Touch Communication, The Power of Infant Massage

by Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., C.I.I.M. from A Foundation For Healthy Family Living 
The dynamic of parent-infant interaction is the most important foundation upon which a child learns about the self, and about trust and respect. It is this first relationship that influences the way relationships are perceived. Infant massage is a natural way that parents can learn about parenting, and that infants can learn about being loved and honored.

Infant Massage is a vital, dynamic interaction that forms the foundation of relationship building that will last a lifetime. Nurturing touch between a parent/caregiver and an infant enriches physiological, social-emotional, and mind/body/spirit connections for the infant being massaged, as well as for the parent. Being touched and caressed, being massaged, is food for the infant, food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins.

Touch is vital for the development of attachment behavior and for early social development of the young child, in that both the infant and parent have the capacity to elicit and respond to behaviors in mutually pleasurable ways. The original infant-parent tie is very important for infants-and society-because it is from this original attachment and bonding that all subsequent attachments will follow.
Two conditions that enhance development of bonding are the ability of the parent to be sensitive in understanding and responding to his or her infant’s cues, and the amount and nature of the interactions between infant and parent. It is through infant massage that bonding may be deepened.
Social interaction is significant for the parents’ well being, essential for the child’s development during the first three years of life, and paramount thereafter. Babies are social creatures who learn from their interactions with others. Expanding children’s repertoire of interactive behaviors can assist them to influence their world, and deepen their quality of life and the lives of their parents.

The Role of Massage with Infants

Massage is generally a technique that combines tactile, kinesthetic stimulation performed in a purposeful, sequential application. The massage technique for infants is much different from massage for adults. It is not as much manipulative as it is communicative. It is a technique that allows parents to engage and relax their child in mutually pleasurable interaction.

It is not the massage therapist or the infant massage instructor who massages the infant/child-it is the parent/caregiver. In the field of infant massage, the parent is viewed as the primary source of interaction in the context of the infant’s life. The dynamics of infant massage facilitate parenting skills, infant-parent interaction, bonding and attachment, and parents’ ability to read their babies’ cues.
Positive cues may include eye contact, smiling, looking at the parent’s face, making babbling or cooing sounds, and smooth movements of the arms and/or legs. Negative cues may include pulling away, frowning or grimacing, turning the head away, arching the back, crying, squirming, and flailing movements of the arms and/or legs. The focus of infant massage is not solely on the baby, but on the reciprocal interaction between infant and parent. Infant massage is not done to an infant; it is done with an infant.

“Touching is the first communication a baby receives,” says Frederick Leboyer, author of Loving Hands. “The first language of its development is through the skin.”

Infants communicate through their bodies. When you engage an infant in a massage, you begin to listen to the infant; you listen to sounds, you watch movements, you listen with your eyes, your ears and your heart. Infant massage, or touch communication, nurtures the most important relationship the child will ever have: the relationship between the parent and infant.

By using infant massage a parent grasps the art of listening, asking permission, communicating, interpreting and responding to cues. The infant displays engagement/disengagement cues, furthers body awareness, self-esteem, listening and communication. Both infant and parent benefit from eye contact, relaxation, bonding, synchrony, love and trust.

After learning infant massage a parent exclaimed, “I used to be frustrated not knowing what cues my baby was giving me. After learning infant massage I am a better reader of my child’s cues, and know when she is fussy because she has gas, or she is fussy because she wants to be held. I feel more confident as a mother. My husband has even learned about massage and uses it regularly as a way to become closer to our child, especially after he returns from working out of town for weeks at a time.”

For the mother of a child with cerebral palsy, infant massage has made a world of difference in her ability to open up a line of communication with her child. “My baby used to just be a baby,” she said. “Now he is a baby, and he has a personality. Infant massage gave him a way to express himself-giggling, or interacting in a dialogue when he had never been able to speak before.”

