Can Baby Massage Help Increase Infants’ Weight? with Helen Thompson

  • How infant massage can benefit babies…and it goes beyond teething and colic
  • When it’s best to avoid infant massage so that you don’t make a bad situation worse
  • Whether or not infant massage can help a baby with growth faltering or weight loss


Episode Description

Worried that your baby isn’t eating enough or getting enough nutrition from food? Being worried that your baby is going to lose weight is a real fear. There’s some data to suggest that infant massage can actually help increase your baby’s weight. Baby massage expert Helen Thompson is here to teach about baby massage and if it is a way you can help your baby gain weight.


About the Guest

  • Helen Thompson is a baby massage instructor based in Australia 
  • She also teaches tummy time and hosts the First Time Mum's Chat podcast

Other Episodes Mentioned in this Episode

Links from Episode

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<v SPEAKER_1>If you're new to this whole world of Baby-Led Weaning and starting solid foods, you might still be on the fence as to whether this approach is going to work for you.

00:00:07.360 --> 00:00:13.940

<v SPEAKER_1>And if that's the case, I want to send you my free feeding guide called Will Baby-Led Weaning Work For My Baby?

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<v SPEAKER_1>This is a guide that contains a decision tree map that you can work your way through to determine if this is the right approach for you guys, and then when it's time to start.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Grab your copy of Will Baby-Led Weaning Work For My Baby on my website at babyledweaning.co/resources.

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<v SPEAKER_1>I was doing my breakfast dishes this morning, turned the garbage disposal on, and then heard that terrible noise when you know something is in the disposal, but like you could totally tell the damage has already been done.

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<v SPEAKER_2>The vagus nerve, it helps us to stimulate your baby to swallow.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So when you're actually massaging your baby, you're helping to stimulate that swallowing flow so that the baby can actually eat more effectively and they're not giggling.

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<v SPEAKER_2>You know, if you're feeding a baby milk or whatever it is, sometimes they gulp it really quickly.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And by massaging your baby, you're actually helping them with the jaw.

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<v SPEAKER_2>If the jaw is very tight or if the jaw is not relaxed, by massaging their face, you're actually loosening that tightness in the jaw so that therefore it's easier for them to eat.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Hey there, I'm Katie Ferraro, Registered Dietitian, College Nutrition Professor, and mom of seven, specializing in baby-led weaning.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Here on the Baby-Led Weaning with Katie Ferraro podcast, I help you strip out all of the noise and nonsense about feeding, giving you the confidence and knowledge you need to give your baby a safe start to solid foods using baby-led weaning.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Are you worried that your baby isn't eating enough or isn't getting enough nutrition from food?

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<v SPEAKER_1>Being worried that your baby is going to lose weight is a real fear, especially when you start solid foods and, hello, they're not actually eating that much at the beginning.

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<v SPEAKER_1>There is some data to suggest, though, that infant massage can actually help increase your baby's weight.

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<v SPEAKER_1>But I got to be real with you.

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<v SPEAKER_1>As a new mom with my first baby, I was so overwhelmed by all of the new things on my to-do list that baby massage was not a top priority.

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<v SPEAKER_1>But for those of you that can swing it, my hat is off to you.

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<v SPEAKER_1>My guest today is an expert in baby massage.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Her name is Helen Thompson.

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<v SPEAKER_1>She has over 20 years of child care experience.

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<v SPEAKER_1>She operates a private practice out of Australia.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And she teaches about baby massage.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And she's going to talk about a little bit of the data that shows that baby massage can help babies for lots of different reasons, but it also may play a role in helping to increase infants' weight.

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<v SPEAKER_1>One thing I love about doing this podcast is the opportunity to interview other people working in the baby space.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Helen and I were actually in a podcast accelerator course together, and we got sent out to one of those, you know, like those networking things you have to go to on Zoom, and then they put you in a private room, and nobody's talking, and you're like, oh, God, what if everyone's lame?

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<v SPEAKER_1>But they're actually super, super nice.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And I got put into a breakout room with Helen.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And then she said she worked in baby massage.

