Infant Massage Guide for Parents


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In this e-book, we aim to provide parents with a plain-English summary of the research about infant massage to support you make an informed choice and answer questions like:
Is infant massage something my baby needs?
What is the best and safest way to learn infant massage?
How do I know if information about infant massage is of a “high quality”?

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Infant Massage Guide for Parents

  1. 1. A Plain-English Guide to Infant Massage Research: What Every Parent Should KnowThe International Association of Infant Massage,
  2. 2. A Guide to Infant Massage:What Every Parent Should Know“Infant massage” is more popular than ever amongst both parents and health workers for good reason. Over the pasttwenty years, literally dozens of scientific studies have shown using massage with babies may help with many issues –from promoting better sleep, through to enhancing brain growth and development.The results of these sorts of studies are very exciting to both parents and health workers alike. However (just likechildbirth, breastfeeding, settling a new baby, and many other parenting skills), while infant massage and healthy touchmight be completely natural – they don’t necessarily always come easily to parents. For this reason, you may turn tobooks, videos, the internet, classes and other sources of information to find out how to use massage with a your new littlebaby...and the quality of this information can vary widely.The International Association of Infant Massage, Australia (IAIM) is a not-for-profit charity, dedicated to supportingparents access high-quality information about infant massage. We are part of a global organisation active in over 53countries, the most experienced infant massage organisation in the world, and have the highest level of accreditation andrecognition of any infant massage organisation in Australia.In this e-book, we aim to provide parents with a plain-English summary of the research about infant massage to supportyou make an informed choice and answer questions like: Is infant massage something my baby needs? What is the best and safest way to learn infant massage? How do I know if information about infant massage is of a “high quality”?First though, let’s take a look at why so many people are interested in infant massage and what it actually is... 2
  3. 3. What Every Parent Should Know:There’s Good Reason to be Interested in Infant Massage The benefits of massage and touch for babies has been of interest to medical & health researchers for well-over 25 years. Just a small sample of the most important peer-reviewed studies in this field reveal: Babies whose mothers were depressed, Brain scan studies revealed more Mothers who use lots of gentle touch had better social, emotional and behavioural outcomes when their stunted brain growth in children and stroking with their baby appear to mother’s learned the IAIM infant who had lower levels of touch and reverse the negative impacts of massage program, compared with nurturing during the early years. pre-natal depression on their (Proceedings of the National Academy of babies whose mothers attended a Sciences, 2012) baby’s brain development depression support group only (PLOSOne, 2012) (Journal of Affective Disorders, 2001) High quality touch education for When baby rats are given high-levels mothers was found to improve Infant massage appears to help of touch and massage in infancy, maternal mood, and to reduce key reduce crying, improve baby’s gene expression can be altered and risk factors for development of child sleep-awake patterns, and reduce their brains develop a resistance to abuse levels of toxic stress hormones in opiate addiction later in life (Assn. For Women’s Health, Obstetric & the brain. (Journal of Neuroscience, 2011) Neonatal Nurses, 2012) (Cochrane Library, 2006). Parents Need to Know:  Researchers and health practitioners widely agree that healthy touch, stroking and skin-to-skin contact is crucial for a baby’s early brain, social and emotional development.  Based on all of this research, a lot of claims about the “benefits” of infant massage are made. However, there are many different styles and types of infant massage education and information available.  So, even though the research looks good on the surface, not all infant massage information given parents reflects the research. Knowing how to pick out good quality resources is crucial for parents who want safe and accurate information. 3
  4. 4. What Every Parent Should Know:There are 3 types of Baby Massage Therapy-Based Rule-Based Cue-Based Baby Massage Baby Massage Baby Massage Used to treat physical Applies massage strokes Uses massage, touch and problems or disabilities. using a set of rules. other interactions to enhance parent-baby relationships. A focus on baby’s physical A focus on doing massage A focus on the parent, the condition. strokes and routines correctly. baby, and their relationship. Uses medium pressure Uses medium-to-light Uses deep pressure massage. massage. pressure and other forms of touch depending on baby’s preferences. Massage done by therapist or Massage done by the parent. Massage done by a therapist. parent. Parents Need to Know: Parents Need to Know: Parents Need to Know: Deep pressure can injure babies.  Rule-based baby massage uses  Shows parents how to recognise Carefully check qualifications of one-size-fits all strokes, routines and understand their own baby’s any person offering to “do massage and approaches - regardless of the cues and body language. therapy” on your baby. baby or parent’s unique and  Shows parents how to adapt and Talk to your baby’s Physio or individual needs and preferences. adjust massage and touch in Occupational Therapist first. response to their own baby’s needs. 4
