The growing trend of sending babies as young as two days old to “Baby Day Spas” has prompted calls from child health experts to be cautious about using such services, particularly those offering to provide baby massage.
According to the CEO of one Australian organisation, the potential risks of these types of baby day spa services include injury, as well as disruption to the bonding relationship between babies and parents – particularly for young babies.
Alice Campbell, CEO of Baby in Mind, a charity providing infant massage training to midwives, nurses and other Health Workers, explains research does suggest there are some unique benefits associated with infant massage, but warns: “not all infant massage is the same. The available research suggests the safest and most beneficial is an approach called ‘cue-based infant massage’. This approach supports parents to use massage, touch and other interactions in response to their own baby’s unique signals, body language and vocalisations. This approach is less to do with rubbing babies and more to do with supporting parent-baby relationships, and seems to show the most promising benefits.”
One of the most important benefits of high-quality Baby Massage, according to Dr. Emma Adams, a Psychiatrist specialising in perinatal and infant mental health, is that can support the relationship between parents and babies. “Cue-based infant massage allows parents and babies to get to know each other which is crucial during the first year. It supports parents to gain confidence in understanding their baby and responding to their needs.’
According to Dr. Adams, young babies rely on physical closeness to their primary caregiver. “A baby’s social and emotional cues can be easily missed by a stranger, and this can cause quite a lot of distress to babies, even though they might not always cry. It can also undermine a parent’s confidence in themselves during a very sensitive time, and we have seen this exacerbate problems like postnatal depression. Care-giving by strangers who don’t know the baby is considered a risk factor which can interrupt early mental health development.”
“And, of course, if there is any sort of pain or injury, a therapist massaging the baby is far less likely to pick up on the baby’s subtle signals, and may even make it worse” said Dr. Adams.
Ms. Campbell explained that these sorts of ‘Baby Spa’ services are usually provided by therapists without specific accredited training in infant massage education. “People who have completed accredited training in infant massage education, and who are registered with a reputable organisation, would be unlikely to provide this sort of service. The guidelines and Codes of Conduct we have in place prevent practitioners from massaging other people’s babies for good reason. Unfortunately, according to Ms. Campbell, “accreditation and proper training are not mandatory. The onus is on parents to be aware that high-quality, evidence-based infant massage services focus on giving parents skills, so that they are empowered to build their relationship with their own babies.”
For parents who are interested in the benefits of high-quality infant massage, Dr. Adams and Baby in Mind both recommend attending a parent-baby program run by an educator who has undertaken nationally accredited training to teach infant massage to parents. “Properly facilitated groups are extremely relaxed and non-judgemental, use evidence-based guidelines, and leave babies, new mums and dads feeling empowered and uplifted – for a fraction of the cost”.
Baby in Mind maintains a list of nationally accredited educators.