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<v SPEAKER_1>I said I worked in baby-led weaning.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And this wasn't like an infant-feeding thing or a baby thing.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So it was kind of weird that we were in similar spaces.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And I was really just enthused by her message and inspired by her commitment to baby massage.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So I love the opportunity to get to interview her here on the podcast.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And just a reminder, if you're not already following this podcast, please hit subscribe so that both of the weekly episodes that I release show up in your feed, because I do a mini baby-led weaning training episode every Monday and then a longer feeding expert interview every Thursday.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So please do subscribe.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And if you have any mom friends or family members who are also starting solid food soon, please tell them about the Baby-Led Weaning With Katie Ferraro podcast, because word of mouth is the most important and probably the only way at this point to grow the show and to help get it in front of more parents and their ear balls who want to hear this information and need to hear it.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So with no further ado, I want to bring on Helen Thompson, the baby massage expert.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And we're going to chat a little bit about baby massage, how to do it right.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Make sure you listen till the end, because she's going to tell you what you definitely don't want to do.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And I had no idea if I were massaging a baby today, I probably would have totally done this wrong.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Here is Helen Thompson talking about, can baby massage help increase infant's weight?

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<v SPEAKER_2>I had an amazing class probably about two or three years ago, where when I first started baby massage, because I was always told that baby massage helped with constipation and gas.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And I never actually believed that was the case.

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<v SPEAKER_2>I was teaching baby massage to her mom, and she did a couple of the tummy moves, and after about sort of two minutes, her baby really filled his nappy.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And I mean, when I say filled his nappy, I mean his nappy basically exploded, because he had constipation for such a long time.

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<v SPEAKER_1>How did you get involved in infant massage?

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<v SPEAKER_1>What drove you to this kind of unique area of parenting, childcare provision?

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<v SPEAKER_1>I never had met anyone who specializes in infant massage till we met in the podcast course we're both in together.

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<v SPEAKER_2>Well, I come from a childcare background, and I had so many parents who used to come to me and say, my baby's having problems with teasing, my baby's having problems with colic, constipation, digestive issues.

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<v SPEAKER_2>I don't know what to do.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And at that stage, I didn't know what to do either.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And I sort of thought, well, other than giving them medication, which I am not a fan of, I did a bit of research and I discovered baby massage and I went to one of the classes and I thought, wow, this is exactly the kind of thing that parents are asking me.

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<v SPEAKER_2>This is exactly the kind of thing that parents are wanting to know about.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So I decided, right, well, I'm going to go and diversify and do a course in baby massage.

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<v SPEAKER_2>Because I was finding I was getting a bit on burnout and childcare and I wanted out because I was just finding it really hard going.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So that's basically how I got into baby massage, by finding the information from what parents were telling me in the childcare when I was working in childcare and what they wanted and what they needed.

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<v SPEAKER_2>But I realized how powerful it was, you know, to assist mom.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And it also helps to build their confidence, which I thought was good as well.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So Helen, tell me about the type of practice that you have there in Australia for infant massage.

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<v SPEAKER_2>Well, at the moment, I have a very small business that I run from home, but I am in the process of shifting it all online because I'm finding that I want to get more out of it and I want to sort of support more moms all over the world.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So I'm shifting the practice more online.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So it's very, very small at the moment in Australia.

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<v SPEAKER_2>I practice from home, but it's a very, very small business at the moment.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And as I said, I'm planning to move that all online.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And use the pictures that I take from when I'm doing classes at home.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And in Australia, is infant massage regulated?

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<v SPEAKER_1>And also kind of a follow on question, what sort of criteria should parents look for if they are seeking assistance from an infant massage person or professional?

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<v SPEAKER_2>Technically, I don't think it is regulated in Australia.

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<v SPEAKER_2>However, to be able to do a baby massage course, you do need to study and you do need to do case studies.

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<v SPEAKER_2>You can't just go for a weekend.

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<v SPEAKER_2>I mean, you can do a weekend, but on top of that weekend, you've got to do case studies and you've got to send those case studies on to the provider you've done baby massage with.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And then you have a little mini exam and they correct that and then you have a baby massage instructor.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So technically speaking, it's not regulated, but there are, you know, you do have to do these case studies so that they know that you know what you're doing.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Can you bill insurance for infant massage or is it all cash or private pay?

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<v SPEAKER_2>I do have insurance for baby massage because I insure myself because it's really important in case something happens.

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<v SPEAKER_2>However, no, I don't think you can.

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<v SPEAKER_2>Some providers will do it if you give them a qualification, if you give them the diploma and you give them a receipt.

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<v SPEAKER_2>But technically, no.

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<v SPEAKER_2>But yes, I said some providers may do it, but it's not common practice to do that, but people can pay in cash or…

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<v SPEAKER_1>Hey, we're going to take a quick break, but I'll be right back.

