Petrina Fava


The Permission Process for Infant Massage

Posted on May 20, 2009 by Petrina

Every massage session starts with asking your baby’s permission to provide massage. This shows respect for your baby as a person. Even though many young babies cannot verbally respond with a resounding “yes or no”, your asking permission will make you more sensitive to baby’s mood, and help you to recognize if they are ready for this type of nurturing interaction. Before you start the massage, relax and begin to warm your hands. While warming your hands and making eye contact, you should ask verbally aloud, “May I give you a massage?” Then take a moment and carefully begin to watch your child for communication cues indicating if it is okay to proceed with the nurturing touch session.

Why Permission Is Important

Infant massage is always linked with a simple “permission process”. When used together these practices help to reinforce the parent’s respect for the child and begin to establish positive boundaries, as well as, contributing to building an infant’s body awareness.

We specifically ask permission prior to beginning infant massage for many reasons, including:

Lets baby know that something is about to happen

Checking in with your baby, rather than just assuming touch is okay, shows respect for your infant’s voice, and choice to receive nurturing touch, or not. By showing your child a strong cue before massage, you are not only showing respect, you are communicating in a way that they will understand. 

Over time baby begins to recognize this permission cue as Massage Time, and baby will respond with a cue that they are ready for massage

At no other time will you use this specific signal, or cue, to indicate to your baby what will happen next. This distinct permission process communicates your intention, and allows your baby time to evaluate how they are feeling and respond to your request to provide nurturing touch. 

Gives Parents/Caregivers an opportunity to check-in with baby and observe their cues

Touch is our first form of communication so, it is natural to assume that communicating through touch enhances your ability to understand baby’s special needs and respond appropriately. Infant Massage increases the caregiver’s confidence and sensitivity to baby’s unique cues and forms of communication. By relaxing, taking your time and making eye contact, you can accurately observe your child’s expression, and non-verbal language. Over time you will become more attuned to their needs. 

A simple permission process supports healthy touch and helps establish good boundaries

When we start asking permission to touch during the most formative years, we reinforce the concepts of good touch versus touch that may not be seen as good or positive touch. An infant grows into a young child they will carry with them these healthy and strong boundaries around touch. Not only will they know the difference between healthy touch and touch which is considered detrimental, they will also trust themselves and know when to request nurturing touch. 

Establishes respect between caregiver and child, instilling lifelong benefits including self-worth and self-esteem

Infant Massage provides the caregiver with essential one-on-one time that will enhance your bonding, understanding and ability to nurture. When babies receive attentive responses to their needs, they grow to become healthier and more secure in adulthood. Infants and children who learn positive views of touch and receive nurturing touch by their caregivers are much more likely to grow into adults with healthy self esteem, a sense of their boundaries and increased self trust. – By Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT Revised May 2009

Infant Massage: The Gentle Connection

Posted on July 20, 2009 by Petrina Fava, RN, CIMT.

Colic, constipation, relentless crying, teething, overstimulation; these are just a small number of discomforts that many infants may experience on a daily basis. Although common, they are typically an enormous source of distress for parents and caregivers. Often, families feel extremely powerless and disheartened when they are unable to soothe their baby. In particular, young first time parents often feel that they do not possess the skills or knowledge needed to settle their infant or provide relief from the discomforts they may be feeling.

There is a wonderful parenting practice that many cultures have been using with their infants and children for thousands of years. Western and European cultures have just recently started to appreciate the enormous value of this simple technique. Caregivers in Africa, India, Indonesia and Nepal have long known that regular, loving touch and gentle massage can quickly ease their baby’s discomforts while also providing a wonderful opportunity to nurture the infant. 1

What caregivers in some parts of the world may not be aware of is the substantial amount of scientific research which has been done to demonstrate that infant massage has enormous benefits for both the baby who is receiving and the caregiver who is providing the massage. Studies show that bonding and attachment between an infant and caregiver is greatly enhanced when infant massage is provided. Loving touch is an essential element of attachment and bonding, along with sustained eye contact and subtle body language. Regularly setting aside time to massage a baby provides him with quiet, focused time with his caregiver and helps them both learn each other’s specific cues and rhythms. Adoptive or foster parents, siblings, grandparents and alternate caregivers may use massage time as an excellent bonding opportunity. Fathers who may otherwise feel that they do not have the same chance to bond with their infants as mothers do (especially if mom is breastfeeding), can use this very special time to learn about their baby and connect with them in their own unique way. The International Journal of Behavioral Development published a study which points to the following results. “After a twelve week period the babies from the massage group greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalizing, reaching and orienting responses and showed less avoidance behaviors, than the control group. These fathers also showed greater involvement with their infant.” 2

In addition to psychological and emotional effects, massage results in many notable physical changes in both baby and caregiver. Massage increases levels of various nurturing hormones. Oxytocin is a substance that enhances warm and nurturing emotions and encourages a parent’s desire to care for their baby. It also induces feelings of sleepiness and calm. Prolactin is released during massage as well and this hormone improves breastfeeding in lactating women. So, massage helps both baby and caregiver to relax and alleviates some of the tension that may have developed over the course of the day.

