Pure Infant Massage: a Tool for Bonding with Baby


Sue Irwin is a Certified Infant Massage Teacher (CIMT), Early Childhood Educator and proud mommy to Benjamin (and doggie Oakley). Her 45-minute introductory workshop for expectant parents and parents with a pre-moving child starts from a grounding in the principles supporting the techniques and includes practice for the parents and expectant parents, either on their own child or with correct-scale dolls. The aim of the workshop is to improve understanding of nurturing touch and wellbeing for children, while having fun together. In March, a workshop was hosted for parents by Parkgate Community Services of the North Shore. baby-massage3

After almost 15 years teaching Preschool, working for the Child Care Resource & Referral Program and running workshops for families and child care providers, infant massage education was a natural fit for Sue. She is based on the North Shore and works throughout the Vancouver Coastal region providing workshops and one-on-one education in the techniques and importance of Infant Massage.

In the workshops, Sue doesn’t touch the child herself; only the parents touch their own child. She demonstrates the techniques using a doll, or on the hand of the adult, so they can get the feeling of the correct pressure to apply, and then the parent practices the techniques either with their child (if the child is ready to engage) or with a doll. Infant response is the best guide, and she teaches parents how to watch for infant cues, such as not too sleepy and demonstrating engagement. Oils used for infant massage should be natural, edible and fragrance-free (e.g. virgin olive, grape seed, almond).

Adults practice on each other’s hands to get the right pressure. It is important to get a level of touch that is not tickling, but is not too forceful. The aim is for the techniques to promote relaxation and comfort in the infant. Sue says, “I have watched a little one that struggled to fall asleep ask for a hand massage from her Mom and then drift off to sleep peacefully, I have observed a Dad’s face light up when he could have special time with his baby, and I have received feedback that health issues like weight, colic, and sleep patterns improve. I believe in the benefits of infant massage for baby and parent/caregiver”.

Before engaging with the infant, it is important for the parent to take a few deep breaths and roll their shoulders first, to calm and de-stress themselves, so that they can be ready to engage in a relaxed way with their child to do the massage. Sue teaches the parent the hand signal that tells the infant it is massage time. This furthers the respect and trust between parent and child. Increased understanding of the importance of attachment for infants reinforces that they need nurturing touch to develop emotionally, socially, physically and cognitively.

Infant massage is practiced globally and research has demonstrated the value of infant massage in reducing anxiety and aggression in infants and toddlers. The gentle interaction involved in infant massage has mutual benefits for the child and the parent. Research studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida and Healing Touch International, among others, are finding touch therapies are aiding weight gain in premature babies, decreasing stress hormones and resulting in shorter hospital stays. Vancouver-based Naturopathic Doctor specializing in family health, Dr. Julie Durnan, adds, “Studies show that babies grow better and are less stressed when they receive a massage. Not only does skin-to-skin touch connect babies and parents, it’s also a beautiful way to communicate with each other without saying a word.”

For mothers and fathers this valuable skill supports a secure bond, healthy development, improves sleep patterns, provides relief for digestive issues and decreases stress levels. Sue receives positive feedback from dads about how valuable this de-stressing time is for them and how this special time helps them feel closer to their child. New parents experience a sense of increased competence in being able to comfort and respond to their child and better understand their baby’s cues.

Sue always recommends that parents consult their doctor before starting massage with their child if they have any health concerns about the infant. As well as her introductory workshops for parents and expectant parents, Sue offers one-to-one sessions, specific techniques for digestive issues, and has a new workshop for childcare providers, including the value of nurturing touch and demonstrating certain massage strokes to be used with permission from the child’s parents.