The Benefits of Infant Massage
by Elaine Fogel Schneider

In the Psycho-social Domain
Benefits to the infant of receiving massage:

  • Promotes bonding and attachment
  • Promotes body-mind-spirit connection
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Increases sense of love, acceptance, respect and trust
  • Enhances communicationBenefits to the parent of giving massage:
  • Improves ability to read infant cues
  • Improves synchrony between caregiver and infant
  • Promotes bonding
  • Increases confidence in parenting
  • Increases communication-verbal and non-verbal
  • Improves relaxation
  • Provides time to share, and quality time
  • Promotes parenting skillsIn the Physiological/Physical Growth Domain

    Benefits to the infant of receiving massage:

  • Improves body awareness
  • Improves relaxation and release of accumulated stress
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Strengthens digestive, circulatory and gastrointestinal systems, which can lead to weight gain
  • Reduces discomfort from teething, congestion, gas, colic and emotional stress
  • Improves muscle tone coordination
  • Increases elimination, circulation and respiration
  • Improves sleep patterns
  • Increases hormonal functionBenefits to the parent of giving massage:
  • Improves sense of well-being
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves overall healthThe Technique and Effects on the Body

    In the infant massage process, communication plays an active part. The parent talks to the infant, asks permission to start the massage, questions the infant, and facilitates dialogue. The massage process is composed of about 20 percent technique and 80 percent communication. Parents are taught by an infant massage instructor to make sure that they are relaxed both physically and mentally before they massage their baby. The instructor provides education regarding the power of touch, the importance of this sense in the development of a healthy infant or a child, and its impact on bonding and attachment.

    Prior to beginning any massage, permission is asked of the infant. To do this the parent places a small amount of cold-pressed natural fruit oil or vegetable oil in the palm of one hand and rubs both palms together near the infant’s ear so that he or she may hear the sound and associate that sound with a pleasurable experience. The parent may hold up both hands with opened palms for the infant to see. Next, the parent asks, “Do you want a massage?” or “Are you ready for a massage?” A parent need only watch the infant’s body language to know whether the infant is engaging or disengaging. For infants to be massaged, they must be in a quiet alert state. If the infant does not want a massage, or is fussy and uncooperative, then another time is chosen for the massage.

    Massage Research Proves the Efficacy of Infant Massage

    Research has focused on a variety of populations with infant massage. Research has found that massage benefits those infants who were premature; infants with motor problems; those who were gastrointestinally ill; and infants drug-exposed in utero.

    Study Chief

    Premature babies were massaged; control group was not.
    Massaged babies ahead in weight gain and neurological development.

    Mothers massaged infants with motor problems.
    Parents and their babies had more positive interactions. Parents’ expectations and behavior toward their children changed, enhancing parent-infant interactions.

    Studied effects of stroking and passively manipulating premature newborns for 15 minutes, three times daily for a 10-day period.
    Massaged infants gained 47 percent more weight than average, scored better on the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, were more alert and active, stayed six fewer days in the hospital, continued into their first year with higher scores on testing.

    Stimulation of the inside of the mouth of newborns with gastrointestinal problems.
    Increased release of gastrointestinal food absorption hormones (gastrin and insulin).

    Added physiological and bio-chemical measures to their 1986 study.
    Confirmed earlier study: premature infants had a 21 percent greater daily weight gain, were discharged five days earlier, had superior performances on Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, showed less stress behaviors, and catecholamines (norepinephrine, epinephrine) increased-which is desirable for the neonatal period.

    Touch therapy to infants exposed to cocaine in utero
    Massaged babies gained weight and scored better on the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale

    Compiled by Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., C.I.I.M

    Sometimes the infant may be able to tolerate only a small amount of touch, and again the adult must respect the child unconditionally. For some infants who were born with prenatal exposure to toxic substances, or severely medically fragile premature infants, the actual massage may be too disorganizing for their nervous systems, and skin-to-skin contact may not be the massage touch of first choice for their parents.

    Direct touch may be disruptive and unbearable to the sensitivity of that infant. Sometimes just placing one’s hands over the body, and not touching it, may be all that the infant will tolerate at that particular time.

    As the infant grows stronger, so does the touch. Basic strokes include a variety of movements. Strokes are usually long, slow and rhythmic, with just enough pressure to be comfortable but stimulating, as a gentle, firm touch. With healthy infants, massage can be started as soon as parents desire, beginning with a daily massage for the first six or seven months, using unscented natural oil, in a warm environment, and making sure not to massage over the umbilical cord ending until it falls off naturally.

