At any age, who could resist a cuddle? But at the intensive care nurseries at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, Calif., personal touch provided by volunteers is providing comfort to newborn babies in their earliest critical stage of life. The cuddlers are part of the infant health-care team to provide comfort for hospitalized babies when their parents need to be away from them, and the staff has to attend to the medical needs of other patients. Stanford describes baby cuddler volunteers as providing “…loving arms for sick infants, reducing the strain of long hospitalizations on both the infants and their families.”
When the program began in 1990, there were seven volunteers. Today, according to the Massage Magazine article “Newborns Benefit from Hospital Cuddle Program,” written by Larry Schwingel, there are more than 130 volunteers, most of them older adults, who give over 10,000 hours of service a year. While the cuddlers do not provide infant massage, the caring touch helps calm babies experiencing pain and separation anxiety.
Schwingel explains that, ideally, a parent's touch should be provided, a team of physicians, nurses, and other specialists are teaching parents and caretakers proper baby-care techniques. Training includes a skin-to-skin method for treating infants in the isolette or massage, when appropriate.
Benefits of touch for babies
There is a lot written about the psychological and physical benefits of infant massage. As one example, writing about the power of infant massage for A Foundation for Healthy Family Living, Elaine Fogel Schneider, Ph.D., C.I.I.M, says that “Nurturing touch between a parent/caregiver and an infant enriches physiological, social-emotional, and mind/body/spirit connections for the infant being massaged, as well as for the parent.”
She explains that the massage technique for infants is different from massage for adults. That’s because “It is not as much manipulative as it is communicative.” She cites the psycho-social benefits to the infant as”
- Promotes bonding and attachment
- Promotes body-mind-spirit connection
- Increases self-esteem
- Increases sense of love, acceptance, respect, and trust
- Enhances communication
According to Mayo Clinic, research also suggests that in addition to encouraging interaction between a parent and baby, infant massage can:
- Help babies relax and sleep.
- Positively affect infant hormones that control stress.
- Reduce crying
Also, Mayo Clinic says that “some studies also suggest that infant massage involving moderate pressure might promote growth for premature babies.” To this end, research conducted at the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami concluded, “Massage therapy had led to weight gain in preterm infants when moderate pressure massage was provided. In studies on passive movement of the limbs, preterm infants also gained significantly more weight, and their bone density also increased.”
Become a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM)
Anyone interested in becoming a CEIM, also called Certified Instructor of Infant Massage (CIMI), to work with parents and families in private or group settings to teach them about nurturing touch and have options for in=class and online instruction.
Infant Massage USA, a non-profit educational organization and chapter of the International Association of Infant Massage registered in Sweden, offers training classes around the country throughout the year. Training also is offered by the Liddle Kidz Foundation. Check online for other schools and organizations that provide training. Some of the training also includes setting up infant massage classes and how to market your services.