Question & Answer - Feeding, Eating, & Drinking
Can massage help my baby improve feeding skills?
Answer from Riley Rosebush, MSc. R-SLP (C), Canada
Massage is used by caregivers from many cultures as a way to bond with and support their baby’s development (McClure, 2000). There is now an emerging body of evidence that finds a wide range of benefits for an infant’s development, as well as the health of parents. Some of the reported benefits include: improved weight gain, growth, and sleep; decreased hyperbilirubinemia; and decreased post-partum mood disturbances (Juneau, Aita, & Héon, 2015; Glover, Onozawa, & Hodgkinson, 2002). For preterm infants, these benefits may also include decreased response to pain and increased interactions with parents (Juneau, Aita, & Héon, 2015).
There are many reasons why babies may experience difficulties with feeding in the early days and months. Some of these reasons could include physical and neurological issues, prematurity, as well as health concerns or events that otherwise interrupt infant-caregiver bonding. Each child and family experiences unique challenges, and infant massage can serve as a positive, calming, and physically beneficial adjunct to the other feeding-related treatments a family is receiving.
Many traditional infant massage techniques aim to address the baby’s whole body, and parents have the opportunity to practice their very early communication skills with their baby. However, some oral (mouth) stimulation techniques have specifically been found to improve feeding outcomes in some groups of children. A 2016 review of the scientific literature on these techniques found babies who received oral stimulation intervention were able to transition from feeding tubes to feeding by mouth more quickly and had overall shorter durations in hospital stays compared to babies who received other types of intervention (Greene, O'Donnell, & Walshe, 2016).
If you or your baby are experiencing any difficulty with feeding, we encourage you to seek out support in your community, including your pediatrician, lactation consultants, and other infant feeding specialists (often speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists specifically trained in infant feeding). You might also consider including an infant massage specialist on your team to discover the benefits of creating a loving and healthy bond through touch.
You can find more information about infant massage and infant massage practitioners on the following websites:
The International Association of Infant Massage: http://www.iaim.net/
Liddle Kidz Foundation: http://www.liddlekidz.ca/
Glover, V., Onozawa, K., & Hodgkinson, A. (2002). Benefits of infant massage for mothers with postnatal depression. Semin Neonatol, 7(6), 495-500.
Greene, Z., O'Donnell, C.P.F., & Walshe, M. (2016) Oral stimulation for promoting oral feeding in preterm infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009720.pub2.
Juneau, A.L., Aita, M., & Heon, M. (2015). Review and critical analysis of massage studies for term and preterm infants. Neonatal Network, 34(3), 165-177. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1891/0730-08220.127.116.11
McClure, V., Infant massage: A handbook for loving parents, NY, Bantam, 2000
About the Author
Riley Rosebush, MSc. R-SLP(C) is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Certified Infant Massage Teacher from Vancouver, B.C. She works at the Down Syndrome Research Foundation supporting people with Down syndrome and other disabilities across the lifespan. She has specialized training in orofacial myofunctional therapy, feeding development, breastfeeding support, Oral Placement Therapy, PROMPT therapy, and teaching infant massage through the Liddle Kidz Foundation. She has worked as a clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia and presents in the community on issues relating to Down syndrome and feeding development. You can reach Riley at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about supporting individuals with Down syndrome at www.dsrf.org. Phone: 1-604-444-3773
Video on Using Massage to Improve Breastfeeding in Babies with Low Muscle Tone created by Riley and her colleague Gaelen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epGA3gsSJrE&t=1s