10 Questions with Baby Massage Expert Sandra Fernandez Conde

Interviews with Experts

baby-massage-expert

Tiny Fry Talks to Sandra Fernandez Conde, Founder and Director of kin2Skin and an International Trainer at Blossom & Berry.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started in baby massage, yoga and story massage?

Back in 2009, I got a job in a children’s centre in Hackney, East London. After that I worked for a charity called Coram, also doing outreach work. Perhaps the most surprising revelation whilst being an outreach worker was discovering the benefits that interventions such as baby massage can bring to families.

Since qualifying as an instructor in 2011, I was fascinated by all the science and deep impact behind a practice that was easy to learn and fun and rewarding to teach.

I was then hooked and continued developing in the field, delivering classes for parents and carers, and later becoming a baby yoga instructor, a certified paediatric massage therapist and a story massage instructor.

I had the opportunity to support families from various areas in London and internationally in Mexico, getting to know a wide range of diverse communities.

2. Tell us about your project kin2Skin. What’s it about, how and why did you create it and what do you do?​

In 2013 I left my job in children’s centres because of family health circumstances. I didn’t want to leave work completely, so I started offering baby massage classes privately, in family clubs, in family homes, etc. and that’s when the idea of having my own service provision came about.

I believe that all babies deserve the best start in life, so I founded kin2Skin with the mission of empowering parents and carers to improve their babies’ physical and emotional development by understanding the benefits of nurturing touch and by learning practices that can facilitate positive skin-to-skin contact—practices such as baby massage, baby yoga and story massage. My vision is that all babies grow up in an environment where their caregivers provide loving interactions that set the foundations of healthy relationships for the future.

kin2Skin aims to teach not only parents, but also adults who are next to kin of babies who, for whatever reason, do not have their biological parents with them. kin2Skin aims to make its services more easily accessible to parents or kin who are finding it more difficult to bond with their babies or who are in a particularly vulnerable situation.

What I do is offer a series of classes and workshops for parents and carers. Settings can vary, from family homes to community centres. In baby massage classes, for example, parents learn a series of safe massage movements that can benefit their babies’ development; they learn a repertoire of massage strokes in different parts of baby’s body. Most importantly, they learn the benefits, and complement the activity with rhymes and songs that can make the interaction much more fun and special.​

Happy baby. The child happily smiles to mum.

Image: kin2Skin

3. Why is skin-to-skin contact so important? Is there any research to support this idea?

Babies crave skin contact. Touch is a baby’s most developed sense at birth and parents can use it to communicate with their babies. When we have skin to skin contact with someone, our body releases a hormone and neurotransmitter called oxytocin, more commonly known as the ‘feel good’ or ‘love' hormone. Skin to skin contact can also help regulate temperature and heart rate.

In our modern world, and more so in Western cultures, babies tend to lack tactile stimulation, for example, by being long periods of times in the pram or car seat. Other babies, who are, for example, in foster care or in orphanages, simply don’t have the fortune of have a loving and constant figure in their lives to provide physical comfort.

A very practical way to bring more regular nurturing touch to daily routines with babies is infant massage. Integrating massage into the parent/carer and child relationship offers another way for caregivers to get to know and understand their baby. It eases a baby's transition from the womb into the world, can help to stimulate development, and aids relaxation.

Research supports the importance of skin to skin contact for infants. The work done by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute in Miami is an example. She has undertaken studies about how massage therapy can help infants of mothers experiencing depression, or how sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy, while weight can increase after positive touch interaction.​

4. What are some of the most important benefits of massage for baby and for the parent or the person giving the massage?

It is through touch that babies start exploring the world, so baby massage can bring a lot of benefits to a newborn. Benefits can be classified in four main aspects:

  • Relief – Baby massage can help relieve a variety of health issues such as colic, wind, constipation, dry skin, teething pan and nasal congestion.
  • Relaxation – It releases hormones which can activate the body’s relaxation responses.
  • Stimulation – Baby massage boosts circulation to the tissues of the body and stimulates all of baby’s body systems, as well as helping develop body awareness and coordination.
  • Bonding – As this interaction involves touch, the release of oxytocin, eye contact, singing and smell, it helps nurture bonding. It helps develop trust and build a sense of security as baby will feel loved, valued and respected.
Mother massaging her child, shallow focus

Image: kin2Skin

Baby massage also benefits parents and caregivers giving the massage; the practice is not done to baby, but with baby.

