Infant massage is a mixture of complementary and alternative treatment that uses massage therapy for human infants. This therapy has been practiced globally and has been increasingly used in Western countries as a treatment for infants, though the scientific evidence supporting its use is growing. Research in pre-term infants and low birth weight infants has found evidence that massage improves weight gain, increases bone density, reduces cortisol, may shorten the hospital stay and improves cognitive and motor development in later months. As research continues, infant massage has become more available in hospitals. Also, studies have shown that massage performed on full-term infants is very beneficial to both infant and parents. It can be used as a means to bond with the infant for both mother and father.
Touch is the first and most vital sensory experience for a baby. A nurturing touch can impact on the way a baby will grow to think, feel and relate to others
Ayurvedic medicine in ancient India taught the use of infant massage. It was also encouraged in China during the Qing dynasty. At present it is part of traditional childcare in South Asia and elsewhere where daily massage by mothers is seen as "instilling fearlessness, hardening bone structure, enhancing movement and limb coordination, and increasing weight" Other areas where infant massage is regularly used are African countries and areas in the former Soviet Union. In Western culture, infant massage has been increasingly used in neonatal intensive care units for pre-term infants who are in stressful environments and have limited tactile stimulation.
Reviews of the literature have found no significant risks for adverse events with massage theory with either full term or pre-term infants. One study found that the use of certain oils in traditional societies such as mustard oil or olive oil might adversely affect pre-term new-born skin barrier function, while other oils that are Linoleate-enriched such as sunflower seed oil may improve them.
There are many benefits for both the baby and for the mother or father. Each child's experience will be unique to that child. Your child may experience all or some of the following benefits:
Developing the baby’s first language – Sensation of touch.
- Encourages and develops bonding and interaction
- Enhances the baby's feeling of being loved, secure, safe, and respected
- Helps growth and development
- Enhances movement and limb coordination
- Helps relieve discomfort from gas, constipation, and colic
- Strengthens the digestive, respiratory and immune systems
- Balances the nervous system
- Strengthens joints and joint movement
- Promotes relaxation and aids sleep patterns
- Develops the baby’s body-mind awareness and co-ordination
- Best of all its fun
Side benefits are also experienced by the parent preforming the massage, these include but are not limited to:
- Helps postnatal depression
- Increases the bonding between parent and baby
- Gains self confidence in handling a baby
- Decreases stress hormones
- Learning about baby’s body and baby’s development
- Growing understanding and awareness of baby’s needs and development