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00:10:43.720 --> 00:10:52.020

<v SPEAKER_1>And you mentioned the baby that had some GI conditions, and then you did some of your infant massage, and then it helped relieve that constipation issue.

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<v SPEAKER_1>But what other conditions can infant massage be beneficial for?

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<v SPEAKER_2>That's a lot.

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<v SPEAKER_2>It's teasing, colic.

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<v SPEAKER_2>It helps with digestion.

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<v SPEAKER_2>It helps build the immune system.

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<v SPEAKER_2>It helps with congestion.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And if you've got a cold, if your baby's just feeling a bit cold, you can massage your chest and help to relieve all that mucus and get rid of all that mucus.

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<v SPEAKER_2>It's also great for bonding as well.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And one of the things that I love about baby massage is the touch, because touch is so vital for our babies to survive.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And the mothers, when they're massaging their babies, they're giving them that nurturing touch and teaching them that touch is okay, and it's okay to be touched.

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<v SPEAKER_2>That's something I'll add a bit later on about.

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<v SPEAKER_2>But it's really important that you ask your baby's permission before you massage them.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And how do you ask a baby for permission to massage them?

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<v SPEAKER_2>You rub your hands with a bit of oil, and you just look down at your baby and you just ask them if they'd like a massage.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And you watch their cues.

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<v SPEAKER_2>If the baby's crying, well, obviously, no, that's not okay.

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<v SPEAKER_2>If they're giggling and they're really happy and they're putting their hands out for you to touch them, then that's okay.

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<v SPEAKER_2>There's also a way you can do it on the chest, and if you put your hands on your baby's chest, just watch the cues.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And if the arms are straight out, that's them saying yes.

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<v SPEAKER_2>If one arm's in, they might be saying, oh, I'm not sure about this.

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<v SPEAKER_2>Just give me a moment to think about it.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And it's a learned response.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And it's really important that you watch for that, because the whole point of baby massage is, one of the points of baby massage is we're teaching our baby the yes cues to say, is it okay for you if you touch you?

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<v SPEAKER_2>Because I think that's the key there, because a lot of parents don't realize that.

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<v SPEAKER_1>I think that you make an excellent point.

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<v SPEAKER_1>We have the same thing in feeding.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And one of my colleagues, Marsha Dunn Klein, has really kind of coined this term about, or this idea of what we call the positive tilt in feeding.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So she has a whole Get Permission Institute, and it's about getting permission from your baby before you start to help them with learning how to eat, and that the baby leaning towards you when you're offering the food initially on your hand for the baby to pick it up out of their hand.

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<v SPEAKER_1>That's very important because it's them indicating that they're interested in this, versus you think of the traditional spoon feeding where you're shoving or forcing a spoonful of purees down a baby's mouth and they're putting their hands up and visibly not wanting to be fed.

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<v SPEAKER_1>That is not the baby giving you permission.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So I like the idea that you do the same thing in infant massage.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And I wanted to ask you about the potential role or benefits of infant massage for babies that need to gain weight.

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<v SPEAKER_1>There was an article I sent it to you to ask you about it, published in the Journal of Public Health Research in 2021, that looked at the effectiveness of baby massage in increasing infant's body weight.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And so their conclusions were essentially that baby massage can increase infant's weight with a history of low birth weight, aged one to six months of age.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And the authors note that it's important for health workers to provide education and practice baby massage for mothers in order to stimulate the growth and development of infants.

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<v SPEAKER_1>This intervention can be integrated with maternal and child health programs in primary health care facilities.

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<v SPEAKER_1>And I mean, I'm very familiar with the health care facilities in the United States, and I've never seen someone specializing in infant massage in our traditional health care system.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Can you speak a little bit about the role of infant massage on weight?

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<v SPEAKER_1>And do you see a place where infant massage specialists would be involved in primary care, kind of like the authors of this article envision?

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<v SPEAKER_2>Yeah, I think I actually did a lot of research on this when you asked me to do it, because when I learned baby massage, I was always told that it helped with baby weight, but I wasn't actually quite sure how that worked.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And when I read that article, it really made me think about it.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And I think when you're actually massaging your baby, you're working on the vagus nerve.

00:14:38.560 --> 00:14:42.960

<v SPEAKER_2>The vagus nerve helps us to stimulate the baby to swallow.

