Interview with the founder of Infant Massage, Vimala McClure
Interview with Vimala McClure, Author & founder of Infant Massage (I.A.I.M), by Yasmina Lenahan
I was delighted to chat with the lovely Vimala McClure. An inspiring lady! I had learnt about her work and read some of her books on Infant massage and motherhood during my Infant massage training in 2005. Her books are both comforting and uplifting…
Vimala developed a programme of Infant Massage from her experiences of Yoga and through her research of gentle touch on infants. All of her work points to the importance of gentle touch and bonding in the early days of a baby’s life.
Vimala you travelled to India in the 70’s and learnt traditional baby massage. What inspired you to take this trip and how was the experience for you?
I had been practising yoga and meditation for a few years and wanted to be a yoga teacher. The only way to do that at the time was to go to India to a training center in Varanasi. The training centre was also an orphanage, where I worked when not in training.
I discovered one night one of the older girls massaging a baby. Curious, I asked her about it. She told me it is an age-old practice in India, and she showed me the strokes and I massaged the baby, who was very open to me and fell asleep when the massage was finished. I observed the children and how they were open, relaxed, friendly, and took responsibility for one another. It occured to me that maybe the children were this way because they had been massaged as infants. My experience there was a turning point in my life, and I returned 8 more times.
There are so many wonderful benefits for baby massage. In your experience what does offer a new mum and baby?
The benefits are many. I researched the effects of gentle touch on infants — at that time only studies on mammals were available. But Ashley Montagu, in his book ‘Touching: the Human Significance of the Skin’, said that these studies could be extrapolated to human babies. More research, and Doctors Kennel and Klaus came out with their studies on bonding. I realized that every element in the bonding process, which is crucial for parents and babies to have a good start, every element is within the massage. I broke the benefits down into 4 areas: stimulation, relaxation, bonding, and relief.
I re-invented the Indian massage according to what I had learned about how babies develop and receive touch. I invented a “Colic Relief Routine” because my baby was colicky, and his colic was resolved in 2 weeks. That is brief — my book is over 300 pages about the benefits!
Both my babies and I loved the massage experience. I could see how it would help parents feel more confident about their parenting, and I saw that it was key to making humans that are fully developed, loving, open, and relaxed. When my second was about 3 months old, I taught my 3 year-old son to massage her. There is a photo in my book (page 251) of my son massaging her. I continued massaging both of them for years. I taught many, many classes, and each of them was my “doll” to show how the strokes are done.
Any tips for pregnant women on how to relax and bond with baby during pregnancy?
I encourage pregnant moms to massage their bellies, talk and sing to their babies, as much as they can. There is a lot of research showing that babies respond to this, and they look for it after they are born. It also helps mom feel confident and bond with her baby early on.
After a baby is born, how would you encourage parents to bond with baby in the early weeks?
I encourage parents to begin the massage just as soon as they can. I started massaging my babies from day one. Being responsive to infants, talking to and with them, carrying them, and being empathic with their cries enhances the bonding process. There is no such thing as “spoiling” a baby!
In today’s society there’s a bit of pressure to get babies into some sort of feeding & sleeping routine when very young. What is your view of this?
I disagree heartily. It’s the other way around. Parents should be responsive to their infants and realize that babies know when they are hungry, they sometimes need to cry to release tension and stress, it is perfectly normal for a baby not to sleep through the night. It can be stressful
for parents, especially if they expect something completely different. If we can educate pregnant and new parents about the reality of having an infant, they will be more prepared for what they need to do. I believe “sleep training” is abuse.
I love watching babies body language in my classes, from shrieks of delight to their cute sleepy faces..How do you listen to a baby through their body language?
Listening is very important to having a good relationship with your baby. Observing babies’ cues during the massage is essential. We begin by “asking permission,” which seems odd to parents at first. How can a baby give you permission to massage? This is done in stages, as I cover in my book. A parent soon learns when her baby is ready to be massaged. The preparatory routine serves important purposes. It lets the baby know that a new experience is about to begin, it communicates through your voice and body language, respect for the baby.
An infant may hiccup, hold up a hand, or look away, all can be cues that she is stressed. The baby teaches you what he means by the various signs he gives you through his body language. Often during a massage, a baby will go through a short period of stress-related fussing during which she gives these stress cues, but then settles down and enjoys the rest of the massage.
You write about how baby massage can help older siblings adapt to a new born baby in the house. How would you introduce the idea of baby massage to help with this?
The older child will observe you massaging the baby, and perhaps will still receive a massage himself. When the baby is about 3 months old, you can ask the older child if he would like to massage the baby. In my book, I show parents how to do this. The older child won’t give an entire massage, he may only do an easy stroke for a few minutes, and not every day. Usually, this makes him feel very important and close to his baby sister.
Vimala, you have written quite a few books! Which ones would you recommend to new parents?
Infant Massage was my first book, and has been published for 38 years. During that time I wrote 8 more books. Two of them are on parenting, and are quickly going out of print. They are published by New World Library and are ‘The Tao of Motherhood’ and ‘The Path of Parenting’. These two are based on the teachings of Lao Tzu and other Chinese spiritual masters.
What is life like living in Colorado?
It is wonderful, but I don’t have much to compare it to since I’ve lived here all my life. Where I’m living now is ideal. There is a beautiful lake very close to here where I take long walks every morning; I love being in nature with the trees, flowers, baby geese learning to swim,
a vast expanse of green, and the mountains so beautiful and so close. It is very peaceful and it is close to the neighborhood where I grew up. My kids and grand-kids live nearby, so they come to visit, take me out to a meal, or we go on adventures in the mountains in my daughter’s off-road Jeep.
Thank you so much for taking time to join my wellness interview series. I really appreciate it!
You are very welcome!
– Yasmina Lenehan