There are many physical and emotional benefits to massages, even for very young children.
That's why the San Diego County Office of Education's HOPE Infant Family Support program is preparing educators to teach parents how to massage their own young children with special needs.
These infant massages have many benefits including improved circulation as well as social and emotional development, said Hope Michel, a special education program manager with HOPE.
"This really improves family bonding and has many health benefits," she said. "It also helps the parents get in tune with their babies."
Sixteen educators with the program took the four-day training in July. The group included teachers, nurses, social workers, and other specialists. None of the educators will be massaging infants. Instead, they will use their new skills to teach parents how to massage their own children, after getting permission from their child's doctor.
Mary Chesebrough, a social worker with the HOPE program, said she wanted to take the training because she has seen the benefits infant massage can have for families.
"It's an opportunity for the parents to get to know their children better," she said. "It's a way for a parent to learn how to read their child's cues. It also helps them feel more confident as a parent."
Because the children in the HOPE program have special needs, some of the families may be limited in the ways they can bond.
"The benefits of infant massage are so important for the populations that we work with," said Stephanie Moore, an early intervention specialist with the program. "A lot of our families have had a difficult start."
The massage training included instruction, role-playing, demonstrations, and lots of practice on dolls.
As part of California Early Start, the San Diego County Office of Education provides quality early intervention services at no cost to families through the HOPE program.