gentle soothing strokes, baby wearing etc. It is a natural instinct and one which can be greatly enhanced through the use of baby massage.
Baby massage is a form of tactile stimulation. It offers numerous advantages such as increased bonding and decreased stress for both baby and parent and reduced crying and emotional distress for the baby. Much research has been conducted on massage and the effects of touch techniques on babies. The benefits are even more medical and scientific than you might think! Of particular interest is the evidence available with regards to undertaking baby massage on infants that are in or have spent time in neonatal care units. It has been shown that babies who experience baby massage techniques are discharged sooner than babies who don’t. In some neonatal units in the States they include baby massage techniques in the treatment plans for the babies under their care. Supportive, positive touch promotes the infant’s engagement with their caregivers and their environment as well as helping to establish the sensory building blocks of cognition, behaviour and communication.
Babies who spend time in hospital tend to be subjected to an increased frequency of medical procedures that can be associated with aversive learning in infants. The use of baby massage techniques can overcome issues associated with overstimulation as a result of medical interventions and the atypical sensory environment in hospitals. In addition to this, a recent study, published by Gursul et al in 2018, has shown that by gently stroking a baby, at a certain rate, any pain experienced as a result of these medical interventions, can be decreased.
Babies with Down Syndrome are often exposed to the neonatal and hospital environment due to the increased possibility of complications such as Congenital Heart Disease. As a result, they are often exposed to medical procedures and interventions. Therefore, from what we have seen in the literature, it is easy to deduce that the use of baby massage techniques would be very beneficial to infants with Down Syndrome to overcome potential tactile defensiveness, that can be experienced as a result of medical interventions at a young age, as well as reduce the issues associated with uncharacteristic sensory stimulation following a hospital stay.
It is not common practice for baby massage to be undertaken in neonatal intensive care units in Ireland. However, the advantages of baby massage can still be experienced in the post-natal and post hospital discharge periods. Baby massage classes are readily available and are normally offered to babies and their parents aged between 1 month (corrected for preterm infants) and until the baby is actively crawling.
There are many instructors offering baby massage services in Limerick and Munster. Check that the instructor is registered with the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) or Baby Massage Ireland, when booking. Wendy Condell, a Limerick-based baby massage instructor, has extensive experience in baby massage and with working with children with additional needs, including babies with Down Syndrome. Wendy says, “Baby massage offers endless benefits to both baby and their parents. Positive touch is an important parenting skill that can increase the bond between a parent and their child and provide comfort and reassurance to a baby. At the Limerick Parent and Baby Centre we offer baby massage services on a one-to-one basis and also in a group setting at Delta Sports Dome. One-to-one massage sessions can be beneficial if the baby is unwell or immuno-compromised. However, where possible I would recommend attending the group classes. Group classes are of benefit to all babies from a social and interactive perspective but they also offer parent-to-parent support, which is so advantageous in the early post-natal period. Babies with additional needs (and chromosomes!) often have lots of appointments and therapies so baby massage classes are a lovely way to spend a fun and enjoyable time with your baby”. Wendy offers baby massage services to members of Down Syndrome Limerick. For more information on baby massage classes please contact us at Down Syndrome Limerick.
Written by: Ellen, mum to two kids, one who happens to be rocking an extra chromosome.