The Benefits of Infant Massage for Both Parent and Child

infant massage mom and babyAlthough infant massage therapy has been around for ages and is popular in other parts of the world such as India, it is quickly becoming more popular in the West.

As you might expect, the massage technique for infants is very different from massage for adults. It is a technique that allows parents to engage and relax their child in a mutually-pleasurable interaction.

It is not the massage therapist or the infant massage instructor who massages the infant or child, it is the parent or 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. As I’ve experienced myself, the dynamics of infant massage facilitate parenting skills, infant-parent interaction, bonding and attachment, and parents’ ability to read their babies’ cues.

Positive cues from the child 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. Below we list some of the evidence-based benefits of infant massage.

1. Reduced Stress
Mom, dad and baby will de-stress during a massage session. Just like with adults, massaging a baby’s muscles helps to relax, calm, and soothe him. Through gentle massage techniques, coupled with soft music in the background and an overall tranquil state of mind for both caregiver and baby, it is likely that the adult will de-stress during this process also.

2. Preterm Infants
In a recent study, preterm infants exposed to daily stressors in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) showed reduced stress behaviors after massage therapy (December 2007 issue of Infant Behavior and Development). “Infants received three 15-min. massages administered at 9, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day for five consecutive days. The massages were started on a Monday and ended on Friday of the same week, for a total of 15 massages. The preterm infants received their massages from licensed massage therapists who were trained on a structured protocol.” The study concluded that even after such limited exposure of only five days, preterm infants “showed fewer stress behaviors from the first to the last day,” suggesting that the therapy “desensitizes the preterm infant to the stressful environment of the NICU, perhaps by enhancing longer periods of parasympathetic activity.” The study also suggests that over time, massage therapy has a stress-reducing or “pacifying effect” to infants.

3. Postpartum depression
A UK study in 2002 showed the benefits of infant massage for mothers suffering with postpartum depression. Mothers with postpartum depression often have problems interacting with their infants. A small controlled study has shown that attending a massage class can help such mothers relate better to their babies. The mechanisms by which this is achieved are not clear but may include learning to understand baby’s cues and the release of oxytocin.

4. Multiple benefits for parents and primary care givers
The International Loving Touch Foundation (ILTF) is one of the first established training programs of infant massage in the world and is an accredited organization that provides resources and training in the field of infant massage. On their website they list the numerous benefits of infant massage for not only the infant, but for both parents and primary caregivers as well.

Benefits for parents and primary caregivers include:

  • Provides all of the essential indicators of intimate parent-infant bonding and attachment: eye-to-eye, touch, voice, smell, movement, and thermal regulation
  • Encourages pre-verbal communication between caregiver and infant
  • Helps parents feel more confident and competent in caring for their children
  • Provides parents with one-on-one quiet time or interactive play with their children
  • Increases parents’ self-esteem by reinforcing and enhancing their skills as parents and validates their role
  • Gives parents the tools for understanding their child’s unique rhythms and patterns
  • Teaches parents how to read their infants’ cues and recognize their states of awareness
  • Gives parents a special way to interact with their children who may be hospitalized. Helps parents feel a greater part of the healing process
  • Provides a positive way for fathers to interact with their infants/children

5. Variety of benefits for infants and young children

The ILTF also encourages parents that it’s never too late to begin massage. Whether you are expecting, or have a newborn or child who is several years old, massage can bring immediate and lasting results. Some of the benefits of massage for infants and young children include the following:

  • Provides a special time of communication that fosters love, compassion, and respect
  • Improves general well-being
  • Provides an intimate time for children to confide in parents
  • Improves overall functioning of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Promotes relaxation and helps babies self-regulate calm, which reduces crying
  • Helps to normalize muscle tone
  • Improves circulation
  • Enhances immune system function
  • Improves midline orientation
  • Helps to improve sensory and body awareness
  • Enhances neurological development
  • Helps baby/child to sleep deeper and more soundly
  • Helps to increase oxygen and nutrient flow to cells. Improves respiration
  • Helps to improve pain management; can relieve discomfort from teething,
  • Helps with congestion, gas, and colic
  • Enhances release of hormones in the body. The growth hormone can be stimulated which helps weight gain.
  • Reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
  • Provides all of the essential indicators of intimate parent-infant bonding and attachment: eye-to-eye, touch, voice, smell, movement, and thermal regulation
  • Stimulates all of the physiological systems. Massage sparks the neurons in their brains to grow and branch out to encompass other neurons.

If you’re interested in learning more about infant massage, or want to become a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) or Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM), see the list of resources below.

Videos and Resources:

What is your experience with infant massage? Do you recommend it to your clients? Share with us in the comments! We’d love to hear what you think.

Comments from original Massamio post:

Ben….Thank you for posting wonderful blog! What an honor working with you and the whole family. Every week I see your son respond and anticipate the massage more and more. He is teaching us all!!! — Posted @ Friday, May 10, 2013 3:36 PM by Infant Massage Instructor

Rebecca, Thanks for introducing it to our family 🙂 — Posted @ Friday, May 10, 2013 8:23 PM by Benjamin McDonald

Thank you for telling us about this – do you know of any reputable instructors that could teach me how? — Posted @ Friday, July 19, 2013 12:11 PM by Tara

Tara, there are several links at the end of the blog for training options. Here’s one of them: — Posted @ Monday, July 22, 2013 3:51 PM by Benjamin McDonald