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Benefits of Infant Massage

Benefits of Infant Massage after a Hospital Birth

Natural Birth is a Sphincter Process

Infant Message is often overlooked as a necessity to encourage growth and development in children. At its premise, massage is about touch—rubbing and manipulation of soft tissues in the body. The baby is massaged by the movement of fluids in the womb and movement of the mother’s organs, muscles, and bones. Every anatomical aspect of a developing child is initiated through stimulation. Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase in 1949, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The most intense and crucial somatic stimulation initiates during natural child labor when uterine contractions stimulate the central nervous system and principal organ systems of the fetus. These processes are reduced or eliminated entirely when birth interventions such as Caesarian section, induction, or forceps/vacuum delivery occur. The baby’s autonomic nervous system is not activated or efficiently stimulated after C-section. With an induced birth using the popular drug Pitocin, the uterus contracts more forcefully and often inhibits the natural sphincteral process of “two steps forward, one step back”, mechanics that include both contraction and relaxation of the muscles. The sphincteral process is present in every hemisphere of the body with swallowing, digestion, breathing, and elimination. With birth driven by Pitocin, contractions drastically increase the periods of strain on the baby’s body, while disallowing sufficient periods for recovery or natural turns necessary for baby to navigate the pelvic bowl and pubic bone for exiting. Thus, a baby is massaged out of the womb and any interruptions to this naturally induced massage requires more massage outside of the womb, a message that show be relayed by the American Pediatrics Association to any birthing parent.

Birth Interventions Cause Armoring of the Fascia

Babies who undergo birth interventions, prolonged, or precipitous labors must cope with continuous strain in their connective tissues. The fascia undergoes a process known as “armoring.” Imagine an athlete, like a football player, having to brace their body for impact for hours on end. This tension is stored in the tissues and must be released postpartum through tissue manipulation. The importance of touch for infants was recorded at the turn of the 20th century when infant mortality in American institutions approached 100%. The behavioral scientist, Henry Dwight Chapin, employed statistical procedures to study this phenomenon of social development in infants who were placed in orphanages. He discovered the children under the age of 2 died due to failure to thrive when denied touch and affection (Chapin 1892). Humans are prewired to be able to interpret the touch of others. Studies showed hundreds of participants, between the ages of 18 and 36, were able to communicate 8 distinct emotions via touch—anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy—with accuracy as high as 78% (Herenstein et al 2009). 

Therapeutic touch can be healing, reassuring, supportive, comforting, and in regard to the nervous system, touch can be down-regulating from arousal. The International Infant Massage Association teaches parents and therapists on how to use massage on infants. The benefits for babies can be grouped into four categories: interaction, stimulation, relief, and relaxation. Babies who experience any of these types of massage benefit from:

  • Deeper sleep
  • Improved sleep patterns,
  • More flexibility and relaxed muscle tone
  • Regulation of behavioral states
  • Being calm and better able to self-soothe
  • Reduction in stress hormones
  • Increase in the release of oxytocin

Hospitals are Stressful Environments 

Once you enter a hospital, the clock is on you and when your baby is born. Hospitals are businesses and have incentive to progress labor efficiently and timely. They use forceps, vacuums, Pitocin, fetal monitoring, C-section tactics, all to assist babies and mothers through the birth process. These interventions have consequences for the babies ability to breast crawl, fortify their immune system, bond with their mothers, and ultimately rest and integrate the magnanimous transition they just experienced by exiting intra-uterine life to enter the world. Babies can suffer shoulder dystocia, broken clavicles and trauma that is never seen, fascia and nervous system damage. Symptoms from hidden trauma are subtle at first but lead to significant issues throughout development. Sadly, most medical doctors coming out of residency have ever witnessed a truly natural birth during which a mother is more relaxed, and in the parasympathetic state so they can access the autonomic reflexes built into their bodies to birth babies. Rather, doctors are trained that moms who stall in labor need to be induced. Sphincteral processes like birth are highly responsive to stress; the anxiety moms feel in abdicating agency over the tempo and method of the birth usually results in labor stalls. Women often come into a hospital dilated and regress 2cm or more in the face of hospital stressors, such as lack of privacy, invasive procedures, clinical setting, tempo and pace set by staff, and lack of an enjoyable environment that instills a sense of safety and comfort. When faced with any kind of stress, animals in the wild will stop their own labor and remove themselves from the immediate environment. Modern hospital settings have direct consequences on natural birth intentions. Mainly, this armoring process that infants experience in their fascia and muscles, continues post birth. The majority of infants are separated from their mothers for cleaning and inspection. The accumulation of tension directly impacts their ability to breastfeed. 