  5. 5. What Every Parent Should Know:I t i s S a f e s t t o L e a r n f r o m A Tr a i n e d P e r s o nIn 2011, Medical Researchers from the University of Warwick conducted a study which comparedthe results of 8 different infant massage programs. The researchers were particularly interested inthe impact of these programs on parent and infant mental health. Parents whose babies Parents whose Some babies and were the same - or a bit babies were a lot parents were better off – had learned better off had learned better-off after baby massage from an baby massage from learning infant instructor who trained in someone trained in rule-based infant cue-based infant massage massage massage Parents whose babies were Some babies and worse off had all learned baby parents were No scientific studies massage from a health have been conducted worse-off after ? professional (nurse, social to determine the safety learning infant worker, etc.) who did not or benefit of using massage/ have any specific training in videos or online baby massage education instructions to learn baby massage.Based on the Evidence, Parents Need to Know: Cue-based programs appear to be supported in the evidence as the best approach to learning infant massage. Reviews of hundred of other studies (1, 2) confirm that doing a program with a health professional who has not been formally trained in that particular program, can actually make things worse. Always carefully check the credentials of someone who is teaching baby massage – even if they are a qualified health professional. 5
  6. 6. What Every Parent Should Know:Yo u a n d Yo u r B a b y B e l o n g To g e t h e rWhile it might seem tempting to hand over the responsibility massage for your baby to someone who“knows all the strokes”, evidence shows there are no specific benefits of having a therapist massage yourbaby. In fact, many studies show that when someone “takes over” from you in this way, it can leave manyparents with less confidence in themselves, which can have serious long-term consequences. Many studies have investigated the different ways A S KILLED AND S AFE health professionals teach baby-care skills (such as baby massage educator will help bathing, feeding, settling, well as keep you and your baby baby massage). These studies consistently find that when a professional or educator ‘jumps in’ to do the baby-care TOGETHER themselves* it can have many by using a negative effects on parents. teaching doll This style of “showing” parents how to do things can often result to demonstrate different ways of in long-term challenges in adapting massage and touch to parent-baby interactions, suit your own little person. development and safety (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Plain and Simple!(*) these studies look at how professionals give information & education to parents, and how this impacts on parents &infant development. This is very different tohaving a trusted family member, friend, neighbour or volunteer help care for your baby when you are feeling tired or overwhelmed – which can be very beneficial!Please see the end of this book for where to get support or help if you need it Based on the Evidence, Parents Need to Know:  Unless otherwise advised by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for a physical condition your baby has; all of the evidence strongly suggests the safest and most effective form of infant massage is done by parents with their own babies.  The safest and most effective way of learning massage is from someone who uses a doll to show you different techniques, rather than from someone who likes to demonstrate directly on your baby. 6
  7. 7. What Every Parent Should Know:Personal Feedback is ImportantSome baby massage programs and information sources only give you limited (or no) interaction with anInstructor. Others focus on getting the strokes “right”. Compared to these sorts programs, there are manystudies showing that getting one-on-one support and feedback about how your baby uses cues and bodylanguage in response to your touch, is the key to getting good results from baby massage programs. Best results are seen when parents are helped by individualised feedback to a baby massage instructor who is parents about their own baby’s cues and signals, helps improve TRAINED IN PARENT-INFANT OBSERVATION & who supports parents adjust massage and touch MENTAL HEALTH & to the individual personality and needs COGNITIVE SKILLS of their own baby (2) for preterm babies (1, 2) In reviews of 100+ studies of parent- baby programs, supporting parents to understand their baby’s signals is a KEY REQUIREMENT for positive infant development outcomes (3, 4)Based on the Evidence, Parents Need to Know: Be a bit cautious of baby massage information that simply tells you to “stop massage if your baby doesn’t like it”. This is not cue-based or evidence-based baby massage because it does not give you direct support you to see how your own, individual baby uses lots of subtle ways to communicate when he or she has had enough. Individualised support, is best given by a qualified Baby Massage Instructor who has been trained in observing and understanding infant cues and in how to adapt touch in response to these cues. 7
  8. 8. What Every Parent Should Know:Timing is Ever ythingYou might already know that baby massage courses can run for anywhere between one and tensessions. And there are dozens of videos claiming to show you how to do baby massage in anything froma few minutes through to an hour. But the research tells us a lot about how many sessions you need togive you the best results. A study looking at baby massage programs which were the most safe & effective f o u n d 5 sessions was the minimum number needed for parents to get the best results. This finding is also supported numerous studies which consistently show that five seems to be the minimum number of sessions needed for most parents & babies to benefit from parent-baby programs. Four or fewer sessions can, in fact, leave families open to more risks or problems (1, 2).Based on the Evidence, Parents Need to Know: An evidence-supported baby massage program will run for at least five face-to-face sessions. Avoid programs that run for four or fewer sessions, as there is some evidence they may leave you open to problems or risks. 8
  9. 9. What Every Parent Should Know: Six is the Magic Number Most of the available research about infant massage education looks at learning infant massage in a group with other parents (rather than by yourself). One major study found there is an ideal group size for baby massage classes. This is one which is small enough to allow you to have lots of individualised support from the instructor, but big enough for you to meet and talk with some other new parents. The s ame study from the War wick University School of Medicine, comparing eight different baby massage programs, also found :Baby massage 6programs with up tosix families attending Eight appeared to be the These “magic numbers”appeared to offer the maximum number of families continue to be consistent in a baby massage group thatbest quality with research findings about had good quality outcomes. 8outcomes for many different sorts offamilies. This wasparticularly true when parent-baby programs (1, 2).parents were dealingwith extra struggles – 9such as having a Once group numbers gotbaby who cried a lot, to nine or more, theor when the parent benefits experienced bywas feeling parents and babies begandepressed. to decrease. Based on the Evidence, Parents Need to Know: Look for a baby massage program which officially limits the maximum number of families attending to between 6 and 8 . 9
