When parents are exhausted from the rigorous schedule of caring for a newborn, giving baby a spa experience may be the last thing on their minds. But incorporating infant massage into a new baby’s routine can help not only relax the little bundle of joy, but it also has been shown to help with brain and muscle development, among other benefits.

Community Hospital offers an Infant Massage & Baby's Development class for new and soon-to-be parents in even numbered months at Fitness Pointe in Munster.

“Massage is very comforting,” says Lucia Salerno, pediatric occupational therapist and clinical specialist. She has taught the class for 15 years. “It helps with bonding and socializing. It can help with muscle tone and lead to better sleep.”

Along with allowing new parents to get some hands-on practice with massage techniques by using baby dolls, the class also focuses on baby’s target milestones in the first year of life.

“We usually have about 6 to 10 people attending,” Salerno said. Parents are welcome to ask any questions about their baby’s development. “The doll is not the same as doing it with your baby, so we do offer it at our postnatal class as well.”

According to the International Association of Infant Massage, the practice can lead to “improved sleep patterns, increased flexibility and muscle tone, regulation of behavioral states, being calm and being able to calm themselves, and a reduction in stress hormones.”

“I work in the NICU, and we use it all the time. So we get our success stories there,” Salerno said of the neonatal intensive care unit. Infants' nervous system develops so quickly, it's important to initiate the massage early so they get the most out of it, she added.

Infant massage does not require any specialized tools, Salerno says. She recommends using oils that are edible.

“Your Johnson & Johnson baby oil is mineral based, so you actually don’t want to use that. Also petroleum based oil like Vaseline is not a good option. Grapeseed oil absorbs really well. You need about a pea-size amount.”

Creating a warm, comforting environment is key. “Since baby will be in only a diaper, we like to keep the room at about 80 degrees,” she said. “Babies get cold a lot faster than we do, so keeping them comfortable is a priority.”

The class teaches parents massage techniques for different needs. Swedish massage, which rubs in a distal to proximal direction (from outside to inside, like from the hand up to the shoulder), moves circulation toward the heart, which can wake baby up.

Indian milking, which rubs from proximal to distal, can aid relaxation.

“You just have to kind of play around with what your baby likes,” Salerno said.

When babies are in different stages of sleep, firm rhythmic touch can help them go back to sleep. If baby needs to wake up, an arrhythmic touch can perk them up, according to Salerno.

Beyond relaxation, massage can help with many issues common to babies, especially colic, Salerno says.

“As much as you think they don’t want to be touched, it’s actually the best thing you can do for them,” Salerno said. “If baby is really inconsolable then talk to your pediatrician, but in many cases massage can help.”

Other issues, such as constipation, can be resolved by certain belly massage techniques, which parents can practice in the class.

Massage is considered especially beneficial for preterm infants. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, “There’s evidence that premature babies who are massaged may have improved weight gain.”

There are situations in which massage is not a good idea.

Salerno would skip massage when baby is sick or has a fever. “Massage increases circulation, so if baby is showing any sign of infection, it will just spread it around more,” she said.

Likewise, parents may want to hold off on massage are if baby has an umbilical hernia, jaundice, wounds or other issues. Salerno recommends asking the baby’s pediatrician any questions.

“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” Salerno says. “All baby massage is usually pretty similar. My biggest piece of advice is to always remain in contact with the baby.”

Call 219-836-3477 or 866-836-3477 to register.