Over many years a number of reports have linked health problems to low socio-economic status (Benzeval et a1 1996, Townsend and Davidson 1988). Sure Start, a UK-wide initiative introduced following the publication of Supporting Families (Home Office 1998), is now having a positive impact upon the lives of deprived families.
Each Sure Start programme focuses on strategies to meet its targets for improving young children's health and development. Sure Start believes that the physical health of young children (up to four years) can be improved by supporting parents in caring for their children. One way in which young children's psychological development can be promoted, is by encouraging and supporting early bonding between parents and their children.
Sure Start--Creswell, Langwith/Whaley Thorns and Shirebrook, is a deprived community where young children's health is below the national average. The Sure Start team uses a variety of strategies to promote the health and development of young children--baby massage being one. Nursery nurses, health visitors and a community children's nurse are all involved in promoting baby massage by leading groups and working with families in the home. Several members of the team have undertaken an infant massage teacher training course.
Benefits of baby massage
Collins (1998) defines massage as the act of rubbing parts of the body to promote relaxation. From the literature examined (Field 1995, Heller 1997) and practice
observations, baby massage appears to have a number of physical and psychological benefits for babies, not purely relaxation. Evidence shows that there are also benefits for mothers and fathers (Hart et al 2003) and an important aspect of baby massage is for parents to become skilled in touching their baby in a gentle, positive way, so that they become more sensitive to their baby's needs.
Field (1995) found that massaged babies slept better than babies who had not received massage, and Scafidi et al (1986) demonstrated similar findings with premature babies. These researchers found that massaged babies slept more soundly and fell asleep more quickly. We have found that many mothers report that following a baby massage session their babies sleep particularly soundly and many babies have been observed falling asleep in the middle of a massage session.
Other studies focusing on premature babies and baby massage have highlighted that massage can have a dramatic impact upon weight gain (Field et al 1986). Field (2001), in a more recent article, points out that studies from different research traits have produced similar fundings on premature babies and increased weight gain. The impact of baby massage on weight gain may be difficult to determine as the growth of babies is influenced by many different factors, and. from our experiences within Sure Start, links with improved weight gain have been unreliable.
Another important area where massage seems to impact upon babies' physical health is infant colic, which is very common in young babies but usually resolves by the age of four to five months (Illingworth 1985). The symptoms of infant colic have been described as babies...
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