Infant massage, much more than a "cuddle"

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Catherine Le Nevez
@catherinelenevez
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It is not just a cuddle. Infant massage is much, much more. It means strengthening a bond that will last forever. It means showing love. It means becoming one with the baby. You just need to learn a few simple sequences and then let yourself go on this beautiful journey. The doctor, psychologist and infant massage teacher tells us about it.


    Doctor what is infant massage? What is its origin?


    “Infant massage is not a technique but a way of relating with your child, a unique and special moment of deep communication that nourishes the loving relationship between parents and children. Through contact, looks, smiles and loving words, mutual exchange and the primary attachment bond are nurtured. It has very ancient origins and has its roots in Eastern countries where skin-to-skin contact between mother and child is transmitted from generation to generation. Its practice is spread all over the world thanks to the contributions of Frédérick Leboyer, a famous French obstetrician and gynecologist, and Vimala McClure, founder of the IAIM (International Association of Infant Massage). The proposed massage sequence originates from 4 main sources: Indian massages to release tension, Swedish massages to stimulate blood circulation, the principles of yoga and those of foot reflexology ”.


    What are its aims?

    “Through the practice of massage, parents can promote the harmonious development of their child by protecting and stimulating their growth and health. It is an opportunity to discover and learn to listen to their signals so as to welcome their needs in a careful and respectful way, to pay attention and better understand the language of their child. The massage promotes contact and a deep relationship between parents and children. If we think that the skin is the largest organ in our body, the main and most important connection of man with the external world and that touch is the first sense to develop already inside the maternal uterus (between the sixth and ninth week of gestation), it is immediate to understand the benefits of touch and massage ".


    From what age can it be practiced?

    “Infant massage can be practiced from birth. Although the best time to start practicing is in the first nine months of your baby's life, it's never too late to start. The most suitable time of the day is found together and it is usually recommended that the child be in the quiet waking phase: he should be awake and calm ”.

    Do the massage sequences change as the baby grows?

    "If practiced consistently, the massage will become a pleasant family ritual that the child will be able to recognize from the first movements of his parents' hands and that he himself will request as he grows up and even propose it, starting to massage in turn. parents or siblings. Even older children need contact and continuing to offer it can foster the sharing of feelings and thoughts more than verbal communication can. During the massage courses the teachers provide parents with tools and ideas to continue in practice during the different stages of the child's growth by specifically adapting the sequences to be proposed. Useful suggestions are provided for example during the crawl phase, in which there is a greater need for exploration and a lesser willingness to remain lying on the back, or in pre-school and school age, adapting the massages to the longer arms levers. and legs, entertaining the children through the help of stories, games and nursery rhymes, until adolescence in which it becomes primary to respect modesty ".

    What are the benefits for the baby? Are there any for parents too?

    “In the practice of massage both the child and the parents enjoy various benefits. As for the child, the benefits can fall into 4 macro-categories. The first two are certainly more immediate, easily identifiable by anyone who has tried a massage experience: relaxation and relief. Being massaged implies first of all the relaxation of muscle tension, but not only. The rhythmic movements of the parents' hands on the newborn's body, the rituality of gestures, can facilitate the acquisition of the sleep-wake rhythm and help the child to release all accumulated tensions. In support of what has just been stated there are, in addition to the effects visible by those who practice or receive a massage, also scientific evidence which, through various types of research, has shown that during the massage there is an increase in the production of hormones such as endorphins, oxytocin and prolactin, and a consequent lowering of the levels of ACTH, cortisol and norepinephrine (stress hormones). Another benefit is the relief of all those pains that are encountered during growth, of various kinds, from body tensions to the typical discomfort of teething or gaseous colic. During the massage, mutual interaction between the child and caregivers is also encouraged through respect and empathy, verbal and non-verbal communication, all aspects that have positive effects on bonding and primary attachment ties. Finally, through the multisensory stimulation there is the development of muscle tone, language, of the main systems - circulatory, gastrointestinal, nervous, respiratory - sensory integration that allows the creation of one's own body scheme, the neuronal connection through the growth of the myelin sheath. . Through the practice of massage, parents increase their self-esteem and their parenting skills, they believe in their abilities and in their intuition in responding adequately to the requests of their children; they acquire a better understanding of their child, and an adequate reading and respect for their signals. They nurture the bond of attachment and self-confidence, decreasing stress and negative feelings. Furthermore, the practice of massage and participation in a course with other parents has been shown to be useful in preventing or decreasing the symptoms of postpartum depression.
    There are also benefits for the whole family, a calmer environment, a decrease in conflicts and jealousy through the involvement of siblings, greater respect ".


    Can massage "cure" any pathology? If so, which ones?

    "The massage experience aims to favor nurturing touch, the touch that nourishes, to facilitate the relationship, exchange, love and communication between children and parents and should not be considered a technique to 'cure' specific pathologies, neither a treatment nor a therapy for the child. Nevertheless, the practice of massage, in addition to the aforementioned benefits, can be useful to relieve minor aches and pains, such as those related to teething, to help lower body temperature during fever, or nasal congestion. There are also specific sequences suitable for relieving intestinal disorders such as colic, meteorism or constipation, which favor intestinal transit, stimulating and supporting the gastrointestinal system of the child, still immature and not fully developed at the time of birth ".

    How do you learn the massage sequences?

    "Parents can learn how to massage their child by participating in a specific course, individual or in a group, organized in many public and private structures distributed throughout the country. The course is usually divided into 5 meetings, on a weekly basis, each lasting about an hour and a half, during which, in addition to learning the massage sequence, they can discuss numerous issues and start massaging the little ones from the first lesson and then add the sequences learned from time to time. the teacher never takes the place of the caregiver and does not massage the child but proposes the sequence through the aid of a doll. The basic premise is that the child is the teacher, the parent is the best expert of his / her child and the teacher of the course the facilitator of this unique and profound relationship, the one who supports the parent with sensitivity in identifying, through observation and listening to his own f iglio, the unique way of communicating with each other. There is also the possibility of purchasing specific texts, such as 'Baby massage, love message' written by Vimala McClure, founder of IAIM, a practical manual for parents ”.


    Are there any cases in which it is contraindicated?

    “There are no cases in which it is contraindicated to massage your baby, just think that there are courses for particular situations such as adoptive parents, single or 'at risk' or for babies with special needs, for premature babies; for the latter cases it is always necessary to ask parents to consult their doctor and share with him the decision to undertake a massage course. The important thing is to always have the child and her needs in mind: being sensitive and knowing how to grasp them allows you to understand when to offer this beautiful experience that nourishes the primary bonds of love and gives warmth and security. Each human being perceives contact in a different way; this is determined by various factors, such as culture, previous experiences, types of contact received, physiology. It may happen that some babies are more sensitive to touch than others and show greater resistance or a low tolerance to being massaged. Also in this case the rule of respect applies, which invites parents to follow the times and rhythms of their children, without ever forcing contact. You can start with an affectionate gesture, or by simply placing your hands on the part of the body that the child likes and considers safest. What matters is to be attentive to the reactions of your children so as to discover the most appropriate type of touch ".

    There are several courses around that offer massage for babies. How can you be sure to rely on expert hands?

    "Certainly by relying on specific associations such as AIMI (Associazione el paesena Infant massage) present in the country for 30 years, which in turn is part of the vast network of the IAIM (International Association of Infant Massage) present in over 50 countries throughout the world. The CIMI are the certified teachers who have participated in a training course and have obtained a diploma of qualification to teach massage; they also have the obligation to update in order to maintain the status of AIMI active teacher.

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