SINGAPORE - To pamper their infants, some parents send them to baby spas.
Others show up for baby massage classes, with their maids in tow.
To such parents, a vastly experienced trainer with the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) has a stark message: No one should massage the baby other than a parent. Otherwise, the experience can be "very, very damaging" for the infant, said Sylvie Hetu, who has been teaching parents how to massage their infants for 31 years.
Baby spas have popped up in Singapore in the recent years offering massage services by trained staff, but Ms Hetu warned that this could actually harm a baby in the long term.
"When we take the baby to be massaged by a stranger, we are teaching the baby that he can be touched by anyone he doesn't know in an intimate way, and that is bad imprinting," she said during an interview with My Paper.
She emphasised that this will have an effect on the baby for the rest of his life.
At IAIM, parents and instructors are taught that the parents should be the ones touching their child.
"This is the modern culture of getting a service. However, the baby is not a car... Massage is very intimate so they must have that activity with people they have a trusting relationship with," said Ms Hetu, 59.
Designed for infants under the age of one, IAIM's class teaches parents the steps to gently stroke their child in five sessions and encourages them to massage the baby for 15 to 20 minutes daily.
Trained IAIM instructor Catherine Chua, who conducts baby massage classes at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), noted that some of the participants initially show up with relatives or maids, unaware of the guideline.
"I will warn them that their baby will then be bonding with the maid or relative, and not them," said Ms Chua. Even instructors don't touch the babies. They use dolls.
Studies have shown that infant massage may help to relieve a variety of problems including colic, sleep and stress.
Another key component of the massage is the quality time a parent spends with the child.
Parents are instructed to conduct the massage in a quiet room when the baby is alert and not crying, and no disruptions whatsoever.
"The modern baby does not have the luxury of undivided attention, and the undivided attention is what makes the brain capable of concentration later on," said Ms Hetu.
With advances in technology, she noted that parents nowadays are distracted by their work and mobile devices.
"Babies' capacities for developing attention later on in life start with an attentive parent... We (try ) to create an oasis where there will be a bit of time for parent and baby to just be," said Ms Hetu.
New mother Jolyn Tan has massaged her three-month-old baby daily since he was born.
"A lot of people tell me that he is a calm and happy baby. He sleeps well and, so far, no major issues," said the project officer.
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