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PHOTO CAPTION:  Jessica McAllister (foreground) does a facial massage on her 6-week-old son, Jace, during an infant massage class at Graham Resiliency Training Center. Infant massage affects the baby's hormones and can reduce stress. It can also aid digestion and relieve teething pain while reducing crying.

September 5, 2013
By Laura Jungreis, Family Advocacy volunteer

FORT SILL, Okla. -- The playroom in the Graham Resiliency Training Center is a relaxing oasis Wednesday mornings at 11 a.m. during the infant massage class.

Soft music and the sound of cooing babies fill the vibrant room as new moms learn massage techniques to help them connect with their infants.

The class, supported by the New Parent Support Program, is led by Army Community Service volunteer Jasmin Williams, a birth doula.

Doulas are women trained to give nonmedical assistance, such as emotional and physical support, to a woman in labor.

Williams said infant massage is a great way for mothers to bond with their babies.

"The massage is usually not longer than 20-30 minutes and then we just hang out here for a little bit longer and all talk," she said. "It's a great way for moms to get together and address some issues that are happening at home with feedings and bedtimes."

The session opens with a welcome song, where the group forms a circle and introduce each baby. Then, parents place their babies on blankets and ask permission to begin a massage.

"Babies sometimes don't want to," Williams said. "If the baby is smiley, we go ahead and massage. If they're not ready, they cry, and we stop. We wait for a cue and never force anything on a baby."

She guides the moms through an infant massage book given to every parent who attends the class.

"It explains every stroke," Williams said. "We go through the book each time." The massage covers all areas of the body, including legs and feet, stomach, back, arms and hands, and the face. Williams dictates the pace of the massage and demonstrates each stroke, such as the I Love You stroke and the Squeeze and Twist, on a doll. She encourages parents to make the massage a daily ritual at home.

New mother Jessica McAllister has been coming to the class for four weeks with her son, Jace, who is 6 weeks old.

"I use it for relaxation," McAllister said. "It's good for right before he goes to bed."

McAllister expressed some fear at doing the massage, but that soon dissipated as she met with other mothers at the weekly classes and became familiar with the techniques.

"The first time I was afraid I was going to hurt him, but now it has made me more comfortable," she said.

In addition to building the confidence of new moms and the bonding experience, infant massage positively affects infant hormones that control stress.

It can also aid an infant's digestion, offer relief from teething pain and reduce crying.

The class is open to parents with newborns and infants up to several months old. "You can start right after birth," Williams said. "The baby shouldn't be any older than when they start crawling."

Emily Robinson, New Parent Support Program nurse, recommends the class regularly.

"We refer our clients to come, especially if they're having some attachment issues or bonding concerns," Robinson said. "We have a lot of parents who think it's just for newborns but we're trying to get a wider age group. Some of my moms want to come with their newborns, but the second that they're over a month old they think it's not going to work. But it's still good."