I am often asked this question, “So, you invented infant massage?”
Of course, I answer honestly, “No!”
No one in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, or Sweden can be credited with the invention of infant massage. Sure, some people wish to take credit because they share infant massage in their communities and abroad.
The truth is that infant massage has been passed on from culture to culture and is the world’s property.
Yes, I have a method of teaching infant massage that is effective, evidence-based, safe, beneficial, and professionally appropriate.
I may have invented my way of sharing this parenting tradition, but we must remember and honor those from which we borrow the practice of infant massage.
Throughout the world, infants receive different amounts of honor and respect, which aligns directly with the care they receive. In many societies, nurturing and close physical contact is the traditional standard of care. While in other parts of the world, babies cry themselves to sleep. Our attitudes around the treatment of babies have been influenced by those who have come before us. Touch therapy and massage are a valuable part of that continued care tradition.
INFANT MASSAGE AROUND THE WORLD
We can trace touch therapy back thousands of years to various cultures worldwide.
Baby massage is part of regular parenting practices in India, Asia, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific. This practice passes down from generation to generation. Grandmother teaches mother. Mother teaches daughter, and baby receives full benefits of this tradition.
In other parts of the world, massage is practiced for various reasons. For example, in New Zealand, Maori mothers provide massage for their babies in the hopes of straightening their legs and improving their nose shape. Cuban mothers rub their baby’s tummies with a mixture of oil and garlic to cure their tummy aches. Many Samoan families believe massage with coconut milk, flowers, and grassroots may provide the ‘cure” for anything from a baby’s diarrhea to an adult’s headache. While in Nepal, Nepalese infants receive frequent massage. Often this massage takes place outside in the warm rays of the sunlight, with the common practice of using mustard seed oil in Nepal, and in Indonesia, parents often use neem oil.
In China, pediatric and infant massage techniques have been practiced by medical professionals for thousands of years, often under the auspice of a practice known as Tuina. And there has been a long history of Thai massage in Thailand, which utilizes techniques that follow meridians and increase range of motion.
WESTERN-STYLE OF BABY MASSAGE
In many parts of Europe, the United States, and Canada, infant massage gradually gained popularity as a practice to introduce babies to healthy touch and adopt as an ongoing family tradition.
An important distinction with infant massage currently practiced in the Western World:
Certified Infant Massage Teachers (CIMT®) do not provide massage directly for babies. CIMT®s offer classes and lessons to caregivers focused on respect, permission, bonding, and massage techniques. The caregivers utilize these specialized techniques to provide a healthy developmental activity for their children.
Infant massage techniques are only used when a baby is in a “happy” mood to receive touch therapy and always with permission.
Every infant must be a willing participant, and infant massage is never done to a baby but rather together with the baby. Close eye-to-eye contact, verbalization, communication, and watching baby’s cues are vital parts of western infant massage therapy.
Specific benefits increase when the parent massages the baby. Massage therapy practitioners should not focus on providing massage for healthy infants but instead teaching parents to massage their babies.
Trained hands-on professionals should only practice massage for the baby if that child has unique healthcare needs requiring infant massage from a medical professional. Otherwise, the baby’s caregiver is the best massage provider for their child!