When I first began teaching Infant Massage in 1977, I brought my baby to classes and demonstrated the strokes on him. This worked out very well, and I continued when my second baby came along. It was nice because they then received massage twice a day!
Then I began training Infant Massage Instructors for what would become my new nonprofit organization, the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM). I trained and certified many instructors before IAIM was incorporated in 1986. Some questions were coming my way. Some Licensed Massage Therapists wanted to be trained to massage babies, and some parents were asking if their au pair or other helpers could massage their babies.
I had spent several years researching touch, and one of my mentors, Dr. Marshall Klaus, had recently defined the elements of bonding (this was in 1976-77). One of the reasons I began teaching Infant Massage is that it would continue the bonding and attachment of baby to parent. In fact, bonding was the core reason for Infant Massage. Many other benefits accrue, but bonding is the heart of what we teach. I had to explain this over and over again to nurses, massage therapists, and parents. In fact, this is one of the reasons I didn’t seek out acknowledgement, help, support, or collaboration with the medical community.
The art and practice of Infant Massage is not meant as a therapy; the definition of therapy is “to treat medically.” Though therapeutic results may happen, therapy is not even a “side” element. Our curriculum with parents is designed to help parents feel close to their infants, and to help babies feel safe, relaxed, and loved.
The bonding and attachment between infants and parents is a sacred process, which is automatically enhanced by the IAIM massage. If someone else massages the baby, the element of safety comes into question; the baby is confused. An infant’s biological attunement with the bonding process should always be with the person who is the “always” caregiver — the parent.
Only in cases such as babies in an orphanage will we deviate from this. Even then, we identify a caregiver who will be the person to massage and bond with the baby. Not just “anybody” should massage a baby.
In our classes, our Certified Instructors demonstrate the massage strokes on a life-like doll. If a parent needs help with something, the instructor will go to her and show her on the doll, allowing the parent to be the only one touching the baby.
I believe, from all my experience and research, that a “therapist” massaging a baby is just wrong. It is not a therapist’s goal to bond with the baby; it is something else altogether, including a need to be professional and thus “better than” the parent, and the income that can come from painting Infant Massage as a play therapy or spa therapy. IAIM Certified Instructors who act in this capacity risk losing their certification.