Massaging an infant contributes significantly to various areas of his growth and development. It improves neurological and muscular development, stimulates blood and lymph circulation, aids in digestion, accelerates weight gain and assists in developing regular sleeping patterns. A study conducted by the Touch Research Institute found that “massage therapy infants gained significantly more weight per day than did the control infants. Seventy percent of the massage therapy infants were classified as high weight gainers…” 3

In another one of their studies on infant massage “infants and toddlers with sleep onset problems were given daily massages by their parents for 15 minutes prior to bedtime for one month. Based on parent diaries the massaged versus the control children (who were read bedtime stories) showed fewer sleep delay behaviors and had a shorter latency to sleep onset by the end of the study.” 4 Perhaps most importantly, participating in massage with their infant gives parents and caregivers a tremendous sense of confidence and competency. It helps them feel good about the fact that they are better able to communicate with their baby and respond to their needs. In the March 2009 issue of Massage Therapy Today, Michelle Cooper recounts her personal experience with infant massage: “Over the next couple of weeks, we did our massage every time we changed a diaper. We very quickly saw the change in Vonley. His belly was no longer rock hard, he was sleeping better, and our greatest gift was the smiles. Vonley has a very expressive eyes, so when he smiles, his whole face lights up. This is what infant massage gave us.” 5

While there are not many rules for massaging an infant, some guidelines will help parents/caregivers get the full benefits of massage time. The most essential aspect to keep in mind is that massage is not merely about performing specific strokes. Far more than technique, massage time with a child is a special occasion for focusing on each other and connecting in a special way. Caregivers should always begin by taking a few minutes to relax. It is important to remember that stress is easily communicated to a child. Some soft music, several slow deep breaths together with a few shoulder rolls are usually sufficient. A quiet and softly lit warm room will ensure that baby is comfortable while undressed and not over stimulated. Babies are always asked for “permission” prior to receiving the massage and parents learn to recognize baby’s “yes” and “no” cues. This is essential to nurturing an attitude of mutual respect and building on the child’s self esteem. The use of vegetable or fruit based oils is encouraged since these are edible and do not contain potentially harmful substances such as mineral oil. Babies should be at least three weeks old, and massage is easiest up to crawling age. However, strokes can be tailored to older, more active babies. Older children and even teenagers also enjoy the benefits of massage. After all, receiving loving touch is precious for people of all ages!

It is a good idea to learn infant massage from a Certified Infant Massage Teacher as there are some important considerations pertaining to massage. For instance, babies should not be massaged if they have a fever or if they have received an immunization within 48 hours prior to the massage. A Certified Infant Massage Teacher can help caregivers learn these precautions and guide families on how to decide if massage is right for their baby at any given time.

Simple and effective, infant massage is a wonderful practice that can help caregivers discover more about their baby while communicating immense feelings of love and affection. All while encouraging the release of important hormones, stimulating growth and development, encouraging sleep and perhaps most importantly, having fun!


1. Tina Allen: Infant Massage Teacher Certification, LiddleKidz Foundation.

2. Neonatal Bathing and Massage Intervention with Fathers. Behavioural effects 12 weeks after the birth of the first baby, 1992. The Sunraysia Australia Intervention Project. Scholtz, K, and Samuels, C.A. Published – International Journal of Behavioural Development. 15 (1), pages 67-81.

3. Scafidi, F., Field, T., Schanberg, S.M. (1993). Factors that predict which preterm infants benefit most from massage therapy. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 14(3), 176-180.

4. Field, T., & Hernandez-Reif, M., (2001). Sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 168, 95-104.

5. Michelle Cooper: Infant Massage: One Family’s Story, Massage Therapy Today March 2009.

Neonatal Bathing and Massage Intervention with Fathers

Posted on April 20, 2011 by Petrina

Behavioural effects 12 weeks after the birth of the first baby, 1992. The Sunraysia Australia Intervention Project. Scholtz, K, and Samuels, C.A. Published – International Journal of Behavioural Development. 15 (1), pages 67-81.

The hypothesis was that massage was a wonderful and effective bonding tool in the father – infant relationship.

