For any new mums and dads, finding something to soothe an unhappy baby is a bit like looking for the Holy Grail. But, as David Castle discovered, Calm-a-baby’s massage and yoga for little ones could be just the answer
Baby Tamsin sounds happy. She gurgles and chuckles merrily to herself as her mummy gently rubs her tummy, oblivious to anything around her except the soothing hands on her skin. Welcome to the world of baby massage, as practised at the Calm-a-baby & Aquatic Centre, Woodston.
The centre offers a wide array of baby and child-centred activities, including swimming, baby massage and yoga, and pregnancy classes. Its focus on parent and child bonding has proved a popular choice among ‘newbie’ mums and dads in the Peterborough area, and new classes are being added all the time.
Once a parent has learnt massage, then that’s it, and it’s a skill they can use for the rest of their life with their children
The brainchild of Alison Duff, Calm-a-baby was set up in 2002 – and has gone from strength to strength ever since. For Alison, it was a career-changing chance to practise what she loved, while providing a job that would potentially be able to involve any family she would have. Having worked in the City, Alison admits her job at the time was “a bit of a drudge”; an injury to her arm forced a rethink about career path. “I knew that any job that I wanted moving forward had to be flexible around having a child: I wanted that child to be included around more of my work.”
She was already qualified as a masseuse, and says she knew that she wanted to do a job that made a difference “but I didn’t know what that was. I guess I was quite late to my calling”.
Alison considered her options and what her qualifications would allow her to do. With her massage qualification already under her belt, she knew the benefits the practice afforded. “But my experience up to that point had been working with athletes, something I could no longer do because of my arm injury. So I thought ‘why not babies?’ – it would put less pressure on my arm. It was about finding the link between the massage I was qualified to do and babies that completely turned my life on its head.”
She qualified as a baby massage teacher with the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) in 2001. After a year of teaching parents how to massage their babies and seeing the difference it made to them, she decided to dedicate herself to the field of parent education on a full-time basis.
The opening of the Calm-a-baby & Aquatic Centre last October was the result of that dedication. It really is something unique, and probably the only one of its type in the whole world. It’s a haven for all parents, united in one thing: their children. Whether catering for pregnant women, new parents or those with older kids, the Centre is there to provide support in a wide variety of ways, from baby swimming through to how to carry your child in a sling, without being judgmental. “We are there to support parents’ decisions about how they want to raise their children,” says Alison, “but we’re able to provide them with skills they can utilise to help them make those decisions.”
For the many clients who use the centre, the baby massage is vitally important, as Alison explains: “We use baby massage as a bonding tool, to enhance that bond between the parent and child. It’s not a treatment as such. It’s an all-over body massage using oil on the skin that enhances that bond.
It provides a lot of relief from ‘baby’ pain, like teething and wind, and also for older children, with emotional issues
“It has many benefits, that can be broken down into several areas: it stimulates all of the body’s systems, so development can be speeded up; it helps the baby relax and the mother (or father) relax; it provides an awful lot of interaction; it gives the opportunity for a really special time for the parent and child to get to know each other; and it provides a lot of relief from ‘baby’ pain, like teething and wind, and also for older children, with emotional issues.”
Alison says baby massage can be the missing link in the whole birthing equation. “In today’s maternity services, there can be a long period between that initial contact between the mother and child,” she says. “For whatever reason, it might be birth trauma or Caesarean, there is this gap or interruption between this natural process. Massage can help heal this gap for both of them and it can really help development – it’s a very nurturing thing.”
The Calm-a-baby business has grown exponentially. The centre introduced IAIM teacher training courses in 2004 and Birthlight baby yoga teacher training courses in 2008. These courses run several times a year all over the UK and hundreds of students from all over the world including: Hong Kong, Denmark and Australia have qualified to be baby massage and yoga teachers through Calm-a-baby.
“Once a parent has learnt massage, then that’s it, and it’s a skill they can use for the rest of their life with their children,” says Alison. “But parents wanted something more – they wanted to keep coming to that weekly group. So we added baby yoga, because that develops as the child grows: there are different activities and moves you can do with the baby in a yoga situation.”
Due to the growth and popularity of the classes, Alison decided to share her vision and introduced new teachers and associates in 2009. The growth in classes has been fairly organic. “Being in this ‘industry’, for want of a better word, you start to work out what the good things are to do with babies and the effect things have on certain parenting styles,” says Alison. “It’s my firm belief that every parent wants to give their child the best start in life, and it’s these natural things that work the best.”
Alison says a lot of Calm-a-baby’s new services have come from parents’ suggestions, such as the introduction of baby life-saving courses. “It’s effectively a workshop that came about because a lot of mums were thinking about weaning their babies and were frightened of choking – and wanted to know what to do in the event that this happened,” Alison explains. “We offer this as not-for-profit. Although we are a company, we are a company with a social conscience: we do a lot of things free of charge. There is certain knowledge out there that every parent should know and they shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
And Alison certainly practices what she preaches – her son was massaged from two days old and had his first baby yoga hip sequence when he was two weeks. “And I still massage him now, although he’s not always up for it,” says Alison, “although sometimes he will ask for it. He’s certainly never forgotten it.”
The future for Calm-a-baby is likely to see more classes and more teachers. “It’s been so much more popular than I ever predicted,” says Alison. “We will answer demand and we’ll very much listen to what people want. And we’re building a coffee shop in the centre, so that parents can come and chill out and relax with their babies and children.”
Looking back at baby Tamsin, it’s easy to see why. She still looks relaxed. If only life could be that much fun for us all!
To find out more about Calm-a-baby,
or call 01733 707808