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Infant Massage USA: The Art and Science of Nurturing Touch

By Ashley Febvay, executive director, Infant Massage USA

At Infant Massage USA, we often discuss the importance of nurturing touch. Here, we’d like to explain what nurturing touch is and how it can impact development.

Nurturing touch can be defined as hugging, a reassuring hand placed on areas like the back, arm, or shoulder, or any nurturing holding. In infant massage, nurturing touch can be seen through massage strokes, resting hands, and cuddling.

Individuals will all have different relationships with and tolerance for touch, which culture, education, experiences, disability, and other factors can impact. In an infant massage class taught by a Certified Infant Massage educator, parents, and caregivers learn how to observe, ask permission, and recognize cues to guide their children toward appropriate and safe touch.

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Impact on development: Touch is an important part of healthy development. It is an integral part of human behavior from birth until death (1), and children in the US are the least touched in the world (2). Studies (3, 4) show the importance of touch in childhood through research conclusions such as:

  • A 1996 experiment by Martha Nogueras showed that “infants that received touch showed better social behavior when placed in front of experimenters. They showed more focus and attentiveness when conversing with the experimenters .”
  • A 1998 study by Fields and Scaldi concluded that “the stimulated infants were also released [from the hospital] an average of six days before the non-stimulated infants. The researchers also found that the infants that received stimulation spent more time awake and active, were behaviorally more mature, and were more oriented.“
  • A 2002 study with adolescents by Fields “supports the notion that less physical affection (or more physical neglect) can contribute to greater aggression. Massage therapy has been effective with violent adolescents, perhaps because the physical stimulation reduced their dopamine levels and increased their serotonin levels. Their aggressive behavior decreased, and their empathetic behavior increased. “

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How can you provide nurturing touch? Opportunities include:

  • Skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care)
  • Holding your children on your lap during a bedtime story
  • Frequent hugs or snuggling
  • Holding your baby during feeding
  • Holding hands with your toddler
  • A back massage for older kids

Note: We recommend parents of newborns attend a class with a Certified Educator (or CEIM). You can find a CEIM near you in our Directory here. Online classes may also be available. CEIMs demonstrate with a doll during these classes.

Learn more: 

An interview with Ashley Febvay, Executive Director of Infant Massage USA

Ashley is passionate about generational change in often overlooked communities. She is proud to have started the SEED Scholarship, which makes infant massage education training more accessible, focusing on BIPOC, immigrant, and low-income communities.

For over a decade, Ashley has held a Bachelor’s in Marketing from Oklahoma State University and a Master’s in Leadership and Management from Oklahoma City University. She has worked with nonprofits, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Ashley lives in Bedford, New Hampshire, with her loving husband, two pups, and her two sons, who are seven and nine years old. Her hobbies include hiking, baking, pilates, and volunteering at the local alpaca farm with her family.

In our upcoming podcast and video interview with Ashley, she teaches us about:

1. What is the mission of Infant Massage USA, founded in 1981 by Vimala McLure, author of the bestseller “Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents”? Infant Massage USA was founded in 2005 and is a chapter of IAIM that was originally launched in 1981. Through nurturing touch and communication through training, education, and research, we promote nurturing touch and communication so parents, caregivers, and children are loved, valued, and respected.

2. What drew you to the organization? Infant massage first found me at 2am when my firstborn was crying and couldn’t be consoled. I felt helpless and uneducated, and even though I have a master’s degree, it wasn’t in this?! I then picked up a baby book that included information about infant massage education, did the strokes, and incorporated it into my baby’s routine. I saw the attunement and attachment in real-time. Fast forward six years. I wanted to have a career where I could make an impact in the world. What better place to do that than Infant Massage USA, which aims to create a nurturing nation through its training programs?

3. What are your goals for growing it in the coming years? We are creating our 5-year strategic plan, which includes providing more educational content for our members, raising money for our SEED scholarship program, and spreading our message of nurturing touch far and wide. 

4. What are you most proud of about the organization? I’m torn between two achievements that make me equally proud, and I must give credit to the board, staff, and the research and education committee, who have been instrumental in helping me achieve these milestones. The first one is the SEED Scholarship program, aimed at making a difference in the lives of often overlooked communities. Together, we are making a generational change, and I’m proud to have spearheaded this initiative. The second achievement was the Infant Massage USA Conference, where we had 20 speakers talk about the science of nurturing touch. It was an honor to organize an event that could help spread awareness about the benefits of massage for infants. These milestones are a testament to our collective efforts and dedication to making a difference.

5. What are some of the organization’s biggest challenges? Despite its numerous benefits, infant massage education is often overlooked and undervalued by the general population. It’s a practice that goes beyond simply rubbing lotion on a baby’s skin. Rather, it’s a bonding experience that fosters deep attachment between the caregiver and the child. This connection can have a profound impact on the child’s development and even influence future generations. From promoting healthy sleep patterns to reducing stress and anxiety, infant massage education is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform the lives of both parents and children.

6. How can more people get involved? Discover the numerous ways you can make a difference today. Get involved by volunteering or taking a nearby training. Find out more by visiting!

June 7-9, 2024: Infant Massage USA 2024 Conference provides a unique educational and networking opportunity, attracting hundreds of participants worldwide.

“Presentations empower people with knowledge and skills that enhance their ability to make an impact working with families,” says Executive Director Ashley Febvay. “The conference brings medical and mental health providers, researchers, early interventionists, massage therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and more.”

Conference topics will include: The connection between infant massage and breastfeeding, the benefits of nurturing touch in the foster care system, massage as a treatment for infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, and more. To watch last year’s presentations, click here for the 2023 Conference playlist.