Schreiber Pediatric Center - Infant massage promotes development of sensory processing

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February 19, 2015

Infant massage promotes development of sensory processing

Posted by Dan  Permalink 

By Becky Smith
As an occupational therapist with 26 years of experience in pediatrics, I was ready to expand my skills, yet did not want to invest the time and money into earning an advanced degree. Becoming certified to teach infant massage seemed like the perfect answer. It was also a good way to influence the sensory development of infants, something that is extremely important to me as an occupational therapist.

Schreiber's next round of infant massage classes starts April 6.

At Schreiber Pediatric, a majority of the children we evaluate and treat in the Occupational Therapy Department have either a primary or secondary diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. Many of them are also on the autism spectrum. One of my goals in teaching infant massage is to prevent the maladaptive behaviors and struggles that these children experience by influencing the development of the sensory systems, sensory integration and self-regulation at an early age. Infant massage may actually prevent children from having to receive therapeutic intervention when they are older.
Consider some of the sensory benefits of infant massage:

  • The newborn's sense of touch is the most highly developed of all the senses at birth and plays a vital role in bonding/attachment and making the baby feel safe and loved. Massage can also help decrease a hypersensitivity to touch that is present in some babies.
  • Massage helps the visual system develop by placing the caregiver's face at the ideal distance of 12-18" from the baby (the distance that the baby can best focus). Also, newborns and young infants prefer faces over other objects, which encourages good eye contact and non-verbal communication between caregiver and baby during massage.
  • Parents are encouraged to play lullabies or soothing music or softly talk or sing to the baby during massage as babies can detect rhythm and can be comforted and soothed by the soft, familiar rhythm of music or the parent's voice.
  • Non-scented edible oils are used so that babies benefit from their parent's natural smell, which is beneficial in the bonding process. The oils are also recognized as digestible food by the skin and body.
  • Massage helps with self-regulation and helps the infant relax by reducing stress hormones (cortisol and norepinephrine) and increasing the presence of relaxing hormones (oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine). Several studies have shown that massage improves sleep patterns and decreases irritability in babies.
Parents, if you want to help your babies develop the ability to use their senses and react appropriately to all the sensory information around them, infant massage is a great place to start. Go to to register for or learn more more about upcoming classes.

Becky Smith is an occupational therapist at Schreiber with more than 26 years of experience in pediatric occupational therapy. She is also a certified infant massage instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage.

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