Kathleen Gates, LMT and member of the Bodywork Professionals team of massage therapists, never dreamed that she would focus on infant massage when she first became licensed in 1999. After several years in practice, while signing up for some continuing education classes, she noticed the course in infant massage.
Thinking this would be an interesting change from some of the other, more standard classes, she enrolled. “Within the first half hour, I knew this was something I wanted to focus on,” she said.
Ten years later, Kathleen has a loyal following at Bodywork Professionals’ Loudonville office, as well as a growing list of clients in Saratoga – including many happy parents, caregivers, and babies.
Infant massage is a marvelous tool for parents and other caregivers. It can be used to calm, nurture, and bond with your infant, young baby, or toddler. It can also serve as a tool to asses if something else is going on with the child that might warrant a trip to the pediatrician.
Kathleen works with mothers and fathers, grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers to promote a continuum of care for the child. When she meets new clients for the first time – either in the studio or in the client’s home – she begins with a basic intake to learn about the family’s routines and any special needs or concerns they may have.
If a child has multiple caregivers, Kathleen feels it is important for them all to have the same tools so they can respond to the child’s needs using the same methods and techniques. This promotes a sense of order and well-being for the infant and, in turn, makes the caregivers’ job much more rewarding.
Some of the many benefits of infant massage include regulation of the sleep/wake cycle. When infants and babies are having trouble getting into a relaxed state that promotes restful slumber, adding massage to the evening ritual can work wonders. As with any recipient of massage, serotonin levels increase, cortisol levels are reduced, and the circulatory system works more efficiently. The body relaxes so that the baby can relax.
Infant massage can also be helpful in assessing if something else may be going on with the child. Touch is one of the best ways to determine if the child is feeling unwell. Caregivers using massage can detect things like fever or swelling of the lymph nodes, or abdominal distension.
But the child isn’t the only one benefitting from massage. The caregiver benefits from the interaction as much as the baby. Massage releases oxytocin, aka, the “love” hormone. When caregivers and their babies interact through touch and massage, it strengthens the bonds between them.
“Infant massage is something we do with them and not to them,” Kathleen is quick to note. It is a reciprocal exchange between the infant and caregiver, signaling love, concern, nurturing, and support. By practicing massage with their infants, parents and caregivers can learn the many pre-verbal signals babies are giving us every moment. Some of these signals may otherwise go unnoticed by us; however, through massage, we can become more intimately acquainted with our babies’ behavior patterns, personalities, likes and dislikes, when they want interaction, and when they have had enough stimulation.
For parents and other caregivers interested in learning more about infant massage, Kathleen usually recommends meeting for about an hour to an hour and one half, over a four-week period. By the end of that time, clients have an abundance of tools and methods for providing loving, relaxing, and beneficial massage for their child. During each weekly session, Kathleen uses the rule of: “Repeat, Review, and Learn Something New.” This simple technique reinforces what has already been learned, it assesses what’s working and what may need to be changed, and it offers something new to be
incorporated into the caregivers’ routine.
Finally, one of the most important things Kathleen imparts to her clients is this: infant massage is something that mutually benefits the recipient and the giver. It should not be viewed as just another thing the parent must do. Rather, it is something that they want to do with their child as part of the loving, nurturing process. Something as simple as ten minutes a day of massage can go a long way toward enhancing the rich experience and loving bond between you and your child.