are closed, if they yaun or looks like they are going to fall asleep. Also, if they make sudden movements with their arms and legs, if they make funny faces, if they avoid eye contact or try to escape and curb their backs.

What time of the day is it best to offer the massage?

The best time depends on many things. We suggest a calm moment and being able to avoid distractions, like turning off cell phones and television and making sure that we are giving all of our attention to our child in order to have quality time together. It can be in the morning, after their nap or after bath, it does not matter. The important thing is that parents/guardians are in a good state of mind and that baby is receptive to the massage.

And for how long should the massage last?

IAIM recommend up to 30 minutes. Although, it is important to listen to yourself and to your baby, if our commitment diminishes during the session or if our baby gives us signs that he is not receptive anymore, we need to stop. This will help build a trusting relationship between the parent/guardian and the baby.

What type of oil should we use?

IAIM recommend using any vegetable based oil so our babies’ body can more easily metabolize it. Products with a base of petroleum like most of the popular brands (Johnson and Johnson) are not recommended.

If you are interested in taking a baby massage course, I can offer sessions in english and french depending on the demands. I believe in all the great advantages for the babies and also for their parents/guardians and this program is close to my heart. Also, an organization that offers the course in french for free is Pluri-elles, inc. In a society like ours, one that is more and more dependant on technology, I think that there is a lack of connection by positive touch and that a simple practice like this one can be very powerful to raise healthy children.

Most of the questions were answered with the help of the information presented in the IAIM instructor manual.