The Story of Infant Massage

One Loving Heart – How Infant Massage Came Into Being

Did you ever wonder how the infant massage program got started? Did you ask yourself how long ago it began? Or was it started here in the United States or in Europe?

I know you know the story of Vimala observing the massage done by the 12-year-old girl with all the small children in an orphanage in India. You remember how Vimala brought the idea home to eventually use on her own children and how she called her friends to come see how her baby liked infant massage. They subsequently encouraged her to write the first edition of her book. That was 1979, the very beginning.

I would like to tell you my story. One day of many career days stands out above all the rest. That day changed my life’s direction. My special day was the one on which I found infant massage or perhaps it found me. I had been looking for a program that I could teach in my community that included stress prevention.

I was doing an internship under the tutelage of Walt Schafer, PhD who directed the Stress and Health Center at Enloe Hospital in Chico, CA at the time; I was earning my BA in Community Health Services at California State University, Chico.

I was assigned to find an internship for one of my classes. Dr. Schafer kindly accepted my proposal to teach Parent Effectiveness Training classes and join his staff to learn about stress reduction in adults. The idea fascinated me.

It was by shear accident then that I was given an article about Vimala Schneider’s infant massage, which would Ease Baby Stress. I was awe struck with the possibility of this being the very program I was searching for. I couldn’t call the bookstore in Colorado fast enough to order Vimala’s book. Before I knew it, she and I had negotiated to have an Instructor Training here in Chico. Dr. Schafer suggested we hold it at the Stress and Health Center.

Vimala had trained 12 instructors in the Denver area and our class would be the first on the West Coast. Our Training of 11 participants brought the number of Instructors in the whole world to 23.

That was in mid-summer of 1981. Infant massage was in its infancy. Very few had heard of it and there was little in the literature about it. Ashley Montagu’s book. Touching, first published in 1971, became our sort of bible since the studies he research reinforced our premises about infant massage and bonding.

The case studies he cited strongly indicated that infants thrive with touching and massage. Rene Spitz found that infants deprived of touch failed to grow and develop. John Bowlby introduced the theory of attachment and Drs Kennel and Klaus were finding that the early contact parents had with their infants helped develop a special bond, which would last throughout their lives. Harry Harlow’s studies of monkeys and cloth mothers versus wire mothers with bottles established the deep need for touching over even getting fed. Frederick LeBoyer wrote Loving Hands about a beautiful mother named Shantala in India who massage her infant. We had a film of this beautiful person with her infant son. These were the works we were to quote many times in those first years.

At first people would say to me, “You do what to infants?” The Director of Nurses as Enloe said to me, “If you could just get rid of the word ‘massage’ people would be more accepting” At the time I chose to stand against such attitudes because I said to myself, if anyone would just come watch the class, they would see that what we taught parents was the art of massaging their infants, with their permission, of course.

Dr. Schafer researched studies looking at stress as the cause of the over 60% of all illness. He taught deep relaxation techniques and breathing exercises along with ideas for harnessing stress to make it work for us and not against us. Because he believed in what our work was about and had met Vimala at the time of the Training he wrote the foreward for Vimala’s third edition of Infant Massage A Handbook for Loving Parents. The book sold very well and is one of the best selling books of its kind even today.

I earned my Infant Massage Instructor Certificate by October of 1981. I co-taught my first Parent Infant class for 12 parents with another Instructor from the class and we were launched in Chico.

During the spring of 1982 Vimala invited me to come to Denver to talk about the infant massage program. When I came back from the trip I had everything Vimala had put together about infant massage in one box, maybe 12x14x12. We had agreed that I would do the office part of the program while she kept on teaching the Trainings and continued to write.

I felt a great responsibility and it seemed I was bringing home a small infant that needed much care and nurturing to grow. Vimala vowed to support me in all the ways that I would need to launch a national program. And so the infant massage program came into being and had its first head-quarters in Chico, CA.

I became the Director of Programs. We fashioned some stationery and letterhead and I began answering inquiries Vimala had received asking for Trainings and classes.

The most miraculous part of that period in my life was the absolute trust people had in this work. People began signing up for Trainings with Vimala and within a year she came back to train me as a Trainer because there were so many people wanting to learn to teach infant massage.

Within a short period Vimala trained as a Trainer DeAnna Elliott (DeAnna is still a Trainer). She also developed a video, “Cellular Echoes” which describes imprinting and infant care and traditions of many different cultures.

