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Infant massage: The practice and evidence-base to support it

02 March 2015
9 min read
Volume 23 · Issue 3

Abstract

Parents across the globe have been massaging their babies for centuries. The popularity of infant massage in Western countries is a relatively recent phenomenon; the trend has probably developed due to the perceived health benefits. In some Eastern cultures, the practice of infant massage is passed on from one generation to the next. In Western cultures, it is more likely that new parents will attend a local baby massage class with an instructor. Whichever form the practice takes, it is important to know that there is no potential for harm to the baby. This article will consider the perceived benefits of infant massage, how to massage, the role of the health professional and whether we should be concerned about what products, if any, should be used for infant massage.

The practice of infant massage is not a new phenomenon. It is a part of nature—at birth, mammals massage their newborns by licking and grooming them to encourage their body systems to normalise (Ishikawa and Shiga, 2012). In humans, midwives ‘massage’ newborns through drying to stimulate a response to take their first breath.

Early records of massage practice and research are diverse. It has been documented as early as 2760BC in China (Mitzel-Wilkinson, 2000). In Asia, infant massage is a long-established mothering tradition, passed down from generation to generation (Porter, 1996). Influenced by Florence Nightingale, massage training was provided by nurses and physicians for many health-related conditions during the 1880s and into the 1900s (Ruffin, 2011).

In a series of experiments with monkeys, Harlow (1958) found tactile stimulation in mother–infant interaction improved confidence and secure emotional behaviour. In the 1930s, research studies suggested that massage therapy could increase blood circulation and reduce muscle atrophy (Field et al, 2007).

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