Awhile back, I took an infant massage course with certified infant massage (IM) instructor and physical therapist Esther Perl. Now infant massage is my favorite activity to do with both my kids! Aside from the obvious fact that baby skin is simply delicious, here’s why I love it:
For Baby (& Mommy)
Communication: Massage gives us a few minutes to strengthen our back and forth communication. Babies are always “talking” to us, and not only by crying. We just need to tune in. When massaging my baby I learned to notice and respond to his subtle cues. He coos, smiles and relaxes his body when he enjoys something and looks away, stiffens a limb or arches his back when he’s had enough. Initiating and responding to non-verbal communication is a vital social skill that starts developing in infancy.
Tactile Processing: The touch and deep pressure of massage strokes activate receptors in the skin that help regulate the tactile system. The tactile system plays an important role in accurately interpreting information from the environment and in developing body awareness.
Body Awareness: Pairing the massage of each body part with language (i.e. Singing “this is the way we massage the tummy, massage the tummy…”) heightens body awareness on the cognitive level well as sub-cortically. Accurate interpretation of information from the environment together with body awareness sets the stage for precise motor control.
I watch in amazement as my baby gets used to different types of touch and learns more about his body from week to week. Now, when I complete a leg massage, a little foot wiggles in my face asking for its turn!
Calming and Organizing: A gentle voice, even strokes and deep pressure are relaxing and organizing for a baby. Babies crave calming input, especially after an eventful day of experiencing new sights, sounds and movements.
For Preschooler (& Mommy)
A Bedtime Miracle: The first time I tried IM on my preschooler, she fell asleep within 5 minutes instead of the usual one hour to fall asleep, so I considered this pretty miraculous. While this level of drama has yet to repeat itself, bedtime has become a calmer more special time, and less of a power struggle. Just the mention of massage during her bedtime routine gets my daughter relaxed.
Bonding: Preschoolers often test the limits, sometimes all day long. No matter how many battles have ensued, my daughter and I get to bond and appreciate each other during massage. It’s a great opportunity to calmly talk about the day and whatever else is on her three-year-old mind.
Decreasing Tactile Defensiveness: As mentioned previously, deep pressure helps to regulate the tactile system. Children who are hypersensitive to touch, avoid proximity to other children and resist clothing textures, tags and seams are more comfortable when they are massaged regularly.
Written by Ariela Harcsztark OTR/L