“No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”
Dr James P. Comer, 1995
Early Childhood Education plays an important role in the lives and development of not only young children, but also their families. The most important connection in an infant’s life is with their parents/ primary caregiver. For Early Childhood Educators it is very important to be a support to both the family and the child in their care. Educators are in a position in which they can utilise their knowledge to encourage and support families, enabling them to work with the families for the best outcome for the child. Infant massage is a beautiful way to encourage and guide the bonding and relationship building between parent and child. The benefits of infant massage can have a flow-on effect throughout the child’s development.
Infant massage is a therapeutic practice that incorporates various massage techniques, including Indian massage, Swedish massage, and reflexology. It has many benefits for the health and wellbeing of the child, and can support their physical and emotional growth. It is also thought to have positive impacts on the parents and is a wonderful way for fathers to feel involved in their child’s early days. Infant massage promotes connection and offers a bonding experience for both the child and parent.
The Foundations of Infant Massage
Combining Massage Techniques
Infant massage is a holistic approach to infant care, encompassing not only physical well-being but also emotional bonding between the caregiver and the baby. It incorporates various techniques from different cultures to create a comprehensive practice that nurtures the baby's development.
Infant massage training typically blends principles from Indian massage, Swedish massage, and reflexology. These techniques focus on gentle strokes and rhythmic movements designed to provide comfort and relaxation for infants.
Indian Massage techniques emphasise the use of gentle strokes and rhythmic movements to promote relaxation and improve blood circulation. These techniques have been passed down through generations and are known for their calming effects on infants. The movement of the strokes go away from the body and follow the direction of hair growth.
Swedish Massage techniques involve stroking movements towards the body, or midline. This means the movement is going against the direction of hair growth on the arms and legs, and it is used to encourage good circulation. Swedish massage can be over stimulating for an infant so its use is limited to a few strokes only.
Reflexology techniques focus on applying pressure to specific areas of the baby's feet, which are believed to correspond to different organs and systems in the body. This practice is thought to help alleviate discomfort and improve overall health.
Improving Sleep in Infants through Massage
Promoting Healthy Sleep Patterns
Infant massage has been shown to improve sleep patterns in infants. Massage increases serotonin levels and regulates melatonin. Serotonin is important for body functions such as sleep, bone health, digestion and mood. Melatonin helps with the body’s circadian rhythms, or body clock. It aids in inducing sleep. The soothing touch and relaxation induced by massage can contribute to better sleep quality.
Quality Sleep is crucial for infant development. Adequate sleep contributes to cognitive development, emotional well-being, and overall growth. During sleep we repair our bodies. Infant massage can play a role in establishing healthy sleep patterns by promoting relaxation and reducing stress in babies.
Infants who receive regular massages often exhibit:
- Reduced Restlessness: Massage helps soothe fussy infants, reducing restlessness that can disrupt sleep.
- Enhanced Sleep Quality: Sleep supports children’s development. It releases growth hormones and can impact positively on cognitive development areas such as memory, problem solving, emotional processing, judgement and creativity. Massage promotes deep sleep and better overall sleep quality.
By incorporating gentle massage techniques into the daily routine, parents can contribute to more peaceful and well-rested infants.
The Vagus Nerve and Its Role
Understanding the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. Infant massage stimulates the vagus nerve through gentle touch and pressure, promoting relaxation and reducing stress in infants.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, extending from the brainstem to various organs, including the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It is often referred to as the "wandering nerve" because of its extensive reach throughout the body.
This nerve acts as a communication highway between the brain and the body, carrying signals in both directions. It plays a vital role in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response, promoting relaxation and recovery. Infant massage can help to mature the tissues and cells of the body a little faster.
Benefits of Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Stimulation of the vagus nerve has been associated with numerous health benefits. While the focus of infant massage is not medical treatment, the gentle stimulation of the vagus nerve during massage can contribute to the well-being of the infant.
Vagus nerve stimulation has been linked to enhanced mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety. When infants experience relaxation through massage, it can positively affect their emotional well-being.
Vagus nerve activity can help modulate the body's inflammatory response. While this is more relevant to adults, a soothing touch in infants may contribute to a general sense of comfort and reduced stress.
Enhanced Emotional Regulation
: Babies who receive regular massages may develop better emotional regulation skills, helping them cope with stressors and transitions more effectively. This is important and connects to the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) Learning Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing.
Parents should keep in mind that the primary goal of infant massage is to provide comfort and bonding rather than medical treatment.
