- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

Massage instructor Jennifer L. Moore sits cross-legged on the mats, waiting for her students to arrive. Two by two they come, many walking, some riding in infant carriers, some bound close to their mothers' chests.

Parents quietly unpack blankets and lay them out, then slowly unwrap their babies, each bundled tightly against the winter chill.

"Don't wake her up," Ms. Moore calls to one mother, whose baby sleeps soundly in a carrier. "Never disturb a sleeping baby," she says, and everyone murmurs agreement.

Ms. Moore teaches infant massage to seven mothers and one father at Arlington County's Lubber Run Recreation Center. The power of touch, she says, helps parents soothe and bond with their babies and aids in babies' sleep, digestion and well-being.

Hard science supports Ms. Moore's beliefs.

"Although there aren't a lot of studies about it, those that are available suggest that both in pre-term and full-term infants, it has positive benefits for babies and parents," says Dr. Mary Ottolini, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center in the District.

For example, she points to an article in the May 1999 issue of Contemporary Pediatrics in which author Tiffany M. Field cites a study of 40 full-term infants. Those who were massaged for 15 minutes per day over a six-week period gained more weight, cried less and scored higher on measures of sociability than infants who were rocked for the same amount of time over the same period.

"Massage decreases hormones that are associated with stress, like cortisol. It increases parasympathetic neurological activity. That means it kind of reduces stress in the baby," she says. "Why? People don't necessarily know the answer it just seems to decrease hormones associated with stress and increase hormones associated with relaxation."

Ms. Moore's students seem to be believers as well.

"He's always been a catnapper," Asdis Hreinsdottir says as she concentrates on her 4-month-old son, Kevin Snoots Jr. "Now when I do massage on him, he takes deeper naps." The class has other benefits for Ms. Hreinsdottir, on maternity leave from her job as a consulate officer at the Icelandic Embassy: It gives her the opportunity to interact with other new mothers.

As Ms. Moore maintains a running monologue "Squeeze and twist all the way down her legs," she instructs, demonstrating on a doll parents Jennifer and Jason Powell work out the kinks in 7-week-old Lila.

"I know I like a massage, so it would seem she would like it, too," says Ms. Powell, a seventh-grade science teacher on maternity leave from Arlington's Gunston Middle School. "We do it almost every day now."

Ellen Blair strokes and squeezes her 4-month-old son John's tiny ears at Ms. Moore's urgings and explanation that "there are 200 pressure points in the ear." An elementary-school-teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom, Ms. Blair says she is taking the class to learn something new and to help her baby relax.

"He likes it," Ms. Blair says. "He laughs."

Ms. Moore says among its benefits to infants and children, massage:

• Relieves discomfort from teething, congestion, gas, colic and emotional stress.

• Helps increase oxygen and nutrient flow to cells.

• Helps baby sleep longer and deeper.

• Enhances neurological development.

• Improves sensory awareness.

For parents, it has the following benefits:

• Helps parents feel more competent and confident in their parental role.

• Helps ease the stress of a working parent who must be separated from the child during the day.

• Enhances communication and builds respect.

• Offers parents time to relax and unwind from the busy pace of life.

• Enhances parents' ability to help relax the child in time of stress.

"Giving the self is giving the gift of love to your baby," Ms. Moore intones gently to her students as they stroke their babies. "Your babies need to know they are safe and loved and nurtured."


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