Local Baby Care Classes
Infant massage, too
It’s normal — and useful — for new parents to seek help in understanding how to care for their babies. After all, “The only time you’re a perfect parent is before you become one,” jokes parenting-group mentor Vickie Crews.
Parenting classes across the region build skills needed to provide children with the most nurturing environment possible. They also link parents to valuable information resources and reduce new-mom isolation.
Some classes start during prenatal orientation and continue after birth. Some are provided in conjunction with the receipt of benefits from the state. Others are run by religious organizations, private consultants and even commercial retailers like Babies R Us. A number welcome grandparents and other caregivers.
New parent skill builders
Most parents aren’t trained in child development and many may lack effective role models. CHILD, Inc. is a nonprofit provider of parent education classes across Delaware. Classes like “Parenting Birth to Three,” “Children Come Without Instructions” and “Dad’s Parenting Class,” says statewide coordinator Denise Enger, cover such topics as early bonding attachment, language development, safety and well-being, stress and positive discipline. They are free of charge, available in Spanish and typically meet once a week for a period of six weeks.
Classes are interactive, not lectures, taught by professional nurses, psychologists and social workers. Participants engage in role-play, analyze realistic scenarios and videos, and connect with each other and relevant community organizations to learn about the physical, cognitive and social/emotional aspects of raising healthy children. Many new parents attend because they are in at-risk situations, and Enger reports that participants are sometimes surprised by how much they enjoy and take away from the sessions.
Philly’s Pennsylvania Hospital offers fee-based, single-session classes in childbirth, infant CPR, baby care basics, breastfeeding and Dr. Karp’s “The Happiest Baby.” It’s also completing international accreditation under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Supported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, this international movement “is changing the whole culture of how maternity services are delivered,” says Debi Ferrarello, RN, MSN, IBCLC, director of parent education and lactation.
Emphasis is on best scientific practices for maternal/baby bonding and feeding. To that end, “Weight can wait,” is one of Ferrarello’s mantras, indicating a BFHI priority — putting mom and newborn “skin to skin” in order to help mothers establish their milk supply.
For more than a generation, new moms and dads have enrolled in parenting classes at nearby Hall-Mercer Child and Parent Center. If it takes a village to raise a child, “This is one way to build your village,” avers director Jeanne Frantz. The goal of courses like “Exploring Parenthood,” “Sitters & Shakers” and “Creepers & Crawlers,” she says, is to “help parents become their own experts.” Most classes meet weekly for 9 or 10 weeks, with fees ranging from $270 to $400, depending on the topic. Hall-Mercer also provides a weekly breastfeeding group, free of charge on a drop-in basis.
Here, parents observe their babies and are directed on how to recognize cues. By engaging in developmentally fitting activities and play that stress the value of building home routines, they learn to problem-solve as well as differentiate between what’s normal behavior and what’s not. Frantz notes that when situations warrant, staff members make referrals to pediatricians, physical therapists and other specialists.
Next page: Infant massage & new parent networking
Infant massage classes
New parents are often tentative about how to handle their tiny infants. “What do I do with him?” is a familiar, if unspoken, concern during the first months. Yet the sense of touch is extremely important in development and is thought to release useful hormones. Enter infant massage.
Infant massage classes demonstrate many benefits from different strokes and techniques. At the very least, infant massage can serve as a pleasant bonding activity, helping babies and parents “communicate” and spend quality time together during early wakeful time. Bolder claims — for which there’s an increasing body of scientific evidence — include comparatively improved weight gain for premature babies, better sleep patterns, relief of gas and colic, and reduction in stress (of babies and parents) and postpartum depression.
Infant massage classes are available through hospitals such as St. Mary Medical Center’s Parenting Resource Center, as well as through independent practitioners, like Brittiney George, CEIM, who teaches at Belly Pilates in Bryn Mawr and Gwyn MacDonald, LMT, CEIM, at Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City.
Different certifications exist, including the well-known CEIM (Certified Educator of Infant Massage) by Infant Massage USA, and also CIMI (Certified Infant Massage Instructor) by Loving Touch and CIMT (Certified Infant Massage Teacher) by Liddlekidz , among others.
Both MacDonald and George emphasize that infant massage provides “extra tools” for parents in responding to their babies’ needs and cues. There are six main strokes and stroke combinations and six regions of the body, notes Kelly Pagliei at St. Mary. Some strokes stimulate, and others relax, so parents learn a repertoire of movements to correspond to the mood or purpose at hand.
All babies are different, the instructors point out. Infants have their own preferences, pace and interest. George believes there’s value in developing a regular routine with babies, repeating certain music and atmosphere to go along with massage elements. She also explains the role of infant massage for dads, giving them special connection or interaction with their babies, since they’re not breastfeeding.
In addition to massage, many instructors provide guidance for gentle movement exercises to help baby gain control over his body and start developing coordination. Soothing bicycling motions and crossing over — left leg to right hand — are examples.
MacDonald says she loves watching the babies react to their parents and to the massage. Infants need time to learn their own bodies, and she says this helps them understand, “Oh, this is mine. It’s connected to me!”
Programs vary. A series of 1½- or 2-hour classes once a week generally runs from three to six weeks long. Costs range from about $5 to $125. Infant massage classes are sometimes given as shower or baby gifts.
New parent networking
In addition to learning about child development and building a repertoire of skills and strategies, parenting and infant massage classes are a vital way for new moms and dads to gain a network. After consecutive nights of interrupted sleep, new parents can quickly feel overwhelmed. Being able to rely on a community of experts and peers supports morale and reduces isolation.
“We see great friendships form,” says Kelly Pagliei, program coordinator at the St. Mary Medical Center Parenting Resource Center in Langhorne, which offers classes like “After the Stork” and “Baby Boppin Jamm.” There’s also a “Breastfeeding Tea” at the affiliated Breastfeeding Center in Bensalem. Most are free of charge, except for Infant Massage, which is $5.
In similar ways, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) provides connections during the challenging early stages of parenting. Affiliated with an international Christian mission, local MOPS groups are popular throughout the region. Vickie Crews, director of First Impressions for Hope Church United Methodist Congregation in Voorhees, NJ, explains that groups typically meet biweekly at the sponsoring church, which offers breakfast, speakers, spiritual themes and childcare for infants through Kindergarteners. “We let Mom have her time,” she says.
Groups help moms realize “that they’re not alone,” says Amanda Cavaliere, a member of the Voorhees MOPS steering committee. Sure, they learn when to call a doctor for the baby and about postpartum depression. But they also learn how to take care of themselves and arrange play dates and park dates. MOPS’ official goal is to equip and encourage moms to care for their children better, Cavaliere notes. The most common feedback she gets? “I’d be at a loss without them” and “So many encouraging, lifelong relationships come from this group.”
The impact of early support can be enormous. Frantz reports that alums have told her, “This is where I learned how to be a parent.” And as Cavaliere says, classes and groups introduce parents to “people to do life with!”
Ann Rappoport is a contributing writer to MetroKids.