How Infant Massage Raises IQ (as You Raise A Healthy Baby)

by Summer Menkee, CEIM

Infant Massage Raises IQ as You Raise A Healthy Baby.

When I started this work, teaching parents Infant Massage, I really had no tactile idea of how the power of nurturing touch impacts early brain development.  Thanks to another  mother’s advice, whom I met in the free ice cream line at the grand opening of a Pasadena baby store, I was referred to the book “What’s Going On In There?  How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years,” by Lise Eliot, Ph.D.   I immediately bought the book on Amazon after teaching my demo class that day, and turned to the chapters on “The Importance of Touch” and “The Emergence of Memory.”  I was fascinated, as I’m sure other parents are who have read this well known book, by the findings and research shared by mother and neuroscientist, Lise Eliot.

Baby Lincoln

In my Infant Massage Instructor training (IAIM) much of the research studies I read were performed on pre-mature and at-risk infants in the U.S.  However, Dr. Eliot sites a recent study done on full-term four-month-olds who were given an eight minute massage just before a “novelty preference” assessment test.  Novelty preference refers to early memory and sensory discrimination skills.  In the assessment results, the massaged babies detected when an auditory-visual stimulus changed to a new stimuli significantly better than babies who were simply entertained with a “red toy” eight minutes before the test.  Dr. Eliot concludes in her book that “novelty preference” in infancy predicts later IQ better than any other developmental skill.  I whole heartedly agree with her suggestion that “regular, early massage may have important cognitive benefits for babies of all gestational ages.”  I love that she points out that the benefits of massage do not end in infancy, but rather “children show lower anxiety and stress levels, better mood, improved sleep patterns, and higher levels of attentiveness when treated to a daily massage by their parents.”  Makes perfect sense to me as I marvel at my joyful, calm, alert, active crawler, zen baby boy, Sage Rohan.

Regular Infant Massage = Healthy, Happy Baby

As I’ve shared in my classes, and in previous blogs, my now eleven month old son has been receiving regular (daily) massage since his seventh day of life.  First by his grandma, our own Indian baby massage guru, Rajkumari Jha.  Then by his mother (me) from two months postpartum, which I continue to practice nightly with his daddy as a regular bedtime routine.  Every time I am with my son in the presence of a baby “body worker,” they comment on Sage’s maturity, advanced motor skills and strong grip!  Of course, I’m his mother, so I’m biased.  However, when I invited cranial sacral specialist, Jesse Tischler, to be a guest speaker at one of my classes he said, “Sage is the most mature baby I’ve worked with all year.”  Jesse was impressed with the infant massage techniques I used in our cranial sessions.  When Sage was having a challenging time with some of the gentle, deep tissue work, my familiar touch and gentle stretches immediately relaxed and engaged him.  Sage accompanied me nearly six hours per day at my Infant Massage USA (IAIM) training, because he was still exclusively breast feeding at six month.  During the long training days he was mostly in a state of active alert, playing and interacting with my instructor’s lectures and demonstrations.  My instructor, Michael Curtis, also commented on how advanced, self-regulating and cognitively alert Sage was compared to other babies he’s worked with and observed at his age.

Guest speaker Jesse Tischler shares with our BINI moms about Cranial Sacral work.

My husband, Sage’s daddy, was born in modest hut with a dirt floor in a small, North Indian village near Nepal.  Despite his poor upbringing, he was massaged daily by his great grandmother who was the respected infant massage guru in their region.  My husband’s mother learned the art and technique of baby massage from her own grandmother, practicing daily on her own son.  This is how things are passed down to this day in rural India.  There is no Indian Association of Infant Massage.  Yet, India is where the founder of IAIM came to learn the beauty and benefits of infant massage, by way of volunteering at an orphanage where every baby got massaged before bedtime.  In India, massage is considered just as important as feeding for babies. And so, from Sage’s grandma I first received the gift and knowledge of Indian baby massage.

Sage & Grandma

Does Infant Massage really raise IQ?  My husband is a member of MENSA.  He attended the highest university in India (India Institute of Technology), which is as hard to get into as Harvard is here in the states.  Maybe not every baby who is massaged achieves his level of IQ, but why not give them the opportunity?  I definitely witness the “novelty preference” factor in action on a daily basis with Sage.  Many other parents would attest to their infant relentlessly reaching for the new pen or paper cup in view, versus the old toy he or she’s been chewing on for weeks.  We’ve heard about day care centers rotating out toys every two weeks, which makes sense given this information on early cognitive development.  We don’t want to break the bank buying “new” toys everyday for our brilliant little minds, but we can engage them with new songs, new rhymes, new stories, and feed their curiosity with the occasional “ordinary” object (new to them) through monitored interactive play.  Our regular, infant massage routine at home provides our little guy with a secure environment to receive nurturing touch.  As we stimulate and relax his physical body, his mind is free to wander, play and discover through his senses.  Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb, closest only to hearing.  Therefore, it stands to reason that the more we massage, speak to and sing to our children in early infancy, the more we aid in their mental and emotional development.  That bedtime massage routine may just be raising our little one’s IQ!