The Power of Touch
As a licensed clinical psychologist working primarily with children ages birth to five, it was an easy decision to incorporate infant massage into my professional work. I have been a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) for over 10 years. Several years ago, I completed the World Institute for Nurturing Communication (WINC) without borders™ Certified Infant Massage Instructor CIMI® TRIAD Model™ Level 2 Class. The CIMI® TRIAD Model™ Level 2 curriculum is endorsed by the internationally known and esteemed Bruce Lipton, PhD, research scientist and author of Biology of Belief, which introduces epigenetics, the study of the continuum of DNA development after birth. According to Lipton, a child may maximize or diminish DNA development after birth depending upon environment, touch, and communication.
As the TRIAD Model suggests, it is important to provide a safe, organized, enriched, and stimulating environment for infants and families in order to thrive. Furthermore, this is coupled with nurturing touch and thoughtful and compassionate communication between the infant and his or her primary caregiver. As Dr. Lipton indicates, “Nature needs nurturing to reach its maximum intended potential.” It is not necessary to be biologically and genetically linked to an infant or child in order to significantly and positively impact them. While I know this to be true in my professional work, I also intimately experience this notion in my personal life as a parent.
In 2006, I was childless and in the process of pursuing the adoption of an infant from the child welfare system in Southern California. At that time, I was married and my husband and I were anxiously and eagerly waiting to be matched with an infant. We were aware of the reported risks and statistics about adopting a child from “the system.” However, this did not hinder us as our primary desire was to be parents and to provide unconditional love and support to whomever we were matched with. I became even more motivated and excited about this prospect when I discovered Infant Massage WINC™ and became a CIMI. Although the therapeutic aspects and benefits of using this approach with clients was clear, I immediately gravitated toward it with the idea that it would enhance my own relationship with my future child. I wondered if there would be any attachment or bonding challenges between my baby and me due to the lack of biological connection. In exploring the ongoing debate between the influences of nature versus nurture, I felt infant massage absolutely could benefit our future baby by providing him or her with a great deal of love, nurturance, and emotional and physical support. The idea of infant massage and the power of touch between my future baby and me opened up a new world of opportunity!
For those who are not familiar with its power, touch is the first sense to develop and we depend on it to broaden our knowledge (e.g., baby touching; exploring; and differentiating between various textures of food, toys, and clothing), for safety (e.g., distinguishing and withdrawing from sharp or very hot objects), and for physical comfort (e.g., gently touching a distressed child to assist with self-regulation). In fact, it has been determined that young children who have been significantly deprived of healthy physical touch may be at high risk of suffering from somatosensory affective disorder, which is characterized by the inability to physiologically suppress increased levels of stress hormones. Reportedly, when this occurs at an extreme level, there may be an increase in aggressive or violent acts.
As indicated by Infant Massage WINC™, the following have been shown to be major benefits of infant massage: 1) promoting bonding and attachment by enhancing two-way communication between the caregiver and child; 2) providing physical relief of colic, gas, constipation, and reflux in babies by toning the digestive tract, stimulating the food absorption hormones, and releasing endorphins in the body to relieve pain and emotional distress; 3) promoting relaxation as the physical touch releases hormones to create balance in our autonomic nervous system, improves sleep patterns, increases the release of oxytocin and prolactin in the mother, ultimately, creating a nurturing and healthy sense of emotional well-being; and 4) promoting stimulation that increases brain and muscular development. As revealed in past and present research, touch and stroking various body parts stimulate nerve pathways and assist in the myelination process (whereby long connecting nerve cells become insulated with myelin, a fatty substance, and acts like an insulator ensuring nerve impulses are delivered in full and with speed), by increasing hypothalamic activity, and stimulating somatotropin, a growth hormone.
With the above knowledge in mind, I eagerly pursued my certification as a CIMI. By the end of 2006, I was certified and ready to become a parent instructor, not only for others, but as a parent ready to build a special connection with my future child. In 2007, my son came into this world and entered my life at just one day old. He was physically healthy and able to go home with us when he was just two days old. From that point on, I carefully began using my new skills in infant massage strokes and began to instruct my husband in using it. As I encourage parents and caregivers to do, I selected a time, setting, and situation that would assist me in using this special technique, and in promoting this special relationship between my son and me - on a regular and daily basis. Our ideal time was in the evening, just after my son’s bath, in his bedroom, which presented with a relatively warm and dimly lit environment. We played instrumental versions of lullabies and used grapeseed oil, warmed in the palms of my hands, to begin the process and loving journey of connecting in a very significant way.
I encourage the families I work with to ask permission and/or to inform their babies of what to expect in this dyadic journey. I believe starting early in age may assist in establishing and instilling a foundation that promotes mutual respect and the practice of a safe and welcomed touch. The TRIAD Model enhances this special relationship and “conscious parenting.” When we are stressed, tentative, and uncertain of our role, this can impact the developing brain and overall developmental functioning of our children. As a reminder, our children look to us for that critical support and guidance needed in supporting their developmental growth.
My son is now 11 years old. To this day, I assist him in applying Grapeseed oil to his skin and hair, using dimmed lighting in his bedroom with background music similar to that of early childhood. My son, a very physically active and high-energy boy, is often able to transition with little to no difficulty from high-energy activities to this experience of calm just by the process indicated above. This is a part of our co-regulation process that I perceive to be essential in diminishing distress, agitation, and irritability, and in increasing nurturance, loving feelings, and positive emotional and physical well-being in us both. Each night, my son verbalizes his desire to “snuggle” next to me and appreciates the warmth and unconditional love that is mutually shared between us. Given his age and transition to pre-adolescence, whereby peer relations and influences become even stronger, I treasure these special “snuggling” opportunities with my son.
As a proud supporter of the TRIAD Model, it is incredibly important for me to share specialized infant massage with the families I work with. I am a strong believer in promoting healthy touch and relationship from an early age. In doing so, we create a trajectory that can be of significant benefit to a young child and others that are positively influenced by his or her touch in the future to come.
Field, T. (2001). Touch. Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book, The MIT Press.
Lipton, B. H. (2008). The Biology of Belief: unleashing the power of consciousness, matter, and miracles.Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.
Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: how relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are.New York: The Guilford Press.
World Institute for Nurturing Communication (Infant Massage WINC™) Certified Infant Massage Instruction, CIMI® teaching manual (2015). Ventura, CA: International Association of Infant Massage.
La Faune Gordon, MS, PhD is a mental health professional who specializes in working with at-risk and traumatized infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children and their extended families. Dr. Gordon obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 1993 and has been a practicing clinical psychologist and clinical supervisor for over 20 years. She is a California-endorsed Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist, as well as a recently Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist.
This article was published with the permission of by Andrea Kelly and Susan Campbell of Infant Massage WINC - www.infantmassagewinc.com.www.infantmassagewinc.comwww.infantmassagewinc.comwww.infantmassagewinc.com