Relaxation and Bonding through Infant Massage

Several sets of parents arrive at CHD’s Early Intervention playroom, all carrying their babies. The grownups sit down on the mat and position the babies on their backs, heads resting on a pillow. Some little ones are fidgety and others quiet, but there is a sense of anticipation among them. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been attending this class and have learned what comes next: infant massage.

“Infant massage class is an opportunity to educate new parents about good parenting,” said Cindy Napoli, Early Intervention Program Supervisor for CHD. Napoli, an Occupational Therapist Registered/Licensed (MOTR/L), Licensed Physical Therapy Assistant (LPTA), and Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM), has been actively involved in designing and delivering a new program centered on infant massage for babies enrolled in CHD’s Early Intervention Program.

“Infant massage is intended to enhance parent-infant interaction and promote healthy growth and development,” Napoli explained. “It’s different than adult massage where the massaged participant is passive. We don’t want to the baby to zone out. We want the baby to be in active-alert state so they are more likely to be receptive, calm, and quiet. That helps them interact well with their parents. The act of infant massage helps parents and babies to relax and bond. It’s all about loving touch to nurture the baby. The connections you make with your child through infant massage are great moments in parenting.”

Infant massage isn’t new. It’s been practiced for centuries in many cultures around the world, including some in India, China and South America. According to Dr. Steve Berman, past-president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the real potential of infant massage is that it sets up a dynamic between the parent and child that promotes conversing, communication and encouragement.

With babies alert and on their backs, parents in the class begin the massage with open resting hands. “This is a way parents ask permission to touch their baby,” Napoli explained. “That helps a parent and baby to build trust. You can tell if they’re ready and receptive from the baby’s gaze, facial expressions, posture, and other non-verbal or pre-verbal expressions of comfort or distress.”

One of the young ones began to coo in response to his father’s touch. “When babies are talking to you, talk back,” Napoli advised. “They may not have language skills yet but they’re trying to tell you something, so meet them where they are at. Label the body parts your touching, tell them what you’re doing to their arms, fingers, and legs. They learn to talk by listening to you, so talk to them.”

Parents raise their baby’s arm and rub beneath in gentle steps. This is called a pit stop and helps to stimulate glands under the arms. Next parents do wrist circles and hug-and-glide along their baby’s arms, followed by finger rolls, where parents softly squeeze their baby’s fingers and roll them side to side. They finish each arm with Swedish massage to return blood back to the body. “Whatever we take out to the hands, we bring back to the heart,” Napoli said.

Massaging the baby’s stomach can stimulate the bowels and help with constipation. The bottom of each foot has many nerve cells and a gentle massage there can be stimulating. Holding the baby’s feet, parents can alternate leg movement by bending the baby’s knee to create a pumping motion like riding a bicycle.

Throughout the massage, a parent maintains continual touch with the infant. “Let your baby know you are still in contact by repositioning your hand in a way that maintains touch. When you’re done, finish up with integration, a gentle rub from top to bottom that lets your baby know you’re done.”

Every parent who comes to infant massage class has a child enrolled in Early Intervention, typically to address a developmental delay. As a result, the sessions also function as parent support groups so parents can talk to each other about what they are experiencing and how they’re using infant massage at home. “My son has learned what’s coming next when I do resting hands,” said a father in the class. “Now that it’s part of his routine, he slows down and starts to relax because he likes the attention.”  One of the mothers said, “We do massage when he’s fussy and he likes it, but we’re finding it’s most beneficial when he has constipation.”

An infant crying can really tick off parents—especially inexperienced parents—and that can fuel a downward spiral that leads to parents abusing their child. According to Foundation for Healthy Family Living (www.healthfamily.org), studies show that infant massage classes can dramatically reduce the incidence of child abuse. For example, in 1997 an infant massage program was taught by social service staff in Douglas County, Oregon, to families at risk of abuse. During the project year, confirmed cases of abuse dropped from 104 to 15.