Method: Study Group. Sixteen families with first borns, were instructed over a four week program in Baby Massage and the Burleigh Relaxation Bath Technique. Control Group, sixteen families.

The study over 12 weeks was a home observation in which fathers would give their infant a massage and follow on with a Burleigh Relaxation Bath. After a twelve week period the babies from the massage group greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising, reaching and orienting responses and showed less avoidance behaviours, than the control group.

These fathers also showed greater involvement with their infant. The results emphasise the benefits of having fathers learn infant massage with their children. Massage provides a wonderful time for bonding and attachment to develop between a father and his child. It would be also beneficial for father to feel confident with their interaction with their baby and a tool of encouragement to give and receive unconditional love. Parent child massage throughout childhood and adolescence can provide a channel of tactile and emotional communication., vital during the inevitable troublesome and “silent” phases of growth and development experienced by children and adolescents.

Baby Massage as Your Child Grows

Posted on April 26, 2011 by Petrina

I think people don’t believe me when I tell them that you can still massage your rolling, crawling and even walking baby. “They won’t even stay still for a diaper change!” is the comment I hear most often. Trust me, I know all about wiggly babies. After diapering hundreds of babies as a pediatric nurse, my 10 month old son has just recently allowed me to develop a new skill: diaper changes with baby standing up. Yes, even the poopy ones. Proud to say I’m impressed with myself actually. So he certainly does not just lie still and allow me to give him a massage. He’s on the move, every minute exploring his amazing world of new sights, sounds, textures and tastes! He wants to use ALL his senses now! But he still loves to be touched and I love to massage him and so I appeal to his desire for stimulation and learning.

With the massage oil close by, I get him down to his diaper and we start by singing a lively song. Just a song first with some clapping and arm stretches. “Rolly polly….rolly polly…up, up, up! Up, up, up! Rolly rolly polly…..rolly rolly polly…down, down, down. Down, down, down.” This gets his attention and introduces touch slowly without going straight into the massage.

Ok, now that I have his attention, let’s get some massage strokes in there. I rub some oil into my hands and ask “do you want some massage?” I’ve been massaging him since he was a few weeks old, so he knows this cue. I get a big smile. Do you know the Wheels on the Bus? Lots of great massage strokes can be incorporated into this song! “the wheels on the bus go round and round…” (round and round on the tummy) “…the horn on the bus goes beep beep beep…” (give toes and fingers a little squeeze) “the wipers on the bus go swish swish swish….(cross my heart on the chest). His eye catches a bright green block across the floor. I know we’re done. I start to give a soothing stroke down his body but before I can, he flips over and is off! “All done!” I say. Not even half as long as our massage sessions when he was an infant, but it doesn’t matter. We spent some time engaging with each other, I got to communicate my immense love for him through touch and he received some great massage!

You can do it too! Would you like to learn more? Join my Massage for Your Growing Child class! Brush up on your nursery rhymes and bring your singing voices! Have you massaged your older baby? What songs/rhymes do you use?

Tummy Time! Massage to Relieve Baby’s Colic, Constipation and Gas.

Posted on May 12, 2011 by Petrina

Babies have such cute little bellies, don’t they? Just looking at that adorable round tummy with its cute little belly button makes you want to give it a rub!

But tummies are sometimes a significant source of distress for many infants. Gas and constipation are common discomforts that newborns may experience since their digestive systems are still immature and getting used to having milk or formula traveling through them on a regular basis! Infant massage is a great way to soothe a distressed baby, and targeting the tummy when gas or constipation is the suspected culprit can really provide relief from these symptoms. There’s nothing worse than listening to a distressed baby cry and not knowing how to help her. Learning some simple massage techniques can give parents a set of tools to use for colic, gas and constipation relief. Participating in baby massage also gives parents a feeling of confidence, reassuring them that there is something they can do to help.

There are a few things to remember when massaging your baby’s tummy. Always wait 30 minutes after your baby has had a feed. Massaging the tummy immediately after a feed can cause baby to vomit and will most likely be uncomfortable. It’s important to always move in a clockwise direction on the tummy. Baby’s rectum is on her left side, and you want to be sure that you are pushing stool and gas out, not farther up the digestive tract. Also, try to stay at or below the level of the belly button. This can be challenging in small infants, so a couple of fingers can be used instead of the entire hand to massage. By staying below the belly button, you are targeting the bowels where stool and gas bubbles hide while avoiding any pressure on the stomach. Drawing rainbows on your baby’s tummy is a great idea, and you can teach her the colors of the rainbow while she is enjoying her massage!

Strokes for your baby’s tummy can be learned in the ABCs and 123s of Baby Massage Class. If you would like to learn relief for constipation, gas and colic, the Massage for Common Baby Discomforts can help you learn specific routines to target these symptoms.