Effects of a traumatic birth

As mentioned earlier, the prolonged armoring in utero trains the fascia to take on unnatural tension and shape. The most common known results of this armoring is Torticollis, occipital compression and tongue-tie. Compression in the fascia causes tension in the head, neck, jaw, and negatively impacts breathing, breastfeeding, sleeping, and pooping.

Tongue-tie’s impact on feeding

In modern hospital settings, the baby’s first natural reflex (out of the womb) is to crawl on their mom’s tummy up to the breast where they latch via the rooting reflex. The baby should do this breast crawl with the umbilical cord still intact. (Watch: Baby’s First Crawl.) Mom gets to hold her infant skin-to-skin against her chest, which allows baby to down-regulate from the trauma of birth and mom and baby both release oxytocin, which stimulates the production of breast milk! Research shows that medicines and inductions blunt the baby’s ability to have this experience, which is fundamental to healthy nursing. Often, hospital procedure dictates that even babies who are physically capable are not allowed to make their first crawl and latch.

Tongue-tied babies must face all this, and more. Even when they are allowed to successfully crawl to the breast, the latch may not be comfortable or effective. This abnormal latch may even be painful for the mother, baby, or both. Tension in the body, especially in the head and neck, then limit the baby’s ability to open for wide latch. In addition, the tensions, torsions, and effects of the birth can directly affect cranial nerve function. This, in turn, affects the baby’s innervation and use of muscles associated with breathing and feeding. Restricted fasciae impede normal functionality of the muscles needed to latch and feed, so even if there is no pain, it can be difficult for babies to transfer milk from their mother’s breast.

Insufficient transfers can then disrupt mom’s milk supply, preventing its release and stunting its ability to replenish. Sadly, most mothers are not told this information, and frequently think something is wrong with them when their milk supply does not match their baby’s needs.

Bodywork is imperative for infants born today

Throughout history, childbirth has been viewed as a mysterious, miraculous event beyond the full scope of human reckoning. In times previous to World War II, midwives were women in the community who were employed to “be with” a woman with child. She facilitated the natural birthing process, letting the mother’s body take the lead. Today, we have the benefit of multiple medical disciplines, research and development to produce the most sophisticated body of knowledge on human physiology. With this vast repertoire of knowledge and technology, medicine still has not moved towards a holistic paradigm in managing this incredible complexity. In order to employ more natural tactics, a person has to seek out alternative care on the fringe of societal allowances. The past five decades have shown a resurgence in holistic healthcare. 

Fortunately, this resurgence in holistic care is becoming more evident in our handling of childbirth. As mothers unite across social media platforms to seek answers for their challenges outside of the pediatrician’s office, they are learning of how to care better for their babes. Baby friendly hospital initiatives, Ban the Bag campaigns, Back to Sleep, Midwifery Model of Care, Home Births, Kangaroo Care, Craniosacral therapy, infant massage, chiropractic care, holistic dentists, all combine to ignite the revolution that must take place in our society. Babies are conscious, sentient beings. Their bodies store every experience prior to conception. We lead stressful lives, and our children are reaping the harmful consequences. The current state of affairs of our children’s health illustrates the need for humility to admit that our understanding of pregnancy and birth is inadequate in the medical area, and to serve as the basis for developing a more nuanced, holistic approach.

CHAPIN, H. D. (1892). The survival of the unfit. Popular Science Monthly, 41, 182-187. CHAPIN, H. D. (1894). Child-study in the hospital-a record of six hundred case s. Forum, 17, 125-128. 

CHAPIN, H. D. (1905). The work of the babies’ wards of the New York post-graduate hospital for convalescent children. Archives of Pediatrics, 22, 241 -247 . CHAPIN, H. D. (I90Sa). Hospital social services. Outlook, 90, 867. 

Field T. Breastfeeding and Antidepressants. Infant Behavior and Development. 2008 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

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International Association of Infant Massage. (https://iaim.net/benefits/)

Understanding Tongue-Tie: Birth Onwards. (https://kidstowndentist.com/understanding-tongue-tie-birth-onwards/)

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