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  • Angela Laverick CIMI

Challenging the Six Week Myth

I’ve been told that my baby is too young for Baby Massage and that we should wait until they are at least 6 weeks old…

Nobody wants to do the wrong thing when it comes to their baby, so it’s understandable that when someone contradicts our ideas it can cause concern and confusion and stop us in our tracks, especially if that person is someone whose information we value and respect, such as a health professional.

Recently I’ve had new parents contact me to say that they have been advised that baby massage is too stimulating for their new baby and that they should wait until at least 6 weeks of age before attending a class.

First of all I’d like to reassure you that my training with the International Association of Infant Massage, the largest and longest standing association dedicated solely to Infant Massage, providing the gold standard of teaching and training world wide, qualifies me to teach from birth. I personally have massaged my own children from birth and many of my clients attend my courses with very young babies, the youngest being only 1 week old.

There is no evidence that I, or indeed the IAIM, are aware of to suggest waiting until 6 weeks. There is a possibility that this idea may have come from a very outdated recommendation started in 1994 when a well known multinational consumer company sent out a ‘Baby Massage Pack’ to health professionals. Or, it may be from a belief that babies should have their hips checked before attending a class, ie at the 6-8 week check, although I would challenge this by saying that if that were the case, should we not bath or lift the legs to change a nappy before this check too? Bearing in mind also that the hips are checked by a paediatrician at birth.

The IAIM way of teaching is that massage is completely baby-led. This means that throughout the course and at home, I encourage you to observe your baby and follow their, sometimes very subtle, cues when they tell us that they need something other than massage. We teach this cue based touch through listening to our babies and respecting the pace they dictate. For very young babies I teach about containment holds and still touch as well as the massage routines. These are very important to enable the baby to feel safe, secure and contained, and help to keep the pace nice and slow as we introduce massage. IAIM massage is a communication between baby and parent, not a therapy, although we do recognise that there are many therapeutic benefits. It is something we do with, not to our babies.

It is ok for your baby to feed, sleep, cry, etc during the class, their needs always come first. My classes are longer to ensure that the session is not rushed. We are sensitive to the amount of stimulation in the room, that could easily overwhelm a newborn. I have chosen venues carefully to reflect this - they are quiet, warm and plain with low level lighting, I never wear perfume when I have a class, I even make sure I am wearing plain black socks rather than jazzy patterned ones, all things that can add extra stimulation to new babies. In terms of the massage itself, massage can mean stimulation, yes, but when we think about stimulation through massage it is more to do with stimulating bodily functions such as the digestive system, respiratory system, nervous system, circulatory, etc, etc...

We also don’t run ‘drop in’ classes, as it takes time to develop the routine and learn about your own baby’s individual cues. The IAIM programme has been fully research to show that a minimum 5 week course is optimum for impact as an intervention.

Of course, there are pros and cons to attending a class at any age. Parents may choose not to use oil on a baby’s skin in the first few weeks. I provide guidance and suggestions around suitable oil choices and up to date recommendations on use but ultimately it is your choice of when and what you use on your baby.

A very young baby may spend a lot of their time asleep or feeding during the class, but this can also happen at any age, and it is perfectly fine and normal! That’s the beauty of this being a course where you learn the skills to take away with you, to use when your baby is ready. Many of the parents I have taught over the past 14 years have commented that they wished that they had come along sooner, particularly where issues with colic or post natal depression have occurred, as they so often do in the early weeks. Attending a course as soon as you are ready to can be so beneficial in terms of socialising and getting oxytocin, the love hormone, flowing. Learning techniques to soothe and calm your baby is incredibly empowering as a new parent. Is it ever too soon to bond with your baby through touch?

“Mollie cried a lot with colic and I'd heard that massage could help it. I was also demented sitting in the house with her screaming so it was probably just as much for my sanity to get out and about! Even though she slept and fed a lot in the first few weeks I think the calm environment you provided really helped us both. Oh and the cake.... That helped” Attended from 4 weeks

“We started the course at around a month old. Very selfish, I know, but I think the biggest benefit of coming at that time was for me. I definitely struggled with the early days of motherhood and the huge change it caused to my life, and so the massage class, together with my weekly Water Babies class, gave me something to look forward to every week, an outlet to chat about things with other Mums in similar positions, your sage advice, and also something that Isla seemed to enjoy too! Some people settle into motherhood really easily but I didn’t. However, the massage class was definitely one of the top things that helped me through those days as well as creating a lovely opportunity to bond with Isla.

As much as there are huge benefits for the babies, I think the biggest benefits are for the Mums who may just need a break, a cup of tea, a chat about something they’re not sure about or a vent about their partner!

“We did it when Noah was just 2 weeks old. It helped us get him parting with his wind but that was just a trick you taught us. My main reason though was wanting Sahin and Noah to do something for them to share with sahin not having his work visa granted at that point. It’s something all 3 of us enjoyed and Noah still loves us massaging him after a bath.

Hoping to start treating baby 2 to massage soon.”

“We started when George was 4 weeks old. I wanted to get out but also wanted something quite relaxing for me rather than a busy noisy group. I chose massage because it seemed a lovely way to bond with my new baby and I thought as he was so young, I wouldn’t have to wrestle him to keep him on the mat! Little did I know he’d be an absolute tinker and want feeding for most sessions, regardless we both got a lot out of the course in particular learning ways to ease his chesty cough and constipation as well as lovely bonding touch.”

It is your choice when to attend a Baby Massage course. Only you know when you feel ready to get out and about to groups, and that really is what it comes down to - when you feel ready.

Please be aware that not all Baby Massage classes are the same, have the same ethos for listening to babies, or follow the same carefully researched guidelines for practice. A practitioner advertising under the IAIM banner is a member of the IAIM and receives up to date guidance and support and access to further training opportunities within the IAIM.

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