Vimala next trained Diana Moore of Portland, Oregon, (who was in the same Instructor Training class as I). Now there were four of us ready to offer the trainings. We shared films and books so we couldn’t teach our trainings on the same days. We had a pretty full calendar during the years 1982/83.

I was putting together the first newsletters and started a small warehouse so that I could mail any materials I had accumulated to the Trainers and instructors. I was teaching infant massage classes for $35 per family. Our fee at the time was $150 for a three and one-half day Instructor Training. It was my desire to use only monies that I had earned from teaching/trainings to develop the program. So I put all of my earning into developing the national office. It worked well until I realized that I couldn’t spend enough time generating trainings as the office work had picked up considerably.

In the spring of 1983 we were 42 active Instructors, 6 inactive and 36 writing their examination studies, and there were six Instructor Trainers scheduled for the rest of the year. It was then that we changed our name to the Association of Infant Massage Instructors.

In July 1983, I edited the third Newsletter, Tender Loving Care, Volume 2 Issue 1, asking for a suggested Annual membership Subscription Fee of $17.50 to defray the expenses of putting out the newsletter and sending materials to new Instructors. Those wishing to support the organization could be Charter Members. Had I not gotten the support of some 80 Instructors, I would have had to give up doing the Newsletter, which was our only means of networking and communication with each other. Probably the most difficult part of running the program was the fact that we had to do all our business by letter or telephone. I’m sure all of us own a goodly piece of the telephone companies serving each of our areas. We are most grateful for e-mail these days.

I had the joy of training Sylvie Hetu as an Instructor in my very first class under the direction of Vimala. Sylvie brought her firstborn son to the class, which I always considered a special blessing. Babies added their own very powerful dimension to the Trainings. Sylvie, went on to be the President of the International Association of Infant Massage – Sweden for many years.

In April 1984, I joined Vimala in Florida where she trained as Trainers Maria Mathias, Helena Moses, and Laurie Beth Evans. In the evenings we had long discussions and the Trainers got well acquainted – bonded, really, which only strengthened our desires to carry the work to all the corners of the world. We never dared to dream it might really happen. That is with one exception – Vimala had the vision – she wanted to meld East to West from the beginning.

Helena is still a Trainer with us. Laurie Beth Evans stopped as a Trainer to start her family. She continued to spread the word and in 1989 wrote a segment of the discussion, Advances in Touch, for Johnson and Johnson’s Pediatric Round Table, #14.

In July 1984, Vimala trained Jody Wright to be our eighth Trainer. Jody succeeded Vimala as President of the Association in 1989 and served through 1991. She was very instrumental in fully developing the Gentle Touch Warehouse and editing the newsletter. Jody was Owner CEO of Motherwear. She designed and made clothing for mothers-to-be and nursing mothers. Jody had to leave the Board work to meet the demands of this specialized clothing business which had greatly expanded, as well as the needs of her own four children.

I called the first meeting of all of the Trainers in the fall of 1985 in Sand Diego, California. I wanted them to know how the organization was put together and how it worked at that time. I needed their input as to how we would continue to operate the Association. These eight Trainers became the Board of Directors at that meeting and within a year became the incorporating Directors of the International Association of Infant Massage Instructors. After that meeting I became involved with writing the Incorporating papers to become a nonprofit corporate and submit them to the Secretary of State of California. We were finally incorporated in November of 1986.

It was decided to hold our first national Conference in Portland the following spring. Diana Moore volunteered her “regional chapter” Instructors to set it up. Ashley Montagu came to address the assembly and Vimala was a keynote speaker as well. This was the first time the Instructors had a chance to come together and network and feel the strength of our own bonding. They learned from each other how their classes were conducted, what worked best and how to generate more classes.

There was the sense that there was a certain Heart in this work, that money was not the first issue and that those of us who had this deep inner feeling wanted to continue to get infant massage to the infants of the world fulfilling Vimala’s vision.

It became my distinct pleasure to be the first Trainer of Trainers after Vimala and thereafter to be present at the Trainings of all of the United States Chapter Trainers (except Jody Wright). I also had the privilege of co-teaching the Training of the first Trainers from other countries: Sylvie Hetu, Mia Elmsater, Marianne Rydin, Inger Hartelius, Benedetta Cost,and Maria Fagerlaund. There have been others added since then. It was such a deeply felt sense I had of being part of the ongoing life of the International Association when I was present at these Trainings.

