7th June marks the International Day of Infant Massage and Nurturing Touch. Roisin Sproule, President of the International Association of Infant Massage, UK, talks to Attachment Parenting UK about the link between touch communication, healthy attachments and infant mental health
Babies and children need plenty of loving care and positive attention in order to grow into happy and healthy little adults. This is so they are able to bond with, and securely attach themselves to, their parent or primary caregiver. This early experience of being in a healthy and secure relationship makes baby feel safe and gives them a sense of security and confidence, laying the groundwork for good emotional and mental heath in the future.
All parents will have a relationship with their child, but it is the quality of this relationship that counts. Healthy, secure attachments grow when the child receives consistently responsive, positive and sensitive parenting. A sense of trust begins to develop, and this puts in place a strong and solid foundation, which will enable the child to grow up with much better resilience and coping mechanisms for handling stress.
There are lots of ways in which a parent can stimulate bonding with their new-born baby, but the important thing is to spend lots of quality time together, connecting with one another, paying positive attention and being sensitive to baby’s needs. Making eye contact, talking to them and observing their facial responses and body language, singing and reading to them, and by communicating with them through loving touch; these are all ways to connect and provide positive, sensitive attention.
All babies need nurturing, and the provision of loving touch through physical affection, cuddles, kisses and massage, is such an important factor in child development. Not only is it a highly effective means of communication, (touch is the first of the five senses to develop and is baby’s first language, before he or she has learned to speak), it really is an essential aspect of parenting, because it can have a long-term positive impact on the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the child. (And likewise, a detrimental effect if it is absent.)
Loving touch is one of the strongest stimulators of oxytocin release, the love hormone. So when baby and primary caregiver spend quality one-to-one time together during the experience of infant massage, bonding through eye contact and smiles, giving and receiving nurturing touch, the production of oxytocin is fully activated, and the bonding and attachment process kicks in. And while the love hormone oxytocin is being produced, the stress hormone cortisol is being reduced; resulting in lower stress levels and the ability to self soothe.
In many cases, the bonding process between baby and parent or primary care-giver happens naturally, but there are times when – through no fault whatsoever of the parent or caregiver – the process might be interrupted or delayed. This might occur when mum has had a very difficult birth and needs time to recover, or if she’s been suffering postnatal depression. Perhaps the child has a physical illness, medical condition or additional needs. Or there might even be separation issues due to required medical intervention, geographical distance or, for example, one parent works away from home a lot. In all of these cases, the powers of touch communication becomes an even more important aid to the bonding process, and ultimately to the formation of healthy, secure attachments.
“Infant massage allows parents to experience the delights of bonding and attachment during the most sensitive period of their baby’s social and emotional development. I particularly admire the dedication of the IAIM for creating a practical setting for bonding and attachment to develop; and I’m incredibly proud to be the UK patron of an association whose work continues to set the gold standard in matters of infant touch communication and child development.”
Sir Richard Bowlby, professor of Attachment Theory, and IAIM UK patron.
There are of course many wider benefits to infant massage, to include physical and physiological development of baby. But it is the role of massage in the process of bonding and attachment, and the role of attachment in the development of good mental health, that is particularly important to understand.
For this reason, IAIM UK is proud to be supporting Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, which runs from 10 – 16 June 2018. Now in its third year, it’s purpose is tohighlight the importance of laying the foundations of the mind for good mental health in infancy, and this year’s theme is the importance of attachment. To find out more, you can follow (or join in) the conversation online using the hashtag #IMHAW18
7th June marks International Day of Infant Massage and Nurturing Touch. The purpose of this celebration is to promote and raise awareness about the great importance of nurturing touch in the process of bonding and attachment. June 7th was chosen as the “International Day of Infant Massage and Nurturing Touch” in honour of Vimala McClure’s birthday. She was the pioneer in establishing a baby massage program and the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, in 1976.
Enjoying the experience of a massage with your baby is a wonderful way to connect and relish in those first few flushes of love. To find an IAIM-certified infant massage practitioner your area, please visit www.iaimbabymassage.co.uk
- Fifty Years of Attachment Theory: Recollections of Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. By Sir Richard Bowlby
- Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. Fourth Edition. By Vimala McClure.
Sir Richard Bowlby is the son of the late Dr. John Bowlby – the eminent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who pioneered research on the impact of early attachment relationships between parents and their young children.
Formally retired in 1999 from a successful career in medical photography, Sir Richard has spent much of his time studying his father’s work and promoting attachment theory to a wide range of professionals, practitioners and students.