Italy: Infant Massage Specialists Get the First HUG!


As planned, Jim and I arrived in Bologna, Italy, in late April 2014. I had the great pleasure to speak to the A.I.M.I. (Italian Association of Infant Massage). Benedetta Costa, who founded this Italian association decades ago, had worked with me over the past few months to prepare my materials in Italian. I was delighted to arrive with PowerPoint slides in Italian as well as both the newly completed Italian HUG Your Baby DVD and the first draft of the Italian L'itinerario per un Allattamento al Seno di Successo (the Roadmap to Breastfeeding Success).

Several years ago Linda Storm, then serving as the Executive Director of Infant Massage USA and later introducing me to Benedetta, acquainted me with the philosophy and teaching of infant massage educators. (CLICK HERE to see my 2012 interview with Linda.) Linda prepared me well for what the focus of a presentation to infant massage professionals should include: helping parents successfully read their baby's body language.

Presenting at the A.I.M.I. annual conference and chatting with their professionals, I was inspired once again by how the philosophy that is taught and practiced by this organization dovetails so well with the work of HUG Your Baby. Benedetta shared with me the concept of "asking the baby for permission" before beginning a massage. Of course parents must be able "to hear" a baby's answer when this question is asked. That is why recognizing when a baby sends out an "SOS" (Sign of Over-Stimulation) is critical.  It can be an infant's way of saying, "Not now, Mom. Let's just cuddle for a bit!"

I also love the A.I.M.I. concept of "holding the space" for the baby and parent to communicate. In our busy and rushed lives, infant massage creates a time and place for a parent and a baby to be together, totally present with one another. What a gift to give a baby, and what a joy for a parent!

Though I have a reputation for incorporating theatrical teaching strategies into my HUG presentations, language limitations cramped my style in Italy. Thankfully, Benedetta served as my Italian "voice"--skillfully translating my spoken presentation, phrase by phrase. 

I was delighted that this audience was familiar with the work of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (which has not always been the case at other locations where I've spoken internationally this year). They enjoyed the video I had of four different babies demonstrating their abilities to orient to a "toy" (my now famous, red, TicTac candy!). "These are all normal babies," I explain. "But, imagine how a parent might feel when their baby seems unable to pay attention, or turns away from her mother's face." 

They also appreciated my split-screen demonstration of how a baby CAN READ his parent's body language. When a videotaped father presents an angry face to his one-week-old, the baby gags and turns away. Infant massage specialists understand that communication is a two-way street and that what they teach facilitates the "conversation" between a parent and a baby.

I ended the presentation by showing the two newly completed HUGs Around the World Lullabies: the Australian HUG Lullaby and Hawaiian HUG Lullaby 
(both now available with Italian subtitles). These songs with photos are "lullabies to calm babies and empower parents," intended to capture the musical styles of different cultures as well as to convey HUG Your Baby resources and ideas. (The Japanese lullaby is well underway, and those of other Asia-Pacific countries, such as Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia and New Zealand, are in process.) 

I was delighted that every copy of the Italian HUG DVD we brought from the USA was purchased by A.I.M.I. members. Even more exciting is the fact that Benedetta has agreed to distribute the Italian HUG DVD in her country. A.I.M.I.'s Facebook page includes over 4,000 members, and surely each one of them knows at least one mother who would benefit from increasing her ability to read her baby's body language!

Our day of teaching ended with eating, dancing and chatting--all Italian-style. In a beautiful, almost "new" 300-year-old frescoed villa, I took in the joy and passion of colleagues from this wonderful part of the world. In spite of their broken English and my utterly negligible Italian, I heard from a lactation consultant how this material will enhance her work; from a teary-eyed nurse how The HUG will help her connect with teen mothers; and from an infant massage teacher how "Zones" and "SOSs" are concepts the parents she teaches will understand. In this gloriously rich, friendly and historic international environment, I experience once again how the language of the newborn crosses over cultural and linguistic barriers to touch the heart of what matters most to young families, and to those who serve them!