" I took part in Sylvie’s baby massage classes when Jack was 5 months old. Her welcoming presence, her clear explanations have really motivated me to massage Jack on a regular basis (I had books about Shantala massage at home but never..."

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History of baby massage

The art of massage is as old as time itself, and may even be the oldest form of medical care. Archaeological excavations have found evidence (such as writings, wall paintings, vessels used to contain plant oils) of the use of massage in many of the great civilisations, and in the fifth century BCE, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said that “the physician must be experienced In many things, but assuredly in rubbing ... for rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid”.

In many traditional societies, such as in Africa and India, babies are typically in closer contact with their mother on a regular basis. They are often carried in slings during the day while the mother carries out her daily activities – a practice that mimics the rhythm and movement experienced during pregnancy. In such societies, baby massage is also often an integral part of the daily routine. In India in particular, massage is an important ancestral tradition, which is transmitted from generation to generation. Babies are typically massaged every day using nut oils, which are felt to be particularly beneficial for babies’ skin.

Academic interest in the importance of touch to infant wellbeing only started in the West in the mid-1970s, in particular with research carried out by Dr Ruth Rice, from the University of Texas. Her 1977 study showed that premature babies benefited from being massaged, both in terms of weight gain and neurological development. Later studies, for example those carried out at the Touch Research Institute in Miami have reiterated the clinical benefits that massage has on infants and children. Dr Tiffany Field, from the Touch Research Institute even went so far as to say that “[research]... suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping.”

Widespread interest in baby massage in the United States is often attributed to Vimala Schneider McClure, who, having seen the benefits of massage and yoga in an Indian orphanage, first developed a training program for instructors in 1978.

Popularity has further increased since the late 1990s, as more emphasis is placed on parent-child bonding.