Infant Massage USA Trainer Jody Wright: “A Story of Infant Massage and Adoption”

By Infant Massage USA Trainer Jody Wright

My youngest daughter, Emily, has been massaging her new eight-week-old baby, and has been pleasantly surprised how much her daughter, Kahmani, enjoys it. She gets quite chatty and makes lots of sounds of enjoyment. Reminds me of Emily when she was young.

I adopted Emily when she was just five days old. As a fourth baby, she was very much the family baby. Her older sisters ADORED her, carrying her around at their school assemblies to show her off, dressing her up in little dresses and taking her photo, caring for her when I needed both hands to cook a meal.

How did I get started massaging my babies? When I adopted my first baby, I contacted my friend, Vimala McClure, who had recently written a book on infant massage and asked for her help learning how to do it. I was attracted to infant massage, too, because my mother had massaged me as a baby. She told me “I massaged you when you were a baby. I don’t know why, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

When an infant is adopted, they start out by experiencing the trauma of losing their mother, and hopefully getting another parent or two soon afterwards. This child comes with a complex history of experiences even if they are just a few days old. There has been an interruption to the ideal train of events after birth: when the baby might have been delivered onto the mother’s belly, warmed on the mother’s chest, lovingly fed by a familiar person with recognizable smells and a voice they remember from the womb, gradually introduced to family members. The baby may be more guarded without these familiar cues. It may take longer to make a connection.

Bonding and attachment is vital for any parent and baby, but with adoption or fostering, family-building practices like massage, sleep, feeding, carrying, bathing, become vital to support the establishment of a new family relationship. When we act like family, and do the intimate things that families do, we soon feel like family.

Using a carrier can be an important way to comfort a new child and help them get to know the parent’s smell, rhythm, and voice. Sleeping with the baby in a safe place within arm-reach can help the baby avoid feeling isolated, as they might have in a required hospital of fostering stay. Taking baths with the baby is a great way of creating intimacy, as is caring for the baby skin-to-skin on your chest. Feeding is a vital time for bonding, and encourages babies to attach to the people who care for them.

When a new parent touches and massages their adopted or fostered baby or child, they need to be extra sensitive to their needs and to their behavioral states. A parent may need to touch and make eye contact more deliberately. They may need to look for that special time when a baby is open to interaction and not overwhelmed by the challenges their new life has brought them. The adoptive parent may need to work harder to grow those feelings of bonding and attachment themselves than they would have if they had experienced a pregnancy.

Infant massage and other forms of touching increase the release of oxytocin in the new parents AND in the baby. Oxytocin is a pheromone hormone that passes between people and is increased by breathing it in from another: from baby to parent and parent to baby. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting like hormones outside the body of the secreting individual, to impact the behavior of the receiving individuals. They are vital in creating a sense of connection and family

Sometimes adoptive and fostering parents, or even parents of a baby that is not healthy, may feel unsure how much much to commit themselves to this new, fragile relationship. Even if the adoptive or fostering relationship is temporary or not yet finalized, parents and siblings should strive to truly welcome this new baby into the family and give completely of themselves. Sometimes the future is unknown, but feeling unconditionally loved and touched is something that will always be remembered by a child, no matter what their future holds.

Certified Infant Massage Instructors can support families with a newly adopted or fostered baby by alerting them to the many ways they can support the development of family intimacy with their new baby. CEIMs can guide parents to sensitively begin a touch relationship, intimate conversation, and eye contact with their baby through teaching them infant massage. They can point out the many little ways the baby is showing they care. They can remind the new parents in all their interactions that they are the “real” parents of this new little one. Because they are.

As my daughter Emily has found, infant massage is a wonderful start to a new family relationship, no matter how parents and babies come together.

About Jody Wright

Having dedicated her career to supporting positive relationships between parents and their babies, Jody is the mother of five grown children, and specializes in breastfeeding, massage and bonding with the adopted child. She has published over 25 articles for parents, and received numerous awards, including the La Leche League International Award of Appreciation. For 20 years she was the president of Motherwear, a clothing catalog/website for breastfeeding mothers.

Jody was trained to be an International Trainer in 1984 by Vimala McClure and was a founding board member of the International Association for Infant Massage Instructors in 1986. She served on the IAIM International Board from 2006-2016. She currently serves on the Infant Massage USA Board. Jody has trained thousands of instructors throughout the USA, and led trainings in Costa Rica, Taiwan, Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, China and Brazil.

Training Locations: Usually holds trainings in the following USA locations and is open to discussing training in other locations, including California (San Francisco area), Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas.

Enroll for Jody’s class here.