Parents in Akrotiri celebrated Infant Massage Awareness Week with SSAFA Health Visitor, Clare Henderson

Parents in Akrotiri who wanted to learn more about the benefits of baby massage were invited to local events as part of Infant Massage Awareness Week ran from 26th September 2016 to 1st October 2016 in Akrotiri.

There were three events held in various locations; the first event being the Baby Massage course held in the Midwives room of the Families Centre, Monday 26th September to Thursday 29th September, 10.00-11.00 and was attended by 8 mums and babies between the ages of 7 weeks old and 10 months, parents were encouraged to stay and chat afterwards over refreshments.



At the beginning of the course parents were asked what they would like to get out of the massage course, their responses were strikingly similar; "calming the baby down", "helping when she struggles with tummy ache", "relaxing before bed time", "to learn new massage techniques", "relieve stomach cramps", "relax the baby", "bonding time with baby", "different techniques to use and different strokes for massage", "meet and socialise with other mums", "tips to calm or soothe the baby", "knowledge", "understand new ways to settle the baby to make baby happy", "spend more time together", "help with colic or gas", "help baby relax and go to sleep", "bond with the baby through touch" and to "learn another way to relax and settle baby if and when she needs it". So an overarching need to relax, relieve, calm and settle the baby and to support bonding. Following the course parents evaluated that they most enjoyed “how to massage the baby, meet new people and make friends”, “techniques shown and social alternatives to bond” and “learning techniques and meeting other mums”.

For more than 30 years, the IAIM has set the standard for baby massage training for parents, carers and health professionals. The ethos of the IAIM baby massage course supports interactions, relaxation, relief and stimulation through a massage routine, colic routine, gentle movements, touch relaxation, learning the best time to massage the baby, which oils to use, positioning and adapting strokes. (IAIM 2016)

The second event was a Celebration of Infant Massage held in Hang 10 on Friday 30th September 11.30-13.30 which invited parents who had previously massaged their babies to have a refresher, or those with babies wondering whether the course would be for them or for pregnant women who wanted more information, there was also a colic routine review for those who required it, this was attended by 6 mums and 6 babies, 3 pregnant ladies and 1 toddler. This session comprised of a massage refresher, IAIM PowerPoint slides on the board and a general discussion about massage and how it helped their children. Parents and children were treated to refreshments and cake afterwards.

On parental evaluation they noted that their baby "had started to sleep through the the night", "we're more confident" and "did relax when she was crying".

A raffle ticket was given to all those who attended the Cellebration of massage these are the two lucky winners, Mrs Bradshaw and Mrs Roberts.

The last event was the Just For Dads Session on Saturday 1st October held in the Health Zone 10.00-11.30. 5 dads and 5 babies attended this course; they were aged from 7 weeks to 10 months. Some of the babies had been present through the whole week of massages; one dad had only been on island for 10 days! They were treated to bacon butties and coffee following the session.

Dads evaluated by saying that they most enjoyed; "social aspect and learning massage techniques", "relaxing environment", "learning something new to help relax and bond with my daughter" and "talking to other dads about their experiences with their babies".

The benefits of Infant massage have long been researched and linked to health and wellbeing benefits for the baby such as bonding, promoting better sleep, relief of colic, wind and constipation, it can aid digestion and improve muscle tone, best of all babies feel loved. (Vimala McClure, Infant Massage, A handbook for loving parents 2001 revised 2016).

However it's not just about the babies, parents who are massaging have the added effects of connecting, attuning and attaching to their baby, helps them to be able to read their babies cues, helps to relax them as this is special one to one time, may help reduce the effects post natal depression. (Dr Axford, Dartington Social Research Unit, 2015). In 2010 Cherry Bond on reviewing research from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital parenting programmes found that EPDS scores fell more significantly in the massage group compared to the control group and the mother-infant interactions showed a marked improvement in all scores compared with the control group.

For many years infant massage techniques have been part of the Healthy Child Programme 0-5yrs (Department of Health, 2009) to support parental emotional health and specifically to increase maternal sensitivity. This is later corroborated by the Dartington Social Research Unit on Sensitivity-Focused Interventions who say "depressed mothers sensitivity can be improved by preventative intervention and that baby massage may be an effective intervention method to evoke short-term changes in maternal sensitivity" (Dr Axford, Dartington Social Research Unit, 2015 and Conference presentation 2016).

The 2016 Health Matters: Giving Every Child The Best Start in Life, Public Health Outcomes for Children (Public Health England) has a big emphasis on secure relationships, emotional wellbeing, brain development and maintaining positive relationships focusing on pregnancy to two years and invests in sensitive attuned parents. There are many papers defining the potential benefits of touch and massage in fostering the desired relationships and brain nurturing. Infants cues are more likely to be read by a parent who is able to respond with sensitive and reciprocal interactions however some parents need help to reconise and respond to these cues. (Underdown, Community Practitioner, 2011)

NICE Social and Emotional Wellbeing: Early Years and Social and Emotional Wellbeing for Children and Young People both state "Health visitors and midwives should consider evidence-based interventions, such as baby massage and video interaction guidance, to improve maternal sensitivity and mother–infant attachment. For example, this approach might be effective when the mother has depression or the infant shows signs of behavioural difficulties". (NICE, 2012). This is also reitterated in the NICE Antenatal and postnatal home visiting programme for vulnerable children and families (NICE, 2012).

Engaging fathers in sessions with their babies is extremely important in the first few months of life as they typically feel deprived of chances to create that special bond as women appear to have more opportunities through regular feeding and spending more time at home with the babies when their partners have returned to work. Baby massage sessions provide scope for men and women to attend to the baby equally. Research has shown that dads who massage their babies were “more expressive, warm and accepting in their interactions with their infants”. Dads like mums enjoyed the special time that massage provided and they too enjoyed meeting other dads. (Cheng et al, 2011)

All sessions were run by Clare Henderson, who is a fully qualified baby massage instructor trained by the International Association of Infant Massage in 2006 and carried out Refresher training in 2014. As a SSAFA Health Visitor I have been privileged to have been providing Infant Massage courses in the WSBA for over 10 years. As part of Infant Massage Awareness Week I invited the mums and dads of Akrotiri to find out more about local classes and giving them the opportunity to find out more about what is involved.

A BFBS radio interview took place to promote these events but unfortunately a reporter and station photographer were unavailable through the week. Photos were taken with permission by myself.

Clare Henderson, Specialist Practictioner Public Health Nurse, SSAFA Health Visitor and CIMI.