Onie Tibbit, a practitioner from Knot Stressed in Edinburgh, gives us the lowdown on different types of baby massage and her very rewarding work.
Hello Onie! What different types of baby massage are there?
With babies, I tend to think of massage as being just another word to describe 'positive touch'. This could range from gentle stroking or light raking with fingertips, to firm, fluid strokes where full hands mould around the body. The courses I run include elements of Indian Massage techniques (which traditionally flow away from the heart for relaxation), Swedish Massage techniques (which tend to flow towards the heart for improving circulation), Reflexology, Yoga stretches, and Shiatsu (which can include point work and gently massaging 'the meridians' of the body).
Tell me a bit about the baby massage workshops you take?
I run two different Baby Massage Courses. Baby Massage with Songs and Rhymes is loosely based on the International Association of Infant Massage Course, which I originally trained in. This course is a mixture of their techniques and some I have included from my own work as a massage therapist (of grown ups!). We sing a lot and where possible, I try to link the moves together to fit with well-known nursery songs and rhymes. It makes for a really fun, engaging class. It doesn't matter if you don't have a great voice (I don't!) the babies love it anyway!
Baby Massage with Shiatsu is a course I've put together following a training workshop with Tamsin Grainger at the Healthy Life Centre. Shiatsu Philosophy is fascinating to me and I really love the holistic approach which focuses on balancing the body's energy. The terminology and imagery that comes with Shiatsu work is wonderful. For example, the belief is that the stomach is the 'Hara' where the 'Sea of Ki' resides: a potent centre of the body's energy. It's a beautiful way of considering the body. In the course I run, we spend time each week doing gentle relaxation exercises that can involve a vigorous 'self-massage' through the clothes (this usually keeps the wee ones entertained!), visualisations and breathing exercises. I have included a lot of sensory and tactile work in this course as it just seemed to fit well with the Shiatsu approach. So, we massage the wee one's 'energy meridians' using soft brushes, material swatches, or cotton wool while singing gentle lullabies. It's very soothing!
How did you come to do this work?
I guess I just felt like doing something very relaxing instead of rushing around all the time and working mainly from an office. My sister suggested massage as I have always enjoyed giving massage to my three sisters. So, I tried a few courses and just really loved it. Ever since having my first daughter I knew I wanted to work with pregnancy and babies. I love children and I have realised through this work that my real passion is actually working with people (not animals!). I love the saying 'a stranger is a friend waiting to happen' and really enjoy meeting different people and hearing their life stories. Working with pregnant and postnatal women and their families is a very sociable profession! It is wonderful to ultimately help folk find their own ways to relax and unwind through massage. So I suppose I carried on expanding what first started as a side hobby as it is a hugely rewarding field to be working in. Massaging for a living has definitely added to my own sense of peace! Of course, I do still rush around a lot what with running a business and looking after my two children but it's great fun!
How does a new mum go about choosing a good class?
Well, this is an interesting one because I imagine that a lot of parents might consider that their preferred class size would be a smaller one with perhaps up to 5 parents and babies. Personally, I have always loved facilitating larger groups of up to 10 parents and babies. I find in these sessions easier to facilitate and smoother to run as the wee ones are more entertained being sociable with all the other babies, the parents can relax as they are unlikely to be the only one with a crying or feeding baby at any time, and generally there is more laughter and chat. However, it's obviously a personal choice. I just find it works well with a good mix of folk and babies in every session!
What reactions do the babies typically have?
In the sessions, the babies are usually very happy chatting to each other. Some get very excited (especially with the songs), other's get very chilled out and just doze off. Some get a bit frustrated and want to just watch. Of course, babies may have completely different reactions the following week. It's just like grown ups: it really depends on the mood they are in!
What are the health benefits for the babies?
Baby Massage can help stimulate sensory development and improve sleep patterns in babies, help to relieve gas and colic, plus give parents new ways to interact and bond with their babies. Massage has also been shown to help premature babies put on weight. I believe that massage also teaches young children the meaning of 'positive touch' in that they are able to say 'yes' or 'no' to a massage — it is up to them not us. A significant part of the courses I run is about focusing on the cues the babies give to let us know whether they are saying 'yes' or 'no' and respecting that.
Of course, there are great benefits for parents too. Massaging children is a great way of bonding and interacting with them, it helps improves some parents confidence of how to handle their baby, and on a personal level I find it hugely rewarding, great fun and very calming. I ask my children why they like choosing a massage at bedtime (instead of, or as well as, a story) and they usually say, "It makes me feel happy."
Do some mums worry about their baby crying in the workshop?
Yes I think they do, although I make very sure in the first session that babies are welcome to behave like babies. All crying, pooing, feeding, nappy changing, gurgling, vomiting and so on, is all most welcome!
Do you have any tips for mums massaging their babies at home?
Well, I guess to just relax and enjoy it. Check out some Youtube clips if you aren't sure what to do and what techniques to use but just have fun and don't worry to much about routines or doing something wrong. If you are working comfortably within your own baby's range of movement and applying a gentle pressure, noticing their cues for enjoyment or displeasure (and adapting massage strokes accordingly), then they will undoubtedly start to love this dedicated time for them.
Do many dads come to the workshops?
I really encourage partners, friends and other family members to come to my sessions. I don't charge extra if they just drop in for a few sessions. It's really important to me that the wider family get a chance to try the techniques and have the confidence to do this at home. Massage is such a brilliant way, for a parent who is busy at work getting home just before the wee one's bedtime, to have a wonderful, intensely fulfilling moment with their child that can be soothing and enjoyable for both parent and baby.
If someone wanted to become a baby massage teacher how would they go about it?
Actually, I am in the process of writing a course to show therapists how they can begin to run baby massage courses for parents in their area. In the meantime, I would heartily recommend the IAIM courses. They are pricey but very well run and great fun.
Onie's business Knot Stressed offers a wide range of services for pregnant women as well as post natal and baby massage and parent and baby groups. Check out the website for more information.