  10. 10. What Every Parent Should Know:H o w Yo u & Yo u r B a b y Fe e l M a t t e r s M o s tAs we have seen so far, research studies can (and do) tell us a lot about what makes for “good quality”baby massage education and information for most families, in most situations. These are good sign-poststo look for. However, the best indicator of quality is how you feel about your experience of being taughtbaby massage, and how your own baby responds.  Does the Instructor leave you feeling better about yourself as a parent, and with a greater sense of confidence in your own abilities? Does your baby seem to enjoy the techniques your are being shown? If not, does the instructor work with you individually to find ways of adapting or changing things until you find a way that suits your baby?  Do you feel welcome, respected, valued and listened to by the instructor?Based on Your Own Evidence, Parents Need to Know:Answering “yes” to these questions is an important personal indicator of quality.If you answer “no” to these questions, this may be your instincts (or your baby!) telling you this is not the right sort of infant massage program for you – and you might be need to look elsewhere. 10
  11. 11. What Every Parent Should Know:Let Common Sense PrevailInfant massage education is a form of health care education. And just like any other health or parentingservice you use, you should look for all the typical indicators of quality. Look for a baby massage instructor who is currently registered with a specialist Association of Infant Massage. Check that the organisation they are registered with has: A clear Code of Conduct which its Baby Massage Instructors follow (see an example) Requirements that their baby massage instructors have high-quality training in infant massage (even if they are already a health professional with other qualifications). Requirements that all of its educators keep up to date and participate in Ongoing Professional Development An understandable Complaints Process (see an example). Accreditation and Recognition from, and real partnerships with, other well-known professional health care and parent-support organisationsParents Need to Know: Look for a baby massage instructor who is currently registered with an organisation that has all the “common sense” characteristics of a good health care organisation. 11
  12. 12. What Every Parent Should Know:Finally, It Helps to Get Help Find an IAIM Australia maintains a directory of currently certified infant massage educators who deliver infant infant massage education programs that meet the Association’s high quality standards. massage program The Australian Directory of Current Certified Infant Massage Instructors. ? If you are worried or uncertain about some infant massage information or advice you have Double- been given, seen, read or watched, the International Association of Infant Massage Australia check may be able to advise you what you can do about your concerns. Please contact us on or on (02) 6262 4346 If you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or alone, you can get help: MamaBake Groups meet regularly and provide practical support: “mother-to-mother.” Your local Community Centre, Volunteer Centre or Child Health Nurse may know of a local program where you can get a bit of extra help around the home. Don’t do If your baby was born prematurely or was hospitalised, The Miracle Babies Foundation will it alone provide invaluable support, information, resources and support. Contact Playgroup Australia to see if any playgroups operate in your area. Don’t forget to check with PANDA for local groups in your area supporting parents who are feeling anxious, depressed or just generally a bit low. Listen to Feeling low, depressed or disconnected from your baby does not make you a “bad” parent – how you it just means you might need a bit of extra help at this point in time. Don’t ignore the signs...get in touch with one of the many organisations who can help. PANDA and beyondblue have extensive directories of local services and resources to help you, your & your baby and your family though depression or other low feelings, and to get out the other side. baby are If you feel worried that you might hurt yourself or your baby, or if you just need to talk worth it to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 12
  13. 13. About IAIM AustraliaOur goal at IAIM Australia is very simple: we want to give really good quality supportto parents so they can be confident in using nurturing touch and communication withtheir babies.We believe that when you are supported to use massage, touch, your voice ,movement and many other forms of communication in a way that suits you & yourbaby, the more empowered you will be as a parent to find your own way to give yourbaby a loving, healthy and secure start in life.We support parents by providing high-quality baby massage programs like The FirstTouch Program. We also train health workers, teachers and parents how to deliverthis evidence-based program to families in their communities, neighbourhoods andworkplaces. All our work is underpinned by a core set of values that puts parents andbabies at the centre of everything we do.If you have found this booklet helpful, please do consider... Passing it along or putting it on your website so that others may benefitMaking a tax-deductible donation to IAIM Australia so that we can continue ourlife-changing work with families.Becoming a supporter of IAIM Australia and receiving regular updates, news anddiscounts. IAIM Australia is a registered Children’s Charity, Official Partner to the World Health Organisation Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Program and Full Member of the Mental Health Council of Australia Our vision is that, one day, all children and parents will experience the lifelong benefits that come from having early relationships that are loving, healthy and secure.