Infant massage promotes bonding, relaxation

Moms, dads expand the meaning of ‘fitness’

Are you looking for something new and different to liven up your work/family initiative? Why not try an infant massage program . . . that’s right, infant massage.

Every week at the Woman’s Fitness Center in Baton Rouge, LA, mothers and fathers spend about an hour learning to give their babies a massage. The program is designed to:

• enhance bonding and communication between parents and baby;

• enhance parents’ abilities to deal with fussy, sick, or special-needs babies;

• help strengthen and regulate the baby’s digestive, respiratory, and circulatory systems;

• help parents understand the baby’s nonverbal cues;

• relieve the symptoms of colic and gas.

The fitness center is part of Woman’s Hospital, an OB/GYN facility with about 1,100 employees. The center, located in a strip shopping mall about a block away from the hospital, is open to both employees and the community at large, and currently has 150 employee members.

New program, new revenue center

The program, launched in October 1996, is both a logical extension of existing programming and a potential new revenue source for the center, explains Dawn Braud, MS, director of the fitness center.

"Our center is small [10,000 square feet], so we’re trying to increase revenue with specialized programs while not making a large profit off our membership," she explains. Existing members pay a basic fee of $25 to $30 a month, which covers use of the facilities and an annual health risk assessment.

"We felt this would complement the exercise programs we already had for women with teen-agers, and our prenatal exercise programs," notes Charlotte D. Stewart, LMT.

"Many people could benefit from learning these skills," Stewart says. "For their own good, it gives great satisfaction and relaxation when you massage a child. It’s a nice, quiet time for both of you, and very soothing."

"It’s another way to focus on the relationship of parents and children," adds Braud, who notes that fathers are encouraged to participate. "We don’t think the mother should be the only parent to bond this way with the baby," she explains. "It’s wonderful if the father can do it, too."

Parents are taught specific massage strokes in either group or private sessions, using a doll as a model, and then doing the same thing on the baby. The baby starts on his back, and the parents work their way up from the feet to the head. Then, they turn the baby over and do his back side.

Give baby time to respond

Not all babies take to the massages immediately, notes Stewart, but this is part of the learning and bonding process.

"Some babies really like it and respond well, but you have to be very aware of infant cues," she says. "If the baby is overstimulated, he may cry, become flushed, or arch his back. If you see a cluster of these responses, you need to take a comfort break." During these breaks, the baby may want to be fed, require a diaper change, or just need to be held. "The baby should get whatever he needs," says Stewart.

Participating parents are also provided with a copy of the book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala Schneider McClure (Bantam Books, New York City.) The book reviews the history and benefits of infant massage, and includes pictures of each stroke, so parents can refresh their memories as needed.

[For more information about this infant massage program, contact Dawn Braud, Director, Woman’s Fitness Center, care of Woman’s Hospital, 9050 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, LA 70815 (504) 924-8300.]