It helps parents gain a deeper understanding of their baby’s behaviours and body language. It provides an enjoyable opportunity for parents to spend one-to-one time with their baby, bringing them closer and deepening their bond. It can also help build confidence in holding, handling and communicating with baby.

5. What kinds of baby products encourage touch and communication and are beneficial to baby? 

Nowadays the market is inundated with products for babies.

Some help care for essential aspects such as sleeping, transporting or cleaning baby. Some encourage touch and communication and can be beneficial for babies.

My interest in promoting baby slings comes from my country of origin, Mexico, where indigenous mothers have carried their babies for hundreds of years using what is called a rebozo.

In the UK, there has been a recent interest in using baby slings. There are even baby carrier libraries organised by parents for parents, to support each other finding the baby sling that works best for their lifestyle and preferences.

When a baby rides in a sling attached to his/her parent, he/she is in tune with the rhythm of the adult’s breathing, the heartbeat’s sound and movements. This stimulation helps baby regulate physical responses and exercise the vestibular system which controls balance. The more confident parents are, the more they can relax and enjoy raising their children.

A large part of feeling confident as a parent is the ability to read baby's cues successfully. When parents hold baby close in a sling, they become finely attuned to baby’s gestures and facial expressions, which can help them respond to what the baby needs more effectively. This cycle of positive interaction enhances the mutual attachment between parent and child, and makes life more enjoyable for everyone.

Other bonus benefits of carrying baby in a sling include:

  • ​Convenience – as parents can walk around more freely
  • It could also be multi-purpose, serving as a changing mat, a blanket or cushion when away from home
  • Not only mothers can use them but also fathers, grandparents and other close members of the family

​The type of baby sling that I promote with kin2Skin is the one made out of natural fabrics, such as cotton, easy to clean and ergonomic, adapting to the shape of the baby’s body and adjusting securely in the parent’s body.

6. Can you explain briefly what story massage is and why it’s beneficial?

Story massage involves the use of easy-to-follow massage strokes associated with spoken words that help tell an engaging story. The strokes concentrate on the shoulders, back, arms and head. No oil is used and participants do not remove any clothes.

Movements and stories can be adapted to suit the individual needs of participants’ varying ages, abilities, personalities and temperaments. When sharing story massage you can choose positions that are the most comfortable and suitable for the situation. You can sit, lie down or stand, work one-on-one or in a line or circle.

Story massage is an activity to be enjoyed whenever or wherever the time feels right. The emphasis is on sharing the many benefits of nurturing and positive touch. General benefits of story massage may include:​

  • The relaxation of mind and body, easing tension and the cumulative effects of stress
  • The promotion of ‘feel good’ hormones, such as oxytocin, which helps boost general well-being
  • The opportunity to experience ‘calming time’
  • Improved alertness and concentration
  • Reduction of aggressive and hyperactive behaviour
  • Increased self-confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem
  • A fun way for families and friends to share time together and connect with each other

I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Atkinson, one of the founders of Story Massage, at a training session we attended together. Since then, we have stayed in touch. I trained to practice story massage with the families I work with and I have also had the opportunity to meet Sandra Hooper, the co-founder of this idea.

baby hands massage mother massaging

Image: kin2Skin

​7. You’ve taught baby massage in Mexico, where you’re from, and even teamed up with Red Down Mexico. Can you tell us about that partnership and exactly how baby massage can help children with special needs?

