How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain - Benefits of Baby Massage

Many of the scientific discoveries in the field of emotion like reinventing the wheel. They affirm the importance of touch, of responsiveness, of giving time to people. How can we legislate for these things?

I would like to simply answer the question asked by Sue Gerhardt in her fantastic book ‘Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain’, by simply saying: We must train enough infant massage instructors so that all babies born have the chance to experience nurturing touch and that all parents have the chance to socialise in attending a class learning how to promote that needed touch.

‘But’ I hear you say ‘All parents touch their babies don’t they?’ Yes of course, it is a necessity!!  However we would like to bring a renewed angle to the matter in this short article.

First we need to admit that the holistic well-being of children is on the bottom end of the agenda in Britain, and in fact signs of the latter are showing up all over the world. Although we now have excellent medical care for babies and children in hospitals, indeed babies have far higher chances to survive and be relieved from severe conditions, we still fail to look at the whole. Yet we report more autism, more hyperactivity, more attention deficit syndromes of various kinds, to name a few.

Modern society, or post modern society should we call it, with its ever increasing demands on all its members have contributed to all sorts of new kind of disorders, on which science has very little understanding. Stress has become a factor identified as the ruler of several of those syndromes, and has created business for yoga schools and spas!

How can we insure that babies are protected from the family stress of waking up early, going to nursery, being exposed earlier and earlier to groups, their immune systems being exposed and tested. Here is our simple answer: massage them.

Babies are very sensitive beings and they surely pick up on everything around them, and that includes all the electronic noises, the fastness of cars, the streets sounds when they are in their push chairs, the other people’s stress, to name but a few.

Stress, as revealed by science triggers a chain reaction in our body resulting in the increase of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is called our stress hormone. Cortisol is necessary for our well-being as it helps us to have enough energy to cope with stressful situations, it keeps us on our toes as we say. However, most people, unless they consciously practice relaxing activities everyday, have too much cortisol. And too much in our body interferes with important function such as respiration, digestion, circulation and most importantly sleep.

Sylvie Hétu renowned infant massage instructor has literally taught thousands of families how to massage their babies, following the step of the founder of The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) Vimala McClure, who learnt the practice of infant massage while doing volunteer work in orphanages in India in the 70’s. Now present in over 50 countries around the world, the IAIM has become an authority in the matter of nurturing touch for babies. Science and other researchers have now confirmed the value of such a program and we can surely state that being an infant massage instructor is the work of the future.

Furthermore, as researcher Angela Underdown (from Warwick University) found in a peer reviewed academic research, massage is only but one tiny part of what the IAIM teach to instructors and parents.

So many specialists have affirmed how authorities should invest in the first year of life, and that the best persons to care for babies are their parents.

The main philosophy of the IAIM is to promote nurturing touch and that parents should be the ones doing it. Because they are the ones that the baby should be developing a secure attachment bond with.

Infant massage reduces the cortisol levels both in babies and parents allowing them to be healthier. It helps the parasympathetic part of the autonomous nervous system to work better, the sympathetic part being overstimulated with our fast paced days and releasing Cortisol. 

Nurturing touch is needed for all human beings for their well-being. Although our hearts know it, we had to “measure” it. Understand it. And “re-teach” it to everyone, to ourselves.

Why a programme? Simply to remind ourselves and parents about what is obvious and becomes palpable, visible and expressed when a parent and a baby “practise” massage together. IAIM qualified instructors NEVER massage babies, unless it is theirs. This is a parent love affair, that lives between a parent and a baby, and never should any kind of “expert” in any field interfere in that love affair.

IAIM instructors consider parents as the experts, babies as the teachers (telling us what they want) and themselves as humble and discrete supporters and guides towards nurturing touch. Of course, instructors learn and teach forms of stroking and touching as well as the verifiably well-documented benefits of baby massage. 

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