Laura & Ziggy: Infant Massage Beyond the Spectrum
by Summer Menkee, CEIM
Many parents who come to learn Infant Massage ask, “Until what age should I massage my baby?” I would offer that it doesn’t have to end. It just changes, evolving with each stage of your child’s development, if you let your child guide you. I am so grateful to share an amazing mother, Laura Taylor’s story with you, who still practices massage on her now 7-year-old son, Ziggy. Although every mother’s story and every baby’s journey are unique, there are universal experiences we all can relate to. Ziggy happens to be autistic, which means more massaging and even more love expanding in their home. In our interview, Laura shares her parenting wisdom and why they can’t live without their bedtime massage routine!
SS: How old was Ziggy when you started using Infant Massage techniques?
LT: I started massaging him as newborn, around 1 month old, when a friend gave me a book on Infant Massage. I passed it along to another mom since then, but it had baby feet on the cover.
SS: Was it called Infant Massage: A Handbook For Loving Parents by Vimala McClure?
LT: Yes, that’s it!
SS: They gave us that book in my IAIM instructor training course, because it was written by the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage. How was it? As a new mom, using just a book as a guide?
LT: I felt nervous about the belly and digestion strokes, wondering “Am I going in the wrong direction?”
SS: I’ll bet. It’s nice to have a hand’s on guide, reminding you to massage the belly in a clockwise motion, the direction of the colon.
SS: How did you get interested in Infant Massage, besides the book?
LT: As a professional dancer (in Chicago and Pacific Northwest Ballet) we were always massaging and squeezing each other. And, in my early 20’s my mom was going through her massage therapist certification, so I was her demo model.
SS: Wow! So, you already had some natural technique and confidence.
LT: As a dancer, I know how beneficial massage is for pain relief and maintaining strength. I learned so much more from my mom when she became a professional masseuse.
SS: Every mother is the expert on her baby, so the fact that you learned about massage from your mother is really wonderful. Would you be willing to share a bit of your birth story?
LT: I’d love to! We prepped for a natural birth using the Bradley Method, and we even had a doula, no mid-wife. My water broke at home on our due date, which would normally be okay, but there was meconium. So, I had to go straight to the hospital, even though I wasn’t dilated past 3 centimeters. They gave me Petosin, which kept turning up the contractions so much I was tearing my hubby’s arms off! After 36 hours in labor I got to 10 centimeters and was pushing! But, I was told by the on-call OB that my baby’s heart rate was dropping. My OB was out of town, so I was seen by 4 different doctors. The high-risk birth doctor said, “His head is stuck.” I was told C-section was the only way to deliver at this point. I still wonder if that was really necessary, or if I could have been given more time to deliver naturally.
SS: Laura, so much of your birth story sounds like mine and many other moms I know. For those of us who didn’t elect to have a C-section, our intuition knows that our bodies are innately equipped and prepared to deliver vaginally. It’s as if we somehow feel robbed of that experience.
LT: Absolutely… At least my recovery was minimal, compared to what I expected. After three days I was up and at ‘em, walking around. But, I had no idea how difficult breastfeeding would be! I just figured it would happen naturally. Yeah right! It was tough in those early days to get Ziggy to latch, and he was having a hard time gaining weight.
SS: What did you do?
LT: Le Leche League support groups, lactation consultants. Pumping was hard, so feeding throughout the night while co-sleeping was when he ate the most. He wasn’t drinking the bottles I pumped during the day. I was working from home when he was just 3 weeks old, and then I had to go back to the office at 4 months. He continued to struggle with breastfeeding. After 2-3 different lactation consultants, and multiple techniques, I finally found out Ziggy was tongue-tied.
SS: What a relief that must have been to find out what the obstacle was. Definitely not something they prepare us for in breastfeeding/childcare classes.
LT: I know! Then I found out I was also tongue-tied as a baby, and so was my mother. Yet, in the 60’s and 70’s it was common to clip the baby’s tongue to make it easier for them to latch. Ziggy got a clip below his tongue and his upper lip.
SS: Did it help him?
LT: He had already learned to bite, clamp and suck to get milk.
SS: Ouch! That sounds really painful.
LT: Oh God, yes! When his teeth came in at one year, we stopped breastfeeding.