I have been inspired by Gayle Berry from Blossom & Berry, who was my teacher back when I trained to become a baby massage instructor.

Since meeting her, our friendship and work partnership has grown. In 2015 we went to Mexico to train a group of professionals to become baby massage instructors. I was introduced to Denisse Boissonneault through one of my cousins. Denisse is the founder and director of Red Down Mexico, a non-for-profit organisation that supports families with children with Down Syndrome.

Gayle and I were interested in doing some outreach work whilst travelling to Mexico, to raise awareness about the benefits that baby massage can bring to families in more vulnerable situations. Red Down Mexico welcomed our partnership and helped us organise free classes for the families they work with. We had a very positive response and, as a result, gave Denisse a scholarship to train as an instructor. This year I travelled again and she was part of the second cohort of students.

The benefits of baby massage can be enjoyed by any baby and parent, however, it can serve as a very meaningful tool for families with babies with special needs.

In the case of babies with Down Syndrome, for example, who commonly suffer from hypotonia—a decrease in muscle tone—baby massage can help tone floppy muscles.

A child with hypotonia often takes longer to reach motor developmental milestones, such as sitting up, crawling, walking, talking and feeding themselves, so it's important to use massage techniques that can help strengthen muscle tone.

Massage can also help stimulate baby’s digestion, helping with constipation and trapped wind.

The most rewarding aspect however, despite these physical benefits, was to see how the families connected with their babies and how parents spent a relaxing and happy time. Most of these families are in constant stress, attending lots of medical appointments, and they shared with us that baby massage was for them a very different kind of experience—more positive, inclusive and empowering.

The baby massage routine can be adapted to suit babies with special needs. In my classes, I welcome any parent and baby, unless a medical opinion states that is best not to undertake massage, but there are only rare cases when this applies.

8. What did you learn when teaching baby massage at children’s centres in London? Can you share something you learned about baby massage, yoga and/or story massage through all of your international experience?​

My role as an outreach worker was an eye-opener for me, as I witnessed first-hand different challenges faced by families with babies.

The work in children’s centres is targeted to reach families who are facing difficulties such as unemployment or low income, domestic violence, mental health, families with children with special needs or any other barrier.

Being a qualified baby massage instructor allowed me to meet families very early on and help them, not only by teaching them the massage routine, but also by getting to know them more to be able to direct them to specialist services that eventually benefited them greatly.

The multi-agency approach in early intervention is one that I believe  works, and it must continue. Every effort to give children the best start possible is an investment in our society. Parents, professionals and governments need to value and pursue more early intervention programmes, working together to form happier and healthier foundations for children.

Having the chance to travel to my home country and spread the word about baby massage has been one of my greatest achievements. It was a challenge to translate a full programme from English to Spanish and make cultural and local adaptations, but all efforts have been worthwhile as hearing from my students in Mexico brightens my days as I know they are making a difference in the lives of many families. Being part of such a committed and inspiring network of professionals makes me feel very lucky.

Father holds his baby (3 months), supporting the head. Kissing or blowing on the babys belly. Baby is laughing.

Image: kin2Skin

9. What’s the single-most interesting or surprising thing you’ve seen or learned working with babies and kids?​

Mmm… That's a tough question, as there have been so many rewarding and special moments whilst working with families with babies…. I have learned that each family is unique, and that when a baby is born, parents are meeting a new person in their lives and that in itself is a challenge, but also an opportunity to experience unconditional love.

Each baby represents hope and an infinite amount of possibilities for a better world. Parents are babies’ first teachers and, with such a big responsibility on their shoulders, they deserve to be supported and know that they are not alone in their journey.

I am very excited as now I am about to experience the parenting journey myself, expecting my first child towards the end of this year.

​10. Where can people find you if they want more information? 

Feel free to visit my website, www.kin2Skin.com, or drop me a line at info@kin2skin.com.

To find out more about training for trainers in the UK and international training, visit www.blossomandberry.com.​

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