As one of its many programs, Parents as Teachers (PAT) - a part of Dickinson's Center Inc.'s Children's Prevention Services - offers a unique opportunity with its infant massage classes aimed at strengthening the bond between parents and their infant.
Certified Infant Massage Instructor and PAT educator Deanna Meyer teaches the classes, which demonstrate how massage benefits children by easing their discomfort, releasing tension, helping premature infants gain weight and helping asthmatic infants improve their breathing function.
Meyer said infant massage provides a simple and relaxing opportunity aimed at enhancing the health of both infants and parents while providing a special time to strengthen their relationship.
"The bonding process is the most important," Meyer said. "I like to teach the moms so they can take it home and teach the dads," Meyer said.
The free program typically takes place at PAT Children's Center, located on the first floor of the CEC building in downtown St. Marys. Meyer also teaches the program during home visits.
Each class size typically consists of five mother/infant pairs and takes place throughout four or five weeks, with classes held once a week for one hour. The program is offered three times a year, once each in the fall, spring and summer.
The program is geared toward infants ages birth to 12 months, but the techniques may be adjusted for older children.
According to Meyer, she has taught parents of 2- and 3-year olds, but suggests a maximum age of 5 years old.
Meyer explained the most beneficial areas of the body to massage for infants are the stomach and chest.
"This helps with colicky babies, as well as with gas, constipation and diarrhea," she said.
Improved circulation can be achieved by massaging infants' arms, hands, legs and feet. Face massaging helps relieve sinus and ear infections, as well as clogged tear ducts.
The techniques can be modified for premature infants and babies, as well as those with special needs.
Meyer has been teaching the program over the past one and a half years. For her certification, obtained through Infant Massage USA, Meyer was required to participate in a week-long training held in Philadelphia.
"Infant massage has always been an interest of mine and when the training popped up one day, they asked me to do it," she said.
Meyer said following her certification, she often practiced the techniques on her 3-year-old daughter, Kaylen.
"She loves foot massages," Meyer said.
Meyer's primary responsibilities at Children's Prevention Services are as a PAT instructor, which she has taught over the past six years. She also worked for two additional years in Ridgway in the Recovery Program, geared toward individuals age 18 years and older who are suffering from mental health issues.