Infant Massage – The Power is in our Hands
LMT, CEIM, Director & Educator of the Family Massage Education Center in Ashland, Oregon
JoAnn Lewis is a mother and grandmother. She has a teaching degree, is a licensed massage therapist, a certified educator of infant massage for parents and their babies, and an IAIM Trainer of infant massage instructors. She is also the owner and director of the Family Massage Education Center in Ashland, Oregon.
JoAnn: Yes, I do. I had a little boy who was an emergency cesarean birth, and he was very colicky. We tried everything, from gripe waters to medicines, driving around, walking around. But whatever we tried, it would soothe him for ten minutes at most and then he was crying again. When a midwife showed me the stomach strokes of infant massage, he began to improve! Day by day, as he got better and better, I felt incredible relief. I wondered: Why hadn’t the doctor shown me this? Why didn’t everybody know this?
I wanted to know more, so I went to massage school, received training from the International Association of Infant Massage program, and became a trainer with that same association. Today, we have sixty trainers teaching in over fifty countries!
This is what I learned: as a culture, we have forgotten how to touch with true permission and respect. There is a lot of fear regarding touch. Many of us actually crave to experience what respectful touching looks and feels like. Optimally, everyone could benefit in knowing how to speak the language of touch. We can do so much for each other through the power that is in our hands, directly, without fear, without holding back, but also with respect, with permission.
This is why I opened the Family Massage Education Center. We’re teaching parent and baby classes, pregnant partner classes, couples classes, and singles classes – ongoing, every day of the week.
Hilary: Do you have other examples of benefits for babies?
JoAnn: My best example is a family who took the training with their last two of seven children. The father had been away for two tours in Afghanistan. He had missed a lot, and he needed that bonding.
Five years later, the mother told me, “You know, JoAnn, my two younger children are just different people. At first, I thought it was because they were the youngest. But then I realized, they are the first to adapt to any situation. They are the first ones to come and help. They are the first to ask permission. They are sensitive and can read the cues of other people, just like we do in infant massage. And I know why. It’s because of the infant massage.”
Hilary: Are you saying that when babies experience respectful touch themselves, that this respectful behavior becomes part of their personality?
Oh yes. The baby’s nervous system learns by absorbing the patterns of the caregivers. If the baby’s earliest experience includes daily sessions of respectful, communicative touching, think what that means!
We know that when people are more connected, as parents and children during massage, we are better adjusted, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. Add to that the benefits of right-left brain integration with massage, (touch and movement that crosses over the midline of the body, so that the brain is activated to integrate its left and right sides), and you’ll see a beautiful development of personality and a more stable individual.
When you start looking at the scientific research, it’s amazing. Take this example: Babies who are born prematurely have 49% more weight gain per day just by getting physical touch from their parents, 10-15 minutes, 2 -3 times a day. They go home in half the time. It’s a huge dollar saving to parents and hospitals. And think, what if we took that idea and transferred it to the so-called “normal” family? Wouldn’t they be going to the emergency room less often? Wouldn’t they be healthier, smarter, and happier people?
Hilary: JoAnn, if you could speak directly to the readers of my book, what would you like to say?
JoAnn: Keep touching! Touch is the first language, and massage is the extension of that.
Think about the film Babies. It followed the first year of four babies from different parts of the world. While the film doesn’t show it directly, clearly, the babies from Africa and Mongolia have received infant massage. You don’t get such exquisite muscle tone from genetics alone, or the ability to balance a cup on your head as you begin walking. That’s normally the result of lots of stimulation and right-left brain integration through infant massage.
And if a mother is breastfeeding, massage activates the baby’s food absorption hormones to be able to absorb that food well, absorb all the nutrients out of it, to build a stronger body.
And just think if we massage babies who, for whatever reason, are not breastfed. It would be so much better. Because there are circumstances beyond choice, beyond control, where babies are bottle fed, but we still have the power in our hands to communicate, bond, and support our child’s overall development, health and immunity with our loving, respectful touch.
Also, I would like to say that a lot of people have problems touching and bonding if they’ve not had it themselves in their own past, or if they were neglected or abused. . . and infant massage, and massage for anyone, can be a chance to heal those kinds of scars.
We actually teach infant massage at most of the military bases now. It turns out that the highest rate of suicide in the military is for returnees who miss the birth of a child. The purpose of infant massage at the military base is to get that skin-on-skin bonding time, that closeness, that communication going from the very beginning when the father returns. They teach baby carrying techniques to get the dads doing skin-on-skin, wearing their babies, and doing the baby massage right away. Now, Dad is part of the family again. He is back in the fold. Remember to keep touching with love, permission and respect! Let’s make a better world for the next generation with massage for everyone.