Infant massage is a series of massage techniques customized to fit the needs of the child and the child’s family, according to the General Council for Massage Therapies (1). Infant massage can be taught to parents and caregivers who provide the massage or it can be provided by a massage therapist or other qualified individual.
The framework of infant massage is to promote parent/child interaction which facilitates understanding, builds trust, and promotes attachment, the latter of which helps the child feel safe, secure, and protected (1). The instructor uses a doll to demonstrate infant massage while parents and caregivers massage the child. During the instructional program, parents learn how to provide a full body infant massage and to identify behaviors that suggest the child is engaged (receptive to massage) or disengaged (at which time the massage should be postponed).
Studies investigating the effects of massage on infants and preterm infants have been conducted. In non-preterm infants, massage decreased infant stress (2, 3), decreased parental stress among fathers (4). Underwood et al, (2006) conducted a systematic review and found that massage had positive effects on mother-infant interactions, improved infant sleep, reduced infant crying, and had a beneficial impact on a number of stress hormones in infants aged under six months.
In preterm infants, massage facilitated weight gain (6). Another study found that both massage and passive limb movements were effective at increasing weight in preterm infants (7). Ferber et al (8) discovered that preterm infants who were massaged by their mothers gained as much weight as preterm infants who were massaged by a trained female professional. Other studies investigated massage provided by mothers and found that these infants had higher cognitive scores at 12 months (9), better neurodevelopment at age 2 (10), and had higher pain tolerance during heel pricks (9). Massage combined with passive limb movement decreased stress behaviors in preterm infants (11). Field, Diego, and Hernandez-Reif (12) conducted a literature review and stated that research supports the use of massage for weight gain and earlier discharge from the hospital for preterm infants.
Massage Therapy & Infants
The room should be warm and without drafts. Natural light or low light is best as bright light may overstimulate the child. Soft background music can be played. However, the child’s favorite music is often the parent or caregiver’s voice talking in a high-pitched voice, humming, or singing a lullaby. Be sure all massage supplies are within reach.
The child’s position during the massage depends on his or her age, developmental stage, and personal preference. The child can receive massage while draped across the parent’s lap, while lying beside the parent or between the parent’s knees, while being held in the arms of one parent while the other parent massages, while lying on the floor in front of the parent while the parent sits on his or her heels, while nursing, or while being held by the parent. Regardless of which position is used, never leave the baby unattended.
To reduce the risk of vomiting, postpone massage until approximately 45 minutes after infant feeding. Use food-grade oils, such as jojoba, apricot, coconut, safflower, and olive in small amounts. Inevitably, the child’s hand covered with oil will end up in the child’s mouth. Avoid scented and peanut or almond oils because they may cause allergic reactions in sensitive babies. Keep the oil bottle closed when not in use because it can be knocked over by a parent or squirming baby. Cover non-massaged areas when massaged areas are uncovered. Infant massage sessions are typically short in duration, perhaps 10-15 minutes long. Mostly gliding and kneading are used; techniques should be modified, refined, or even created according to the baby’s response. The most important thing is that the parent enjoys time with the child and uses techniques the child enjoys.
View this video for a demonstration of infant massage techniques.
Articles and Journals Referenced:
- General Council for Massage Therapies: MT5 Infant Massage Qualifications Unit. Retrieved from http://www.gcmt.org.uk/Portals/0/documents/Massage_Therapies_MT5_Infant_Massage_Qualification%20.pdf
- Field, T., Schanberg, S., Davalos, M., Malphurs, J. (1996). Massage with oil has more positive effects on normal infants. Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal, 11(2), 73–78
- Neu, M., Pan, Z., Workman, R., Marcheggiani-Howard, C., Furuta, G., Laudenslager, M.L. (2014). Benefits of massage therapy for infants with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Biol Res Nurs, 16(4), 387-397.
- Cheng, C.D., Volk, A.A., Marini, Z.A. (2011). Supporting fathering through infant massage. J Perinat Educ, 20(4), 200-209.
- Underdown, A., Barlow, J., Chung, V., Stewart-Brown, S. (2006). Massage intervention for promoting mental and physical health in infants aged under six months. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 18(4), CD005038
- Dieter, J.N., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Emory, E.K., Redzepi, M. (2003). Stable preterm infants gain more weight and sleep less after five days of massage therapy. J Pediatr Psychol, 28(6), 403-411.
- Diego, M.A., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Shaw, K., Friedman, L., Ironson, G. (2001). HIV adolescents show improved immune function following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci, 106(1–2), 35–45.
- Ferber, S.G., Kuint, J., Weller, A., Feldman, R., Dollberg, S., Arbel, E., Kohelet, D. (2002). Massage therapy by mothers and trained professionals enhances weight gain in preterm infants. Early Hum Dev, 67(1-2), 37-45.
- Abdallah, B., Badr, L.K., Hawwari, M. (2013). The efficacy of massage on short and long term outcomes in preterm infants. Infant Behav Dev, 36(4), 662-669.
- Procianoy, R.S., Mendes, E.W., Silveira, R.C. (2010). Massage therapy improves neurodevelopment outcome at two years corrected age for very low birth weight infants. Early Hum Dev, 86(1), 7-11.
- Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Field, T. (2007). Preterm infants show reduced stress behaviors and activity after 5 days of massage therapy. Infant Behav Dev, 30(4), 557–561.
- Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M. (2010). Preterm infant massage therapy research: A review. Infant Behav Dev, 33(2), 115–124.
Dr. Susan Salvo is a massage therapist who works with massage therapists and students to promote best practices. Susan knows that education and research are the most effective ways to advance the profession. She teaches, is actively involved in research, and has written two widely used textbooks: Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice and Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists. Susan has been honored with numerous awards and frequently presents at conferences and conventions across the country. Susan has a doctorate in education from Lamar University. You can contact Susan at email@example.com.