Dr. Lisa Thornton, a
mother of three, writes the Health Matters monthly
column for Chicago Parent as is the voice behind "The Doctor is In," a Chicago Parent
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Sometimes the simplest things we do for our
children are also the healthiest. Cuddling, stroking and kissing
your children may seem like a simple pleasure, but touch is
essential to normal health and development and through touch, the
first seeds of love, security and bonding between parent and child
Touch is as important to infants and children as eating
and sleeping. Babies need touch to survive and thrive and those who
don't get it are often left with significant, lifelong emotional
and psychological problems.
Almost every pediatrician has seen a cold, distant,
unattached mother whose baby isn't gaining weight. Under the loving
care of the hospital nurses, the baby miraculously gains weight
only to go home and again fail to thrive. The mother provides food
but not love, and the child's poor weight gain is due to
psychological deprivation, not nutritional deprivation.
The growing area of child and infant massage is helping
parents harness the healing power of touch. Massage has many
benefits that have been proven scientifically. In pre-term infants,
massage can increase weight gain, decrease anxiety and improve the
baby's clinical and developmental course. It can help soothe
colicky babies and can improve mother-child interaction, especially
in mothers with post-partum depression. Massage relieves muscle
tension and stress, increases circulation, aids digestion and has
positive effects on the respiratory system. There is even evidence
that it helps to decrease aggression in adolescents with conduct
Maria Reyes is a pediatric occupational therapist at
Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, a certified infant massage
instructor and a licensed massage therapist. Reyes often
incorporates massage therapy into her treatment plan. She says it
relaxes the parents as well as the baby.
Babies who are sick are often touched a lot, but the touch
has a specific purpose (feeding, bathing, dressing, doing therapy).
Massage provides an opportunity for parents to spend time with
their sick child doing something that is enjoyable and has
important therapeutic and psychological benefits. "This kind of
touch is just for touch," Reyes says.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and every inch
of it has nerve endings that detect touch. Through massage therapy
parents can nurture their children while also providing important
Reyes encourages parents to read their baby's signals and
to change pace and pressure based on the child's tolerance. She
emphasizes that massage therapy isn't just for sick children.
Healthy children can benefit, too.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of
pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and
LaRabida Children's Hospital. She also is assistant professor of
pediatrics at the University of Chicago. E-mail her at
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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