San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Infant Massage Benefits Babies and Parents

Why would an infant with less than a year’s experience on this planet need a relaxing massage? According to U.S. infant-massage trainer Jody Wright, the reasons abound, as do the benefits for both baby and parent. Massage can be a powerful tool that stimulates numerous health benefits as well as improved bonding between parent and child.

Though infant massage is an ancient practice that has been used for centuries in many parts of the world, parents in Costa Rica interested in the technique have had limited access to classes. That is about to change.

Recognizing the need for more teachers, Costa Rican Mariel Madrigal, the only active, certified infant-massage instructor in the country, helped to organize two recent trainings that will certify more than 40 people to teach infant massage. The workshops were led by Wright, a trainer with more than 22 years of experience and one of the founders of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM).

At a recent workshop in the western San José suburb of Escazú, a conference room at Apartotel Villas del Río was transformed into an infant-massage space. The chairs were pushed to the walls and large white cloths were spread over the floor. Books, training manuals, shoes and baby paraphernalia were scattered throughout the room.

As the time for practice grew near, soothing music began to play and the 19 participants took their places on the white-covered floor. Volunteers and mothers taking the training brought their babies and settled into the groups, with their infants lying in front of them on blankets or towels.

The instructors-in-training took turns leading the class and demonstrating on lifesize dolls the massage techniques, which include yoga movements, relaxation, reflexology and both Indian and Swedish massage techniques.

Though a room full of babies of various ages is not always likely to be a tranquil place, the infants seemed to love the attention and the physical contact, and their smiles spread joy throughout the room.

Occasionally, when a baby got fussy or didn’t seem to enjoy a particular aspect of the massage, the mother would just hold her child gently until the infant was ready for more.

The women taking the course were enthusiastic students. Those who had babies at home said they had already personally tried the techniques and were impressed by the effects they had seen.

“My son was waking up three times a night, but after the massage yesterday he woke up only once,” said course participant Mitzy Villalobos.

In addition to improved sleep patterns, the benefits of infant massage, according to proponents, include relief from gas and colic, healthful weight gain, decreased fussiness and a closer relationship with the parent.

Not only the babies benefit; massage time also helps parents relax and may relieve symptoms of depression and stress. Practicing massage can help parents better understand their babies’ cues, and helps moms and dads feel empowered as their confidence in their overall parenting skills grows.

Madrigal got involved with infant massage when her son was born, premature, and found the techniques to be a great resource.

“It helped so much with the difficult time at the hospital, and at home, because he was a colicky baby,” she said.

Wright also experienced the effects of massage with her five children.

“I started out massaging my own adopted children and found it an amazing way to connect with them,” she asserted.

The recent trainings were attended by nurses, psychologists, teachers, physical therapists and parents who wanted to learn how to teach the techniques. The workshop consisted of four to five full days of training, including child development topics, how to adjust the techniques for premature babies and those with special needs, and practice teaching with volunteer parents and their infants. After passing a final exam, the instructors must complete a five-week teaching practicum to complete the certification process.

The 41 new infant-massage instructors will soon be offering classes for interested moms and dads in communities, schools and hospitals throughout the San José area. Madrigal plans to begin an IAIM chapter here, which would make Costa Rica the first country in Central America to have a chapter of the international organization.

For information about upcoming classes, contact Madrigal at 289-2137 or 384-8679, or e-mail


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