Studies on infant massage published in numerous medical journals have identified a range of benefits for babies, including:

  • Improved interaction with family
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Enhanced cognition and motor development
  • Increased weight gain for premature babies
  • Improved self-regulation for fussy or colicky babies
  • Enhanced comfort for babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Also cited are benefits for parents:

  • Better understanding and response to baby’s cues
  • Improved techniques to comfort, calm, and soothe baby
  • Additional way to provide close, nurturing contact
  • Relief from postpartum depression
  • Natural and pleasant method to bond with baby
  • Increased confidence in their ability to care for baby

Overall, babies who get a daily rubdown tend to sleep better, grow faster and be less fussy. As a result, their parents tend to be more relaxed and rested, too. Parents can get to know their babies better and build a foundation for communication that continues long after infancy ends.

Napoli ends each infant massage class with a poem. On this day it’s “If You Give a MOM a Cookie,” a clever twist on the famous children’s story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond. The message: no matter how prepared you think you are as a parent, something will get in the way, so just deal with one thing at a time and keep moving forward.

For families with a child enrolled in CHD Early Intervention, the infant massage program is included at no cost. Members of the community can be involved as space permits. There is a referral process (immunization records, etc.), but a doctor’s note is not required.

“Infant massage is about the attention you provide in that moment,” said Napoli. “Your baby will not likely remember these interactions, but it means so much to them in the moment and the bond you form and develop will improve your long-term relationship. It’s never too early to start good, engaged parenting.”

To learn more about Infant Massage, go to http://infantmassageusa.org/

To learn more about the Infant Massage program at CHD Early Intervention, call 413-739-3954

On Being a Good Neighbor

Recently, a very close friend of our family passed away. Though I miss her terribly, she lived a good, long life and her sunny outlook touched so many people. As I thought about the happy times we had shared, I realized that the care and support we had given her had helped her to remain independent and live on her own, even as she grew old. She was a neighbor and my family just did what good neighbors do. She was also more than helpful to me and our children. I remember many a day calling her in a panic because I was leaving work later than I should have and was going to miss the bus. Nothing worse than the parent “walk of shame” into school to retrieve your children who were brought back to school because there wasn’t a parent or caring adult there to greet them. I would simply call and off she’d run to the bus stop to make sure that our children were not only safe, but had a warm hug, an endearing conversation and usually a snack with a cold glass of milk at the end of their school day. As she aged, the calls from across the street became more frequent: jars that needed opening, unfamiliar sounds in the night and a friendly “check in” to break up the day. In her final days of life she had limited ability to leave the house so those calls brought us both moments of laughter. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is so fortunate to have a natural support system of family, friends or neighbors in their lives, but access to the right kinds and levels of support can enable people, especially those facing mental health challenges, to live as independently as they can.

Services to help people facing mental health challenges to live as independently as possible can be provided through a state-funded program of Community Based Flexible Supports. As the name implies, Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) are both community based and flexible enough to address individual needs. CBFS include services such as:

  • Individual counseling and symptom management
  • Group therapy
  • Medication administration and monitoring
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Help to pay bills, manage money and gain financial independence
  • Assistance in activities of daily living (ADLs) such as food shopping and doing laundry
  • Access to employment and vocational training

 

Eligibility to enter CBFS is made by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) and all services are referral-based. Given that DMH funds CBSF services, they select and contract with qualified providers, including CHD, to manage the delivery of those services appropriately. DMH conducts ongoing oversight to ensure that services consistently meet program requirements and individual needs.

“People facing mental health challenges have periods of wellness and periods of stress in their life,” explains my colleague Katherine M. Cook, LICSW, Vice President Adult Mental Health/Substance Use for CHD. “Through CBFS, services are provided to people based on where they are on that continuum. Among the CBFS services provided by CHD is supported housing in non-institutional, community settings.”

For example, CHD collaborates with the Chicopee Housing Authority in the Intensive Supported Apartment Program. People receiving services live in a cluster of apartments and are seen by support staff every day. In this setting many people can be successful without the need for elevated services in institutional settings. And that’s good, because who wants to live in an institution when they can live at home? 

