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Infant massage has therapeutic qualities, therapist says

The lights were turned off, and the group of mothers lay down their babies.

But 8-month-old Bronson did not stop crawling until his mother's hands touched his face. He giggled, staring up at her as she gazed on him.

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Massage therapist Paula Curtiss glanced over at the mother and son and checked to make sure the new mom was rubbing correctly.

"If the baby's not liking it, move on," Curtiss said. "It's more about you and your baby enjoying the experience of positive touch."

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Seconds later, Bronson and his mom, Harmony Clemente, would indeed move on. He chewed the paper instructions, stared at himself in a mirror and squirmed to look at younger classmates in the $20 infant massage workshop. The inaugural class, offered to mothers who want to give their babies a soothing massage, took place Sept. 28 at The Dailey Method above Spa Gregorie's Newport Beach.

The class, which will have future dates as well, was a way to introduce parents to a technique that advocates say helps them bond with their babies, improves sleep patterns and eases colic.

"We know babies don't follow plans," Curtiss said with a laugh as she looked at the group of six mothers, four boys and two girls. "Consider setting a time out of the day to do a massage, but don't even think about massaging a hungry or tired baby."

Curtiss, who has been doing infant massage for 34 years and is founding director of Healing Hands School of Holistic Health in Laguna Hills and Escondido, said she became interested in doing a workshop after one of the owners of Spa Gregorie's took a class at her school.

Infant massage gained a presence in more than 50 countries when Vimala McClure, founder of the International Assn. of Infant Massage, introduced the formal techniques in the United States in the 1970s.

The massage involves a little preparation and some basic methods, Curtiss said, adding that there are several advantages to helping a baby relax.

The massage may stimulate mind and body awareness and circulatory and digestive systems and relieve muscular tension, cramps and constipation, she said.

Parents also may see their baby's sleep patterns improve, along with increased flexibility and being able to calm oneself.

Touch is the first of the senses to develop in the human infant and enriches social, emotional and mind, body and spirit connections, Curtiss said.

The best time to massage a baby is after a bath, since the baby is already clean, she said. Parents should first create a calm atmosphere, adjusting the space to room temperature and dimming the lights or turning on soft music. The baby should be placed on his or her back so the parent can maintain eye contact.

Curtiss suggested using any type of baby lotion or olive oil.

When massaging the baby, use a gentle touch, she said. After flexing the baby's arms and legs and rubbing for five minutes, the baby can be turned over for a massage focusing on the spine.

If the baby jiggles his or her arms, the child is enjoying the massage, Curtiss said. But if the baby turns away and appears restless or unhappy, end the massage, she said.

"They're such a mellow group of babies," Curtiss said as the mothers at the workshop finished the massages and wrapped their babies in blankets.

Clemente, a Huntington Beach resident, learned of the class through a friend who works at the spa. Bronson's nighttime routine includes a bath and massage before bed.

"He's incredibly active," Clemente said as she watched her baby crawl to the instructor's toy doll and grab its arm. "I try to find things that relax him."

Curtiss said that with a few tries, parents will be able to get the hang of the massage but shouldn't be too concerned about perfecting their techniques. A massage's purpose is to help parents and babies relax and bond, she said.

"That human contact is more important than anything else," Curtiss said.

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