Have you massaged your baby’s tummy? Does she like it?

Sliding Hands make a Smoother Massage! Lotion or Oil?

Posted on May 24, 2011 by Petrina

Sometimes, you just want to use a few massage strokes to send your baby off to sleep in your arms. Massage can be done with or without oil or lotion and even over your baby’s clothes. Communicating your nurturing, loving touch is the main idea here. Skin to skin contact is a delightful and meaningful part of the massage experience between a caregiver and child. Many commercial baby massage oils and lotions exist to help your hands slide gently on your baby’s delicate skin. There are studies showing that babies will tolerate massage better when some type of lotion or oil is used. Seems obvious enough. But how do you choose?

In my classes, participants receive a small bottle of oil. It doesn’t come in a fancy container and it doesn’t smell pretty. Actually, it has no scent at all. It’s grapeseed oil and it can be purchased at most grocery stores right beside the olive oil you would purchase to dress your salad. In fact, you can use some of that same olive oil to massage your baby. It has more of a scent than grapeseed oil and it’s a little heavier, but it is very warming and feels great in the winter on dry skin. You’ll find some other ones there to boot! Apricot oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil are great too! I like to encourage the use of natural, vegetable or fruit based oils for massaging your baby. A baby’s new skin cells will absorb more than an adult’s, so it’s important to know that what you are using is chemical and additive free. Mineral and petroleum based products will sit on baby’s skin and they tend to clog pores. Oils will stay on your hands longer than lotions and they are generally more warming. Eventually, tiny fingers and toes will make their way into your baby’s mouth during the massage. In fact this is your baby’s way of saying “I like this, keep going!” So if you’re using an edible oil, there are no worries about what your baby is licking off. Look for oils that are cold pressed, since this is a chemical free method of extraction. And although most of us love the amazing smell of lavender based products, unscented oils are best, since a baby can easily recognize a caregiver’s scent and this contributes to bonding and attachment. As well, remember that young infants are easily over-stimulated. And while you and I would relish at the thought of a great massage with a wonderfully scented oil and some beautiful music in the background, involving all your baby’s senses may just prove to be too much for your little one. Keeping it simple and natural is always a good idea.

What’s one more added bonus to using natural fruit/vegetable based oils on your baby? Your own hands will thank you too! What do you use to massage your baby? Do you use it on your own skin as well?


Precautions and Contraindications for Baby Massage
Posted on June 8, 2011 by Petrina

“I want to make sure I’m doing it right”….”I’m afraid I might hurt my baby”…. “what if I do something wrong?”….”what if I press too hard?”

You look at that new and (seemingly) delicate being in front of you and desire nothing but to treat her with the utmost tender loving care you didn’t even know you were capable of! What if you were equipped with the information and tools you needed to tune in with your baby and decide if massage is right at any given time? What if you were so aware of your baby’s needs and desires that you could always respond appropriately? You can! Here’s some information to help you get started.

Massage can certainly enhance your child’s well being, contribute to overall health and relieve many of your baby’s discomforts. However, it is not a form of medical care. Simple as that. If you ever have a gut feeling that something is wrong with your baby or if you know that they are ill, seek medical attention. If your child has a medical condition, check with your healthcare provider before beginning a massage routine. There are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to knowing when massage is not appropriate at any given time.

Do not massage your baby if she has a fever, diarrhea, skin rash or lesions or if she has had an immunization within the last 48-72 hours. A fever will increase your baby’s heart rate, and massage can affect heart rate too, so wait until the fever goes away completely. Massaging the tummy will move stool out, so if your baby has diarrhea, her loose stools will likely increase with massage. Any skin rash that is inflammatory could be exacerbated with massage and an open sore would be prone to infection if massaged. The vaccine your baby receives is meant to be absorbed by the body at a certain rate, and since massage stimulates your baby’s lymphatic system and circulation, the vaccine could be absorbed faster with massage and there is an increased possibility of an unwanted reaction.

Wait until these symptoms have subsided before resuming your massage routine. Remember that you can always use nurturing, loving touch to soothe your baby and communicate love! Place your still hands gently on your baby and look into his eyes. Touch alone and skin to skin contact, communicated in a loving manner, is often enough to calm a distressed baby!

By far, the best way to know if massage is right is to pay close attention to your baby’s body language and cues. Your baby will tell you if she is uncomfortable, is not in the mood, doesn’t like a particular stroke, if you are pressing too lightly or too firmly. Your baby may not be able to talk, but she sure can communicate! Trust your baby and yourself.

​Petrina Fava