    During the massage the parent engages the infant, smiles, explains what every body part is, and communicates with the infant through the power of touch relaxation. Massaging the legs, stomach, chest, arms, face, and ending with the back, is one sampling of a natural progression of massage for the infant.

    As the child becomes more active, through crawling or walking, the massage may be reduced to once or twice a week, as desired. A toddler may enjoy a rubdown before sleep each night, or after bathing. A massage provides a model for becoming more sensitive to the subtle cues of the infant, and techniques for eliciting positive reactions from the child. It is important for the parent to read cues, and adjust accordingly. Each infant’s unique needs must be addressed.

    Future Generations

    Infant massage enhances the parent-baby bond, helping to create more family-centered values. Babies are aware human beings who deserve respect, tenderness, warmth and, above all, a listening heart.

    Many parents are in need of support in our society today, so that they can carry out the important work of parenting. These interactions contribute to future generations expressing more compassion toward and responsibility for their fellow human beings.

    Infant massage is a foundation from which parenting skills emerge. Infant massage instructors train parents and caregivers to massage their babies, and read their babies’ cues while developing interactional skills enhancing communication. Although many infant massage programs were first designed for healthy babies and their parents, infant massage may be used with children with special needs. These populations may include infants and toddlers who are communicatively challenged, physically challenged, cognitively challenged, drug-exposed or HIV positive infants; medically fragile infants in intensive care. Other populations who benefit from learning infant massage are teen-age mothers and fathers, incarcerated mothers, homeless families, women in recovery and foster parents.

    Infant massage instruction encourages nurturing touch and communication through training, education and research. Throughout the world, by using infant massage parents, caregivers, and children are loved, valued and respected. Every parent, child and infant will have the opportunity to experience the lifelong joy that comes from having an early relationship that is loving, healthy and secure.

    Infant massage is not only about massaging a baby-it’s about working with families; building nurturing relationships; assisting with bonding and attachment; furthering respect, trust and love, and training a parent to read the cues of the baby so the child in turn feels love and security. It is the parent who has the greatest impact on the life of a child-and it is the child who can has the greatest impact on that parent, laying the foundation upon which the parent-infant relationship grows.

    Becoming an infant massage instructor can only better humanity’s future. Through infant massage parents can engage their children in quality time, a time when a child’s cues are being read and respected, and when the person administering the massage may relax and gain numerous benefits.

    Infant massage is necessary in today’s fast-paced world. The power of touch and the benefits of infant massage are being widely studied. If current research about infant massage continues to demonstrate the benefits of massage (increased bonding and enhanced growth and development for infants, as well as benefits for those giving the massage), then these new findings may place infant massage as a worldwide cornerstone in the building blocks of parenting skills and child development.

    Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, ADTR, CIIM, holds a doctorate in psychology, and masters’ in the fields of speech/language pathology and dance/movement therapy. Schneider is a certified instructor of infant massage, CIIM with A Foundation for Healthy Family Living, having trained with Kalena Babeshoff in 1996. Her latest book Massaging Your Baby: The Joy of TouchTime™ – Effective Techniques for a Healthier, Happier, More Relaxed Child & Parent, is now available on-line or at local bookstores everywhere. Dr. Schneider is the founder and executive director of First Nurturing Touch Communication, a nonprofit educational corporation that assists families in developing safe and nurturing relationships, and Baby Steps, a family-focused early intervention program that introduces families to the world of touch and the importance of bonding and attachment, as they learn to see their child first and their child’s disability second. Dr. Schneider is an adjunct faculty member of California State University, Bakersfield and Nova Southeastern University, Florida, and is a fellow of the California Speech-Language and Hearing Association. She is a governor appointee to the State of California’s Early Start (IDEA Part C) Interagency Coordinating Council since 1988, and consultant for the California State Department of Education and WestEd Early Intervention and Prevention program. She has appeared on national television’s The Learning Channel, and is a sought after national and international lecturer. She may be contacted by e-mail at or by telephone (661) 945-7878 ext. 131.



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