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Infant Massage Promotes Health
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A new trend in massage is making fans among an age group that can't talk about the subject, but is weighing in with their support in other ways.
Infant massage or touch therapy is the gentle stroking, touching and massaging of a baby. Healthy babies seem to enjoy the massage, while premature babies or those with health problems often have marked improvement after the treatment.
According to information released online by Child & Family Canada, cuddling, massage and allowing skin-to-skin contact is very nurturing to babies beginning at birth. One child care center cited began using this massage and found good results.
"The benefits to the babies have been tremendous," the article stated. "We have learned that our touch increases circulation. Infants who are listless or who show signs of failure to thrive are motivated to action through massage. It also promotes relaxation and is used before an infant prepares for sleep or while the baby is falling asleep."
Linda Patterson, health education specialist at Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said babies suffering from a failure to thrive can benefit from some forms of infant massage.
"It is theorized that adequate amounts of appropriate human contact is necessary for babies to grow and develop physically and emotionally," Patterson said. "This basic need is assumed to be necessary in healthy babies, too, since failure to thrive symptoms can occur even without health problems."
Infant massage has demonstrated the most significant results with infants born prematurely. It seems to soothe both the infant and the parents, and may ease the stress of the intensive care unit.
"Parent's cannot wait to start parenting until their baby is of term age and ready to go home," Patterson said. "The hospital setting is the beginning of the early parenting experience, and infant massage can help parents connect in a positive way with babies to make the most of this early parenting time."
Carla Steptoe, owner of Under the Oak Massage Therapy in Ocean Springs, said several studies have shown this technique significantly benefits premature infants.
"Premature babies that are massage had 47 percent more weight gain and left the hospital seven days earlier than premature infants who did not receive infant massage," Steptoe said. Steptoe, a registered nurse who works at a neonatal intensive care unit in New Orleans, teaches massage techniques to parents at the hospital, as well as in formal classes. She teaches parents how to do the strokes, and also how to read their infant's cues.
"Benefits include the parent/child bonding and developmental and physical advantages, and it gives parents additional feedback that they're doing a competent job," Steptoe said.
Levels of touch therapy for premature infants include hand containment, skin-to-skin care and infant massage. Hand containment is simply placing a hand on a baby while the baby lies in bed. Skin-to-skin touch can be done once the baby is medically stable enough to leave the crib. As the infants continue their progress, parents are taught to massage the infant using a series of strokes, being careful to monitor the pressure, pace and consistency of the strokes.
Patterson said parents should read their baby's cues to determine what they like. Some babies may not like their bodies touched in certain places, such as the feet. This is especially true of babies who have had extensive medical procedures.