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<v SPEAKER_2>So when you're actually massaging your baby, you're helping to stimulate that swallowing flow so that the baby can actually eat more effectively and they're not gaggling.

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<v SPEAKER_2>We know when you're feeding a baby milk or whatever it is, sometimes they gulp it really quickly.

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<v SPEAKER_2>And by massaging your baby, you're actually helping them with the jaw.

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<v SPEAKER_2>If the jaw is very tight or if the jaw is not relaxed, by massaging their face, you're actually loosening that tightness in the jaw so that therefore it's easier for them to eat and it's easier for them to gain weight.

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<v SPEAKER_2>When you're massaging the tummy, it's helping the digestion to work through, get all the fluid working through the body more effectively.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Helen, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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<v SPEAKER_1>It's a US service organization through our government, and I lived in Nepal after college.

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<v SPEAKER_1>So I was in a remote village for two and a half years, and I worked in maternal and child health.

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<v SPEAKER_1>Ironically, I was a reproductive health specialist, and it's kind of funny because I have seven kids now and we talk a lot about the benefits of small families, but neither here nor there.

00:15:50.640 --> 00:15:59.840

<v SPEAKER_1>So the moms who were in Nepal in our village, they would always take their babies out in the sun and massage them with oil and let them basically sunbathing as part of their daily routine with the babies.

00:15:59.860 --> 00:16:07.000

<v SPEAKER_1>And I remember thinking, well, they probably don't need vitamin D drops like all the moms at home give their babies because we keep our babies inside all the time.

00:16:07.520 --> 00:16:10.100

<v SPEAKER_1>US moms would never let their babies sit out in the sun like that.

00:16:10.120 --> 00:16:19.020

<v SPEAKER_1>So I'm just curious, are there conditions or situations where infant massage is not appropriate or indicated you ever get a case and you're like, no, I can't deal with this because of X, Y or Z?

00:16:19.660 --> 00:16:23.060

<v SPEAKER_2>If the baby's just been immunized, I wouldn't massage straight away.

00:16:23.080 --> 00:16:30.160

<v SPEAKER_2>And if the baby's got sort of any infection or any cuts or anything, I wouldn't massage.

00:16:30.640 --> 00:16:48.640

<v SPEAKER_2>And also, if the baby is about, say, two weeks old or anything, I'm not saying I wouldn't massage them, but I just be careful with the umbilical cord because you've obviously got to be very careful where you massage because you don't want to give them any infection around where the umbilical cord is.

00:16:49.220 --> 00:16:57.880

<v SPEAKER_2>Those are the main ones, immunization and being careful about the umbilical cord and not massaging them if they're really, really distressed and crying.

00:16:58.260 --> 00:17:01.460

<v SPEAKER_1>What's your favorite thing about being a specialist in infant massage?

00:17:02.020 --> 00:17:19.720

<v SPEAKER_2>I love seeing moms really bonding and building with their babies and building their confidence and seeing them actually realize how valuable touch is because I always encourage them to sing while they're massaging their babies, singing to their babies and it's just seeing them bond together.

00:17:19.740 --> 00:17:26.880

<v SPEAKER_2>And the other thing is to see dads involved as well because it's great for dads to be involved in baby massage as well.

00:17:27.280 --> 00:17:29.840

<v SPEAKER_1>Hey, we're going to take a quick break but I'll be right back.

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00:18:08.257 --> 00:18:12.877

<v SPEAKER_1>So Helen, I can imagine a lot of the parents who are listening are like, oh my gosh, what a great idea, of course.

00:18:12.897 --> 00:18:15.257

<v SPEAKER_1>You know, it's just another way to bond with our baby.

00:18:15.277 --> 00:18:19.357

<v SPEAKER_1>But I know for one, I would be scared, especially as a new mom, like what if I do it wrong?

00:18:19.377 --> 00:18:20.797

<v SPEAKER_1>Or what if I hurt the baby?

00:18:20.817 --> 00:18:24.597

<v SPEAKER_1>So as far as courses that you offer, can you tell us a little bit?

00:18:24.617 --> 00:18:26.977

<v SPEAKER_1>I know you have a colicky baby course.

00:18:27.517 --> 00:18:32.857

<v SPEAKER_1>What opportunities do you have for parents who are interested in learning more about how you can help them with infant massage?

00:18:33.277 --> 00:18:36.817

<v SPEAKER_2>If they want to go online, they can see the Colicky Baby 101 course.

