4 Benefits of Infant Massage Therapy

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(Photo: iStock)

There’s nothing better than a massage to loosen up those tense muscles from a long, hard day. But if you think you’re the only one who benefits from the luxury of massages, think again.

Researchers at the University of Warwick discovered infant massages known as a series of strokes provided by a parent or caregiver are not only an ideal way to show love and attention to your baby, but an incredibly efficient method in helping them with their physical development.

Licensed clinical social worker, Laura Guzzi of the Women’s Health Center at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Carmel, Indiana says baby massages are an ideal way to promote family bonding, while allowing parents to feel more confident in the care they provide.

“Babies communicate with us long before they develop language skills,” she says. “Massage offers an opportunity to better understand the cues our baby is providing.

While it’s an easy-to-learn tool parents can use to enhance their relationship with their child long after infancy, Guzzi says babies receive a slew of long-lasting physical benefits from infant massages.

Improved sleep patterns
As evidenced in the University of Warwick study, researchers claimed massage was able to affect the release of the hormone melatonin, which we all know by now is an important element to a good night’s sleep.

Guzzi shares in that knowledge and adds that massage promotes a sort of calm, which helps babies learn to self-regulate, which in turn helps reduce their crying. Because massage helps them sleep more soundly and deeply, their sleep pattern becomes further regulated as a result.

Increased weight gain
With approximately 14 percent of infants in the United States born prematurely, a study in the journal, Infant Behavior and Development suggests moderate pressure massage can lead to weight gain in preterm infants. Since weight is an essential criteria at birth, researchers conclude massage therapy as an effective way for preterm infants to gain weight and increase their bone density.

“Research shows that massage can enhance the release of hormones in the body, including the growth hormone,” Guzzi says.

Because massage can relieve the pain of colic or constipation, Guzzi reveals massage therapy is an effective way for babies to put on a few more pounds as it boils down to comfort.

“[Those] who are more comfortable are better able to gain weight and their bodies are able to better absorb the nutrition they receive,” she says.

Reduction of stress
We don’t think about it as much as we should, but babies are definitely experiencing stress every day because it’s not just their bodies that are maturing rapidly — it’s their brains too.

“They are working to organize the information received through their senses, particularly touch, vision and hearing,” she says. “Massage provides stimulation to all of these senses in a calm nurturing environment.”

Additionally, Guzzi reveals how massage therapy helps stimulate the body’s endorphins, which helps promote an overall sense of ease we often experience when we’re calm or relaxed.

Help develop mentally and socially
Guzzi is a firm believer in the benefits of massage therapy on both a baby’s mental and physical development.

“Being able to approach the world from an environment that feels comfortable and calm encourages babies to feel safe in exploring the world around them,” she says.

As she adds most importantly, we must always ask permission of a child before offering massage, then follow the baby’s cues, and stop when they are ready to stop.

“As they grow, they have the confidence to interact with others, knowing they have a comfortable place to return,” she says. “Children who learn how to soothe themselves have a great advantage living in a world of constant stimulation.”

When is the best time of day to massage our babies?
While it might boil down to your schedule and the balance in your home environment from feeding to bath time, Guzzi says babies can benefit from a massage at any time of the day.

“Many parents choose to offer massage before bed or nap time, as it is a wonderful tool to help babies relax and prepare [them] for sleep.”

No matter what time during the day you choose though, it goes without saying that infant massage is a wonderful way to spend time with your child, particularly after a busy day.

“It not only helps babies relax, but parents too,” Guzzi says.