Alyssa Kraft and Val Kemper, licensed massage therapists at Relaxation Station in Minot, have undergone training as certified infant massage instructors. They are now offering classes to teach the techniques to parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers up to age 3.
"Massage has been shown to have many benefits, not just for adults, but significant benefits for babies. It's a good way to communicate with your baby, whether you're a new or adoptive parent," Kraft said.
"When I had infants, there was nothing like this offered, and I wish there would have been," Kemper said. "When you have a colicky baby, you're at your wits' end. You don't know where to turn, and you feel incompetent as a parent. Massage can help, and it's certainly not going to harm them in any way."
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Alyssa Kraft, licensed massage therapist, uses a doll as a model when she demonstrates for parents and caregivers during an infant massage class.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Alyssa Kraft, licensed massage therapist, demonstrates a technique she teaches in infant massage classes on a doll’s foot.
The University of Miami medical center conducted a study on premies, which showed that as a result of massage, 47 percent of preemies had more weight gain, were more responsive, and were discharged six days earlier from the hospital; which amounted in a $10,000 cost savings per infant.
"With preemies, you want to start slowly, especially if they're in an incubator. Start by just touching their hand or foot, making sure you're not getting in the way of any IVs they might have, and slowly increase your touch," Kemper said.
In the United States, only 25 percent of parents' time is spent actually touching their babies, Kraft said, and by 9 months that percentage drops below 16 percent of the time. Babies can benefit from more physical contact.
Early massage can help an infant in several different areas, Kraft explained. It can help with communication, allowing caregivers and babies to bond with direct eye contact. It can help improve motor skills. It allows for improved socialization and can help improve cognitive skills.
Massage also helps with circulation and stimulating gastrointestinal systems.
"It sounds funny, but you could actually hear the babies passing gas during a massage," Kemper said. "It helped relieve that discomfort."
For parents who practice massage regularly with their babies or toddlers, it can be a good stress reliever and bonding experience.
"It promotes bonding and attachment," Kraft said. "A good way to connect is through touch. It's a nice way to relax, and take that extra time with your baby."
"Having that time at the end of the day gives parents a time to unwind, relax, and reconnect with baby when they get home," Kemper said.
The techniques are presented in a group class, though private sessions are available as well. Parents or caregivers bring the infant to the class and copy the techniques they see modeled.
"The babies are our judge in how much we'll get through," Kraft said. "The caregivers just have to watch the baby, and they know when they're done."
"We (the class instructors) don't ever touch the babies," she added. "It's all done one-on-one with the parent."
The techniques are simple to learn, Kraft said, and can be beneficial to others besides just an infant's primary caregiver.
"It could be done with nurses in a hospital, grandparents, day-care providers anybody involved or who works with children on a day to day basis will benefit, and even a baby's older siblings can benefit," Kraft said.
The techniques are often learned in just two class sessions. After the first class, Kemper said, caregivers will have a week off to practice.
"At the next class, we'll discuss how it went, if they were able to go for a half hour, how was the eye contact, and if they noticed the baby was sleeping better," Kemper said. "A lot of times, they'll have questions. We also have a video available, that they can take home to go over the techniques again."
Each infant will take to massage differently. Some don't enjoy it at all at first, Kraft explained, while others take to it right away. With all infants, when massage is continually practiced, they will start to expect and enjoy it as a regular part of their routines.
"The more you do it, the more the baby is going to respond," Kraft said.
"You're helping baby naturally in preventing a lot of problems," she added. "And the techniques are so simple, that anybody can do them."