00:18:36.957 --> 00:18:41.377

<v SPEAKER_2>And on that course, I go through exactly what I told you about the permission sequence.

00:18:41.397 --> 00:18:47.877

<v SPEAKER_2>And I guide them through the process of the tummy massage to help them to relieve the colic.

00:18:48.457 --> 00:18:55.537

<v SPEAKER_2>And I am in the process of doing other courses, but that's the only one I've got at the moment, online, that is.

00:18:56.137 --> 00:19:06.617

<v SPEAKER_1>What is the website or where would you like people to go to learn more about your Colicky Baby course or the Colicky Baby 101 course, and also to listen to your podcast too, which I think is such a wonderful resource for moms.

00:19:06.637 --> 00:19:07.277

<v SPEAKER_1>Tell us about that.

00:19:07.557 --> 00:19:10.317

<v SPEAKER_2>My podcast is called First Time Moms Chat.

00:19:10.737 --> 00:19:26.637

<v SPEAKER_2>And I started the podcast because I wanted to reach out to moms, to first time moms, and help them to build their confidence and support them because I know a lot of moms get overwhelmed and stressed with postpartum and they get stressed with a lot of things.

00:19:26.657 --> 00:19:27.737

<v SPEAKER_2>I mean, I'm team things.

00:19:27.757 --> 00:19:29.017

<v SPEAKER_2>I'm not going to go down there.

00:19:29.017 --> 00:19:30.557

<v SPEAKER_2>As a mom, there's a lot of things.

00:19:30.657 --> 00:19:35.617

<v SPEAKER_2>And I wanted to start a podcast to support moms to do that.

00:19:35.957 --> 00:19:40.737

<v SPEAKER_2>And I like to speak to professionals like yourself, which I'm hoping that you'll be on my podcast soon.

00:19:41.377 --> 00:19:44.637

<v SPEAKER_2>And professionals about postpartum or trauma.

00:19:45.257 --> 00:19:49.097

<v SPEAKER_2>And I sometimes go on the podcast myself and talk about baby massage.

00:19:49.117 --> 00:20:03.557

<v SPEAKER_2>So it's really there to support moms and to create a village for moms to be able to communicate with each other and listen to other people and get tips and advice that they don't always have to follow, but just get tips and advice.

00:20:03.577 --> 00:20:14.217

<v SPEAKER_2>If you go to mybabymassage.net forward slash baby-ledweaning, on there you'll find all the information that I have and what I offer.

00:20:14.237 --> 00:20:15.657

<v SPEAKER_1>Well, thank you so much, Helen.

00:20:15.677 --> 00:20:18.937

<v SPEAKER_1>It's been a fabulous opportunity to chat with you about Baby Massage.

00:20:19.277 --> 00:20:20.537

<v SPEAKER_2>Well, thank you for having me.

00:20:20.557 --> 00:20:24.817

<v SPEAKER_2>It's been a great pleasure to be here and I've always loved chatting about Baby Massage.

00:20:24.837 --> 00:20:26.657

<v SPEAKER_2>So yeah, thank you for having me.

00:20:27.797 --> 00:20:30.877

<v SPEAKER_1>Well, I hope you guys enjoyed that interview with Helen Thompson.

00:20:30.897 --> 00:20:34.037

<v SPEAKER_1>She is online at mybabymassage.net.

00:20:34.277 --> 00:20:43.717

<v SPEAKER_1>I will put a link to all of the resources that she mentioned in today's episode in the show notes, which you can find for this podcast at blwpodcast.com forward slash four three zero.

00:20:44.017 --> 00:20:47.277

<v SPEAKER_1>Thank you so much to our sponsors and our partners at Airwave Media.

00:20:47.477 --> 00:20:52.677

<v SPEAKER_1>If you guys like podcasts that feature food and science and using your brain, check out some of the shows from Airwave.

00:20:52.697 --> 00:20:54.977

<v SPEAKER_1>We're online at blwpodcast.com.

00:20:55.017 --> 00:20:56.877

<v SPEAKER_1>Thanks so much for listening, and I'll catch you next time.

00:21:05.297 --> 00:21:14.617

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<v SPEAKER_3>You can learn a lot in just a few minutes with stories about impending hurricanes, winter storms, or even what not to miss in the night sky.

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<v SPEAKER_3>So listen and subscribe to AccuWeather Daily, wherever you get your podcasts.

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<v SPEAKER_3>That's AccuWeather Daily, wherever you get your podcasts.