“CBFS helps give people considerable independence along with structure and professional guidance that helps them become and remain stable,” said Cook. “CHD currently provides Community Based Flexible Supports to 837 people living with mental health challenges or lived experience. Of those people, about 123 live in one of 25 licensed group residences where they can receive services and contribute to their community.”

My neighbor did not have mental health challenges, but our relationship and her passing had given me pause as I thought about how important that support to her was, and how important the supports we give to people in our community through CBFS is. Sometimes, what a person needs most of all is a good neighbor. I sure had one. And I miss her.

If you would like to learn more about CHD’s CBFS program, pay CHD.org a visit or send me an email at klee@chd.org.

Generous Support, Immediate Impact

It’s so gratifying when CHD receives a generous grant that results in positive outcomes quickly.

Recently, funding from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts enabled CHD to equip four Caring Together group homes with therapeutic materials for a Sensory Space, which helps the teen-aged girls who live there to de-escalate emotionally. The materials now available to them, such as weighted blankets, help give them a sense of calm and control. Especially for youths who experienced trauma caused by abuse and are struggling with a host of emotional and mental health issues, the ability to control their emotions is central to healing.

CHD’s Caring Together group home in Holyoke is one of the programs funded with the Community Foundation grant. Now therapeutic materials are neatly organized in the Sensory Space, readily available to those who want them. Program Director Heidi Walter said the kids started to use them right away. She shared this story involving a 17 year old girl.

According to Walter, each day when the girl arrived “home” from school at Caring Together, she went right to the Sensory Space, took a weighted blanket and a stuffed turtle, then curled up tight and rested for about half an hour to de-escalate from the stresses of her day. Usually she just rested peacefully, although sometimes she would nod off to sleep. This process of de-escalation—aided by the therapeutic materials in the Sensory Space—allowed her to better control her emotions so she could focus on school work and improve her interpersonal relationships.

This 17-year-old girl has now left the group family and returned home to live with her biological mother. That was a huge accomplishment for her, and a large contributing factor was being able to control her emotions. The Community Foundation grant helped make that important life transition possible.

Moving forward, one measure of success with CHD group home Sensory Spaces will be decreased levels of stress and fewer incidents of poor self-regulation by the program participants. Already, positive results like these are happening and the therapeutic materials now available to our participants contribute meaningfully to those outcomes.

The success of Sensory Rooms is one more example that proves one of CHD’s core principles: community support matters.

Time is what moms really want from their kids every Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in 1908 with a memorial service for her mother at her church in Grafton, West Virginia. According to various sources, Anna’s mother, Ann, was a peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides during America’s Civil War. Daughter Anna wanted to honor her mother and all mothers because she believed that mothers were “the person(s) who (have) done more for you than anyone in the world.”

Mother’s Day quickly became popular. Who could argue against shining a light on Mom?
Politicians in Washington, D.C., jumped on the Mother’s Day bandwagon and made it a national holiday in 1914. By the 1920s, businesses – notably greeting card makers – were capitalizing on the money-making potential of honoring Mom.

 

Anna Jarvis was not impressed. She so resented the commercialization of Mother’s Day, she spent the rest of her life trying to remove it from the calendar!

While I don’t want to see Mother’s Day removed from the calendar, I’m with Anna when it comes to placing the focus of the celebration where it belongs: Mom.

Perhaps it can begin with breakfast in bed, some handmade cards and a bunch of spring wildflowers, snipped and bundled. But, let it continue with something mothers treasure most of all: time spent with their children.

When your Mom says she doesn’t want presents, she just wants to be with you, believe her.

It’s important to recognize the commitment, the love and the compassion that mothers show to their children. It’s just as important to recognize that biology isn’t necessary to make a motherly connection. Love is.

Just ask a Home Finder in CHD’s Foster Care program. Foster mothers provide love in large measures to some of our community’s most vulnerable, abused and neglected children. Their work is both positive and permanent. Years after foster children “age out” of the care system, so many return successful and thank their “moms” for what they made possible.

Every day, in so many of CHD’s programs, our staff supports mothers who are working to overcome situations and personal hardships that prevent them from being the mothers they want to be, and which we know they can be. In programs such as Grace House and Two Rivers where moms in early stages of recovery from substance use live with their children, and in Family Outreach where moms “Strive to Thrive” to be consistent caregivers for their children, women throughout our community are gaining the life skills to be their child’s first and best teacher, provider and protector.