SS: Wow, you really hung in there and stuck with it no matter what. What a great mother. I’m curious, through all your early challenges, how did infant massage help you in your bonding process?
LT: At the end of every challenging day, our massage routine was, and still is, as relaxing for me as it is for him. Ziggy has always had a hard time going to sleep, a lot of flip-flopping around. I found that squeezing his rotator cusps, and limbs, calms his body and nervous system.
SS: Yes, calming the central nervous system is one of the greatest benefits of infant massage!
LT: For an autistic child, who has self-regulation challenges, this was a huge relief.
SS: I can imagine. What position would you put him in to begin your Infant Massage routine?
LT: I would lay him down in my lap in front of me–
SS: Nice, that’s the same technique as Indian baby massage.
LT: Cool, I followed the head-to-toe routines shown in the book.
SS: Wonderful. How did your massage routine change as he got bigger?
LT: I started focusing on squeezing his limbs, and making a game out of naming the different body parts.
SS: Games and rhymes are a great way to engage toddlers and older children. When did you know he was autistic?
LT: We started seeing the signs before he was 2 years old. He didn’t answer to his name. He didn’t allow or volunteer touch to or from others, and he started becoming physically aggressive with abnormal tantrums. I really noticed an obvious difference when my neighbor adopted a little girl his same age from Ethiopia. She showed all the neuro-typical behaviors, whereas Ziggy did not. Having an autistic child is kind of like having a cat. You never really know if they enjoy your company, or touch.
SS: Thank you for sharing that… Did you notice Infant Massage helping Ziggy’s development?
LT: Yes, he’s really coordinated now at 7. He has found his center. He’s a good climber too. But, I was always looking for ways to help him with self-regulation and strengthening. Even though he had a lot of occupational therapy, he was toe walking, spinning, hopping and slapping- typical to kids on the spectrum. They aren’t getting typical input by just standing on the ground.
SS: Sounds like they’re on another sensorial plane, but I can see how the combination of stimulating and relaxing Infant Massage strokes can help with self-regulation and getting them more comfortable in their bodies.
LT: Yes. Even now that he’s a big boy, I still rub his back and squeeze his rotators every night to get him to go to sleep. Autistic kids like routines.
SS: That’s universal for most all kids. What does he like? Does he ask for certain types of massage now?
LT: Yep, he asks for his “butt massage.”
LT: I know, it’s hilarious, but I have to correct him, “you mean your rotators massage.” I don’t want him running around the schoolyard telling his friends his mom gives him good “butt massage.” But really, certain pressure points in the hips and rotator cusps release tension, and he can’t go to sleep without it.
SS: Does he give you cues or signals when he’s ready for his massage routine?
LT: Usually when he puts his foot on me on the couch, I know he’s ready. Or, he says, “Mom, I want some rubs.”
SS: That’s so sweet.
LT: I also find that massaging his face, neck and back when he’s sick or has sinus issues is very effective.
SS: That’s great to hear. Do other moms in your circle massage their kids too?
LT: Not to my knowledge. When I’m volunteering in his class, I’ll share an arm squeeze or a foot rub with other squirmy kids and they respond immediately. Kids on the spectrum (autism) really appreciate the power of touch. I’ve never had a parent say anything to me about it, and some may wonder why even do it for someone else’s kid, but both the giver and the recipient get something out of it.
SS: You’d make a great Infant Massage Instructor!
LT: I’m a firm believer and advocate for infant massage classes, and massage therapy.
Like all parents, Laura shared she would like Ziggy to be able to fall asleep on his own. She’s trying to phase out the “nightly” massage routine, but even elementary age boys crave mom’s touch. Honestly, who can turn down their child’s request for rubs, or butt- er- “rotator massage?!” And so it continues… At its deepest core, infant (or child) massage is a daily health practice, uniquely your own and individual to each family. As Dr. Frederick Leboyer so eloquently writes in his book Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage “Any art has its technique, which one must learn…and in time you will come to it. Once technique has been fully mastered…and forgotten.”
Summer Sinclair-Menkee is a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM) through the International Association of Infant Massage, Founder of summer & sage Sacred Infant Massage and Creator of the Sacred Baby Massage Kit. Find out more about upcoming Sacred Infant Massage workshops, private instruction, and products at http://www.summerandsage.net