Meet Tammy Leeper, Infant Massage Instructor in OC and Long Beach

Tammy Leeper, Infant Massage Instructor in Orange County and Long Beach.png

Many new parents have never heard of infant massage, but it's a wonderful way to encourage bonding! Loving touch is a great thing, and (as you'll read below) there are many benefits for both babies and parents. 

Often when working with postpartum families, Marlee will show them some simple tummy massage techniques to help relieve gas or for some relaxation after bathtime. Parents and babies alike love these moments of physical touch and connection!

We're lucky to have Tammy Leeper serving our communities of Orange County and Long Beach as an infant massage instructor. She's a wonderful resource for parents who are looking for ways to connect with their baby through massage! She was kind enough to share with us about the classes she offers and the benefits of massaging babies. We hope you enjoy learning about infant massage as much as we did!


Tell us about your background, your work with growing families, and how you came to become an infant massage instructor.

I am a certified as a birth and postpartum doula, a childbirth educator, and educator of infant massage through infantmassageusa.org, the US affiliate of the non-profit organization International Association of Infant Massage that's based in Sweden. I “found” the infant massage training/certification by hearing the term and thinking what a wonderful way for caregivers to bond with baby that I could help with in the postpartum period.

The class met requirements continuing education units for my Occupational Therapy (OT) license and for maintaining doula certification, so I thought why not? I took the class in 2011 in Seal Beach, CA. It is so much fun to teach! I offer it as an add-on to doula services and am listed as a resource for parents who are fostering and/or waiting to adopt babies. It is a sweet honor to be a part of that journey.
 

Can you tell us a little bit about the roots of infant massage? Where did the practice come from? 

Infant Massage is an age-old tradition, dating back to the beginning of time. Massage was a tradition and key part of raising children until the time of the industrial revolution when many ancestral traditions and customs were put aside. In studies and observation in present times, it is proven that babies that are massaged, carried, held, rocked, and breast/chest fed are less aggressive and violent in adulthood. They also show more compassion and cooperation as adults.

Vimala McClure, who is from Sweden, brought infant massage to the US in the early 1970’s. She had traveled in India and witnessed a 12-year-old girl massaging all the children in an orphanage. Even with the lack of proper nutrition, the children thrived. Vimala was attracted to the touch and massage the children received. She developed a process described in her book, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. She combined her experience with Indian and Swedish massage strokes, as well as principles of reflexology and yoga. Word of mouth and publicity helped spread the word about infant massage, and programs were developed which helped establish the non-profit organization that is mentioned above. Certification involves a 4-day hands-on training followed by an examination.

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Infant massage is one of the most natural and pleasant methods of providing this important early nurturing, and is an amazing tool for helping parents become closer to their babies.
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What are some of the benefits of infant massage? Are there any benefits for parents?

  • Caregivers report feeling more comfortable and confident in their ability to care for baby
  • Parents learn to understand and respond to baby's cues
  • Parents learn techniques to comfort, calm, and soothe their babies
  • Provides an additional avenue for close and nurturing contact

Infant massage is one of the most natural and pleasant methods of providing this important early nurturing, and is an amazing tool for helping parents become closer to their babies. 

There are 4 distinct ways infant massage provides these benefits:

Stimulating. Infant massage stimulates all systems of the body including the:

  • nervous system
  • circulatory system
  • respiratory system
  • elimination system
  • immune system

It also stimulates the release of oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone (released in both parent and child), prolactin (promoting milk production), and endorphins.
 

Relaxing

  • Helps babies handle sensory stimulation and respond in a relaxed manner
  • Helps babies sleep better and regulate the sleep/wake cycle
  • Reduces muscle stiffness and normalizes muscle tone
     

Relief

  • Touch combined with vocalization helps reduce pain levels up to 80%
  • Helps tone digestive tract to alleviate gas and promote elimination
  • Releases hormones to aid in food absorption
  • Releases endorphins (natural pain killers) to ease physical and emotional distress
     

Bonding & Attachment

  • Infant massage draws on all elements of bonding and attachment: eye-to-eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, body scent, vocalization, taste, and responsiveness
  • Hormones stimulated by infant massage promote bonding and attachment between baby and caregivers


There are many documented benefits of infant massage for babies. If you're interested to learn more, view this list on the Infant Massage USA website. A few highlights:

Improved sleep patterns

Stress reduction

Enhanced motor development


Improved family interactions


... and many more!


When is the best time to massage a baby? Is this something parents can do with their brand new newborns, or is it better to wait a while?

6 weeks is the typical time for infant massage instruction but anytime from birth, onwards.  It is easier when babies aren’t super mobile and can’t quite roll or crawl away. Even if they do, that's ok! The baby is in charge during the instruction. Permission is always asked and they set the pace. 


Walk us through a typical visit with you. What can a new client expect?

Most often I come to clients' homes for private instruction. Classes are typically 45-60 minutes for 3-5 weeks depending on circumstances for baby (tolerance, sensory issues, bathroom breaks, feeding, etc.). I introduce myself and give a brief overview of the history and benefits of infant massage. Then I demonstrate all strokes on a doll, affectionately named Sarah. Clients learn the strokes on their own babies. I do not massage the babies.

There is ample time for discussion, questions, demonstration, and getting to know one another. I have done group classes with 10 or more caregivers and babies - that is fun, too! I also provide handouts for continued learning and practice. 

The class schedule typically is: 

  • Week 1: Massage strokes for legs and feet
  • Week 2: Review Week 1 and add massage strokes for chest and stomach 
  • Week 3: Review legs, feet, chest, stomach, add gas/colic routine and arms 
  • Week 4: Review legs, feet, chest, stomach, gas/colic routine and arms and add face and back
  • Week 5: Review all strokes and add gentle movements routine.


What is a class like?

  • Classes are held privately or in small groups to ensure personalized attention.
  • Classes are baby led. It’s okay for babies to cry!
  • Supportive group sessions where parents can share experiences and learn from each other while having fun.
  • Recommended age for group classes is from birth to pre-crawling.
     
Tammy's client massages his baby

Tammy's client massages his baby

For parents who are intimidated by massaging their baby, what’s your biggest piece of advice?

Spend time just talking to your baby. Make a peaceful setting and just be. When caregivers are calm, babies can be more calm.

Babies usually love touch and interaction and making it beneficial for both baby and caregiver is so helpful. Touch can be added slowly when both are comfortable. It's a new experience that needs not to be rushed in any way. The massage routine can be done when it feels right: before or after a bath, before bed, when it's a quiet time in the home, etc. Not all strokes need to be done every time or in a specific order. 


What’s the biggest misconception people have about infant massage? 

That there is a right or wrong way to do the strokes, or how many repetitions of each one, or that there is a formal process for the routines. So much of what I have seen is intuitive from the caregiver to the baby. This time should be a joy and fun! 


Are there any great resources you recommend for families who want to practice infant massage?


What is your favorite part of this work?

Watching the bonding that is happening between the baby and caregiver. Seeing the baby relax into the mode of massage by the 2nd or 3rd week and knowing it's helpful when caregivers say baby is sleeping better or having less gas or smiling more during the massage. I love that! 
 

Tammy's Contact Information

Tammy Leeper, CD(DONA), CPD, CCCE, CEIM
714.235.6105
moondancechildbirth.com


If you're looking for a way to deepen your connection to your baby, contact Tammy today!