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Infant Massage at PSJMC
09/10/2008

Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center Family Birthing Suites assist with bringing new life into the world and establishing that first connection between mother, father and baby - and now a new program allows the strong bond between parents and children to continue to grow with our Infant Massage classes.

"It seems like every time we open a magazine or newspaper, there is a new way to carry your baby," says Susan Hausmann, certified infant massage instructor at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center. "Babies in the United States are called 'container babies' because we cache them in buggies, strollers, play pens, cribs, walkers, high chairs, and so on.  We breastfeed them for shorter periods of time and have hundreds of new options for caring for our babies than we did just ten years ago. However, as products and environment have changed, the need for touch hasn't.  At the sight of our babies, our fingers itch to cuddle and stroke them.  While we opt for the buggie rather than the Snugli, the swing rather than the rocking chair, it is important that we learn to identify and respond fully to our baby's signals for closeness."

Thus, infant massage is one simple way to bring parents closer to their children. Massaging babies is nothing new to the rest of the world. For example, in Nigeria, babies whole bodies are massaged from birth, and in Fiji, mothers massage their babies with coconut oil after baths. In New Zealand they have nursery rhymes that go with their massage and in India babies are massaged daily.

"Our fingertips contain an incredible, all-natural pharmacy," explains Hausmann. "When we glide our fingers across the trunks of preterm infants, the pressure stimulates a branch of cranial nerves called the vegetative vagus. These nerves, in turn, stimulate the gastrointestinal tract releasing hormones like glucose and insulin.  This aids in the gastrointestinal food absorption and enhancing digestion, and possibly explains the dramatic weight gain of massaged infants."

Massage also stimulates the circulation of the blood and lymph fluids, fuels the muscles with fresh oxygen and nutrients, while also flushing away metabolic waste products, releasing physical tension and soothing the nerves by lowering the stress hormones by releasing natural endorphins in the brain. Massage affects the immune system as well.  Infants that are massaged have higher levels of secretory immunoglobulin which protects against respiratory tract infections than infants that are not stroked.

"Infant massage isn't something new; it's actually something that begins taking place as our children form in the womb," says Hausmann. "The same, deep-pressure touch experienced during massage can mend, relax and rejuvenate the baby has been built into our children's natural sensory system. Massage begins in the womb as the amniotic fluid swishes against the baby's skin, and as the mother's movements press the walls of the womb against the baby."

The massage continues after a baby is born, through the closeness of a baby being held.

"The fact of nature is that babies were meant to be held for hours - for days, and especially for nights. Touch is not simply an emotional fringe benefit for infants - it is as necessary as the air they breathe, as they form bonds with their parents and loved ones and learn about trust and comfort," says Hausmann.

The Infant Massage class is held on Saturdays from noon until 2 p.m. Upcoming classes include September 13, October 25, November 15, and December 13. This class is designed for the expectant and new parents to explore the techniques and benefits of infant massage. The class will be taught by a certified massage therapist. Bring your newborn to receive the calming effects of a massage. Dolls will be provided for undelivered parents. Registration is $10. To reserve your place, call Provena Health Connections at (815) 725-9438.

For more information on prenatal classes, or a video tour of the Family Birthing Suites at Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center, visit www.provena.org/stjoes.

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