The role of massage in stress, bonding and development of babies
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The focus of the study is on the effect of massage on an infant's stress level, development and the emotional bond between the infant and the mother. Eight mother-infants dyads were recruited and the infants were between the ages of 3 to 9 months. The dyads were paired to ensure similarity of the groups and divided into an experimental and control group. The research made use of a multi-method, pre and post-test design. The measures used during the pre and post-testing included a biographical questionnaire, the Griffiths Mental Development Scales, the Parenting Stress Index and the Mother-to-lnfant Bonding Scale. Personal interviews were conducted with each mother as part of the post-test procedures. Saliva samples from every mother and infant were retrieved on three separate occasions to determine cortisol levels before, during and after the intervention. The experimental group's mothers received training to perform infant massage and were requested to massage their infants at least four times a week for the duration of four months. The data was processed by the Statistical Consultation Service of the Northwest University at Potchefstroom. The non-parametric test, Mann-Whitney U Test, was used to determine any statistical and/or practical significant differences between the experimental and control group before and after implementation of the intervention. The non-parametric test, Wilcoxon Matched-Pairs Signed Rank T-Test, was used to determine the differences within both the experimental and control group. Friedman's ANOVA was used to determine the changes within the groups regarding cortisol levels. As the sample size for this study is small and the possibility of determining statistical significance was slight, the effect sizes were considered for this study. The study had six aims. The first aim focused on the effect of infant massage on the infants' stress levels as measured through cortisol. No statistical significance could be found and the results revealed that the experimental group's infants' stress levels did not decrease. The second aim investigated the effect of infant massage on the mothers' stress levels as measured on the Parenting Stress Index and cortisol levels. No statistical significance could be determined but practical significant differences on the Parenting Stress Index indicated decreased maternal stress levels in the experimental group. These results differ from the cortisol levels that revealed the experimental group's mothers to experience higher levels of stress. The third aim focused on the effect of infant massage on the bond between mother and infant and found that the bond improved due to the intervention. The fourth aim investigated the effect of massage on the infants' development and although no statistical significance could be determined, practical significance could be found, indicating improvements on the motor scales for the experimental group. The fifth aim explored the mothers' subjective experience of infant massage as reported through qualitative measures. The sixth aim compared the mothers as participants' experience of infant massage as reported through quantitative measures and through qualitative measures. Strengths of the study included making use of a multi-method design and following a multi-disciplinary approach. Limitations of the study included a small sample size, the participants' restricted background and difficulty to ensure that the participants comply with the instructions for sampling saliva. Based on the results from the study, it can be concluded that infant massage have an effect on the mother-infant relationship, the mothers' subjective view of their stress levels and specified areas of the infants' development. According to the results from this study infant massage did not have an effect on the infants and mothers' stress levels as measured through cortisol.
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