Choosing the Right Oils
Safe and Suitable Oils
When performing infant massage, it's essential to use appropriate oils
that are safe for the baby's delicate skin. Recommended options include natural, cold-pressed oils such as fruit, vegetable, seed or nut oil, which is pesticide fee and organic. Always check for any allergies or sensitivities before using a particular oil. Some recommendations for oils to use for infant massage include Almond oil, Sesame oil and Apricot Kernal oil.
Almond oil is a little thicker than Sesame and Apricot oils and has a lovely texture for massage. It is easily absorbed and helps to moisturise the skin as it naturally contains vitamin E.
As a cold pressed oil (not the Sesame oil you can purchase in the supermarket for cooking) Sesame oil is absorbed easily in to the skin and has a wonderful texture for massage. Sesame oil contains many beneficial vitamins such as A, B and E.
Apricot Kernal Oil:
Apricot Kernal oil has a lighter texture but is also easily absorbed and moisturises the skin. Apricot oil also naturally contains vitamins A and E.
Educators should encourage parents and caregivers to perform a patch test by applying a small amount of the chosen oil to the baby's skin to ensure there are no adverse reactions. A small dab of oil can be put on the inside of the child’s forearm. It is best to apply in the morning so that the child can be monitored for any reactions. If there is a reaction, wash the area with warm soapy water. If needed the parent should seek medical attention.
Addressing Common Questions
FAQs for Early Childhood Educators
- Is infant massage suitable for all infants? Infant massage can be beneficial for most infants, but it's essential to consider individual needs such as tolerance for touch and any medical conditions such as sore or inflamed skin or allergies.
- When is the best time for infant massage? Massage can be done at various times, such as after a bath to promote relaxation. However, it should not interfere with the infant's feeding or sleep schedule. Infant massage consultants believe that a “quiet alert” state is the ideal time for massage; “This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the environment. During the quiet alert time, babies may look or stare at objects, and respond to sounds and motion”. This often happens after a sleep or after a feed.
- Are there any safety precautions to consider? Parents should be encouraged to find an IMIS Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) or qualified Paediatric Massage Consultant (PMC) who can show them how to safely and effectively provide massage for their baby. A professional will show them the correct sequence, techniques and safe positioning for infant massage. Additionally, and importantly, they should be mindful of any skin sensitivities or allergies the infant may have and adjust the choice of oil accordingly.
Connections to the Early Years Learning Framework
Promoting Holistic Development
Infant massage aligns with the principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)
, focusing on the holistic development of children. It supports EYLF outcomes related to wellbeing, identity, and communication.
Infant massage promotes a sense of security and comfort, contributing to the overall wellbeing of the child. It helps infants develop a positive self-identity and emotional security. This supports Learning Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing: Children become strong in their social, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Through the bond formed during massage, infants begin to develop a sense of self and an understanding of their place in the world. This can connect directly to Learning Outcome 1: Children have a strong sense of identity: Children develop knowledgeable confident self-identities, and a positive sense of self-worth.
Massage is a form of non-verbal communication between the parent and the infant. It enhances the child's ability to express needs and emotions. It offers a moment in time for the parents to connect with their child and deepen bonds. This is a strong link to Learning Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators: Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes.
Incorporating infant massage into daily routine for families can create a nurturing and supportive environment that aligns with the EYLF's goals and principles.
Infant massage offers numerous benefits for infants, including improved sleep, reduced stress, and enhanced bonding with caregivers. For early childhood educators, understanding the foundations of infant massage, the role of the vagus nerve, and the selection of suitable oils enables them to guide parents and assist them to contribute to a nurturing and supportive home environment for the infants in their care. Offering information and guidance on how to connect to a professional
IMIS Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) or Paediatric Massage Consultant (PMC) will support the parents in this.
The advantage of Early Childhood Educators having an understanding of infant massage is tenfold. If the child is calm, sleeping better and thriving, then they will learn more from the experiences and education that the Early Childhood environment provides. This can be connected to the Early Years Learning Framework of Australia, especially to the Practice of Holistic, Integrated and Interconnected Approaches. This practice states “Holistic approaches recognise the integration and connectedness of all dimensions of children’s learning, development and wellbeing. When educators take a holistic approach, they pay attention to children’s physical, personal, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and cognitive aspects of learning”
The connection between Early Childhood care and the home environment for children is paramount and goes a long way to encourage and facilitate the child’s development.
With this knowledge Early Childhood Educators can encourage and support parents to find a suitable professional to guide them through the process of infant massage for the benefit of the child and the child’s wellbeing. The benefit of massage for the child can positively impact the wellbeing of the family unit.
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