Yes, mothers of all kinds provide love every day, but there’s just one day each year when we all pause to celebrate it.

On the second Sunday in May, moms young and old are recognized not simply for having children, but for providing them with the care, compassion and consistent parenting that positively impacts a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. That’s what we should celebrate on Mother’s Day.

On Sunday, I hope you’ll give YOUR mom – whether biological, adoptive, fostering or mother-in-fact – the best gift a kid can offer: your thanks expressed through time spent together.

Kimberley A. Lee is vice president of advancement for CHD, the Center for Human Development. She can be reached by email to KLee@CHD.org. To learn more about CHD, visit the website, CHD.org.

In Lieu of Flowers

It’s difficult to escape the irony of cut flowers serving as a symbol of life. Still, when a loved one passes away, the natural beauty of flowers often plays a role in helping those who survive to cope with their loss. But some families call for more enduring gifts to honor the memory of their departed loved one.

Recently, Gerard Morneau of Springfield died. Mr. Morneau, a member of America’s Greatest Generation, was an Army veteran of World War II who served in Normandy and received two Purple Hearts. “Dad didn’t talk much about the war,” said his daughter Lily Buettner of Somers, CT, “but he approached life as a soldier, with a plan and with purpose. His hospice nurse said to me that soldiers are the last to go down. She was right, he didn’t want to let go, but ultimately it helped him to know that I’d take care of my mom and my sister when he was gone.”

After her father died, Buettner and her family thought about ways to honor his memory. “Dad was so pleased that CHD came into our lives and helped with my sister Jeannette,” said Buettner. “Going to Adult Day Health gave Jeannette a purpose to get up in the morning. It made her days enjoyable and gave her room to grow. It also gave my parents the space to stay in their own home. That changed their retirement. My dad was so happy Jeannette had CHD in her life.”

Jeannette has been a participant in CHD Hawthorn Elder Care since 2007. The program provides adult day health services designed to meet the physical, functional and social needs of elders and people with disabilities. A comprehensive clinical team works with each participant and family to create a plan of care and activities designed to deliver optimal benefits. Services include medical management, therapeutic programs, nutritional support, daily activities, mental stimulation and opportunities for social interaction. Each day at Hawthorn Elder Care is carefully planned to promote health and happiness through enjoyable, life-enhancing experiences.

“We have enjoyed working with Jeannette and her family for many years and they have been wonderful to us,” said Audrey Monroe, Director of Elder Services for CHD Hawthorn Elder Care. “We were all sad to hear her father passed, and it was a surprise when we learned that her family wanted memorial contributions to support CHD and the program that has given Jeannette and her family so much. We only learned when we read about it in the newspaper. We were touched, to say the least.”  

Monroe describes Jeannette as a social butterfly at Adult Day Health. “She loves to go out on trips to places like stores, restaurants and museums,” Monroe explained. “She especially loves the musical entertainment that comes to our program, like Rays of Elvis, and she loves to dance and sing. BINGO is one of her favorite activities and with staff oversight she helps other people during BINGO games. I think Jeannette is a good person who has a big heart.”

Continuing to take part in Adult Day Health appears to help Jeannette with her family’s loss. “Being here during the day with people she knows and cares about, and who care about her, helps her work through her feelings,” said Monroe. “I also think an important part of her doing well is the faith that her family has instilled in her, which is clearly apparent.”

Monroe fondly recalls getting to know Mr. Morneau over the years. “When we’d pick up and drop off Jeannette, he was always doing things around the house. He was a proper gentleman, community-oriented and always very kind. His family carried on his kindness by asking that memorial contributions in his name be made to CHD. We are sincerely grateful.”

“There’s been a lot of positive response to our request,” said Buettner. “People tell me it just makes so much sense and I hope we’ve put a bug in people’s ear. We know what CHD has meant to Jeannette and the rest of my family. It makes us feel good to support their work by honoring Dad’s memory.”