There came a time when it seemed wise for me to step down from the Board and the offices I held to make room for new faces and new ideas. So in 1992, my resignation was accepted during a meeting which took place at our Instructors Second Educational Conference in Orlando, FL. In late 1999 I returned to serve on the Chapter Board to help with moving to the headquarters in Ventura, California.

During the year of 1992 the Association was in the process of being taken to the International level and became based in Sweden. The Unites States became a Chapter as all other countries would. During the course of setting up the International Association and writing their By-laws the name was changed to International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM).

I always felt it a special privilege to be so closely involved with the unfolding of such a beautiful program, and to watch it grow into the worldwide work that is has. This was our dream; this was what we always talked about. This was exactly what we wished to have happen for all infant; now I can say to all of you how happy I am that you are here to carry on the work and take it to all the places you can yet to. There is much work to do and much love to spread to all countries. I commend this program to you as a very fulfilling life’s work.

I have sent most of the early papers and books, newsletter, newspaper articles and correspondence to be placed in the United States Chapter archives. I hoped to share my experience with all who wish to see what it was that touched me so deeply that day twenty eight years ago.

I have had a most satisfying experience. This has been my journey – this has been my commitment – this has been my passion. I am truly grateful that I answered the call to help the world become a better place for all parents and their infants and children through infant massage. Nothing outside of my family could have given me a great sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. May I say Thank You, Infant Massage!

History of the International Association of Infant Massage

In the 1970s Vimala McClure introduced infant massage to the United States. While traveling through India she worked in an orphanage and witnessed first hand a 12-year-old girl who would massage all the children there. Even with the lack of proper nutrition, the children thrived, which she attributed to the massage they received.

Upon returning to the United States, she began massaging her own babies, researching the effects of touch on newborns and noting her personal observations. She developed an effective massage process that is described in her book, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. She combined her experience with Indian Massage strokes, Swedish massage and principals of reflexology and yoga. Her first book was authored in 1978 and later published by Bantam.

Vimala’s work attracted a lot of attention. In 1978, David Downes was visiting Boulder, CO and read an article about Vimala. He took it back to his wife, Audrey, knowing she would be interested. When Audrey read the article, she contacted Vimala and asked how she could get training to teach parents. Vimala encouraged her to organize a workshop in Chico, CA where she would give the training. A year later Vimala returned to Chico to complete Audrey’s training process. Audrey became the first Trainer to help Vimala in her vision.

As the organization grew, Audrey completed the process outlined by the International Association of Infant Massage Instructors to become a 501c3 nonprofit association. In 1986, Audrey Downes, Vimala McClure, DeAnna Wamsley (Elliott), Diana Moore, Jody Wright, Laurie Beth Evans, Maria Mathias, and Helen Moses met and signed the documents to make the association officially a nonprofit public charity.

As more people were drawn to the work, instructors from other countries were trained. The International Conference and General Assembly in October 1992 decided to move the International Office to Sweden and create chapters for each country. At the General Assembly in 1994, the word Instructors was deleted from the name, so the organization became known as the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), and the US Chapter, IAIM US Chapter.

At the International Association of Infant Massage General Assembly in 1998, a vote was held on several different international logo options. The winning logo was a beautiful design by Lorraine Tolley, an IAIM instructor. She explained, “I am the proud mother of Dominic, and have spent many special moments massaging him, and still do. I feel privileged to have witnessed the benefits so closely. Dominic has been my inspiration in so many ways and has broadened my views on life in a wonderful way. Designing the logo was one of those inspirations. The position of the parent cradling the child on the knee was how Dominic and I spent many a happy time interacting with each other. The letters and the image just appeared in my head from that one memory moment.” (Note that the letters IAIM are present in the logo.)

Infant Massage logo

In November 2004, following the International Conference and General Assembly in Montreal, Quebec, the US Chapter board of the International Association of Infant Massage voted to leave the International board as the US Chapter, and subsequently became International Association of Infant Massage Inc. This left no US Chapter affiliated with the International Association headquartered in Sweden. In response, DeAnna Elliott, Juliana Dellinger-Bavolek, Donna Anderson, Suzanne Reese and Linda Storm created Infant Massage USA® to be the US Chapter of the International Association in March of 2005. Original International Association of Infant Massage founders Vimala McClure, Audrey Downes, DeAnna Elliott, Helen Moses, Laurie Beth Evans and Jody Wright remain supporters, members and trainers with Infant Massage USA to this day.

The work and vision of Vimala and the original founders has grown internationally. It is the largest Infant Massage Association in the world with Chapters and representatives in over 50 countries throughout the world.