3A The first 1000 days
Cue Based Infant Massage – Attachment and Attunement Program Across Cultures and Communities
The First Touch™ Infant Massage Program offers a friendly, relaxed and fun activity for parents to do with their infant. However, the simple non-threatening activities in the five-week program are the gateway to meet significant childhood developmental needs.
A lot is understood about the long-term benefits of supporting parents’ understanding of infant cues. Studies with pre-term babies have found that cue-based education for parents during pregnancy improves cognitive and social outcomes at age five. Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA) has staff who are accredited Infant Massage Instructors who support parents to build their own understanding of their infant’s unique cues. This is not ‘one size fits all’ or mastery of massage strokes. Parents are supported to notice and understand their baby’s cues and adapt and modify their voice, touch, movement and eye-contact in response. Parents’ increased awareness of, and sensitivity to, their baby’s cues is used as a basis for regulating, comforting, stimulating and soothing their baby. Whilst not necessarily concerned with preventing trauma, First Touch™ potentially prevents the consequences of early trauma on development.
High-quality interactions and relationships between babies and parents are crucial for life-long mental and social health. First Touch™, a low-cost, evidence-informed program, aims to protect or restore early interactions. It fosters the development of healthy parent–baby interactions by assisting parents to respond sensitively and appropriately to their babies.
First Touch™ has demonstrated effectiveness in increasing parenting confidence and is an innovative approach to early intervention with at-risk parents and their infants. A partnership between RASA, and Baby in Mind, with funding from Communities for Children, has provided training to community members as accredited First Touch™ Instructors. The resultant mother-to-mother education effectively engages so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ families, providing greater accessibility to intervention and skill-building programs. The community application of cue-based infant massage works towards broadening community-level infant mental health literacy, resulting in substantial economic savings and enabling more vulnerable, at-risk families to benefit from low/no-cost approaches to reduce risks from problematic parent–infant relationships.
Infant massage is a useful activity to engage parents reunifying with a removed infant as well as parents on access visits. Infant massage can be a wonderful, non-judgmental, infant led activity where parents gain in confidence while maintaining and building the relationship between themselves and their infant.
This simple, low-cost, culturally adaptable intervention directly addresses the neurodevelopmental processes occurring in infancy that impact on life-course mental health outcomes. This paper will describe the First Touch Program® and some of the practical applications of cue-based infant massage across family services.
Deborah is General Manager of Children’s Programs at Relationships Australia SA. With a focus on the first thousand days and on infant mental health in particular she leads multi-disciplinary teams to provide trauma informed therapeutic support and evidenced based psycho- education programs to parents and their children.