The Baby Whisperer

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Photo courtesy of Sebrina Pestana

What is it that drives an individual with such passion and dedication that it is infectious? What inspires an individual to help others?  What determines one’s path in life?  Whatever it is, when it is in the service of others, it is worthy of mention.

I am in constant search of inspirational people and what drives them.   Last March, I happened upon a course in London that left me with more than just the developmental benefits of infant massage.  I left with renewed purpose and energy for my profession.  I could not wait to get home to teach my Mom/Baby yoga students, parents of NICU babies.  I could not wait to email my boss and tell her all about it.  All because of one man.

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Photo Courtesy of Sabrina Pestana 

It was an early Saturday morning in North London that I first met Peter Walker.  He was leading his much sought after Developmental Infant Massage Teacher training in a community birthing center.  He has trained thousands all over the world including neonatal nurses, midwives, and massage therapists.  I had done my research for programs and knew that this was the one for me.  His program focuses on the developmental aspects of infant massage-assisting the newborn with reversing physiologic flexion of fetal life in preparation for sitting, standing, walking.   His passion is helping children whose parents were told their child would never sit, stand, or, walk to do just that.

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Photo Courtesy of Sabrina Pestana

Peter, a Physical and Developmental Massage Therapist from East London, has devoted  his professional life to infants and children with developmental delays.  Having worked many years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it is easy to wonder what the outcomes of some of the extremely premature and asphyxiated babies are-those that leave with the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and/or developmental delays.  Watching one of Peter’s documentaries during our training gave me a sense of hope.  We witnessed a child taking steps after regular massage by Peter and the child’s parents.  What joy a parent experiences when their child takes their first steps.  Imagine the joy a parent experiences after being told that their child might never walk.

The first words I recall Peter saying in the training were, “breathe out,” and I have since made this my mantra.  I use it in my yoga classes, use it in challenging situations at work, in life.  Peter channels years of yoga practice and teaching as a wonderful addition to the practical side of his massage classes.

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Photo Courtesy of Sabrina Pestana

I went to the training to add massage as a complement to my already established Mom/Baby Yoga classes. By the end of a cold, yet super inspirational weekend with Peter, I left wanting to know more so that I could share this information with all of my friends in the neonatal community.

Should we be incorporating regular infant massage and passive range of motion with our stable  infants in the NICU and when should we start?  Should it be a part of daily care in the NICU?  A recent study out of Tel-Aviv University shows optimistic results that regular exercise (i.e. range of motion exercises) in premature infants (approximately 28 weeks at birth) even as early as 8 days old can have positive effects countering osteoporosis of prematurity.  Can we help these infants early on, something that Peter has been doing for years?

While we do a wonderful job caring for our sweet babes in the NICU, can we do even better?  We position them in the most optimal developmental positions even in their sickest moments.  We have the most up to date machinery to sustain otherwise unsustainable life.  We know the benefits of Skin to Skin.  But what about the obvious sense of touch?  We learn early in our training that premature infants can only tolerate gentle touch that is supportive.  However, should we be adding regular and early therapeutic massage or range of motion as well to those that can tolerate it?

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Photo Courtesy of Sabrina Pestana 
The following is my interview with Peter following my training program:

What is your background?

My education really started in the late 1970’s when I staged a series of seminars entitled “Our Approach to Psychiatry” featuring Dr R D Laing and Frederick LeBoyer. Laing’s approach to psychiatry started  from conception and included “Embryos and Our Ancestors” (those traits also handed down through the family). Laing claimed what happens in the first 1001 days from conception played a big part in many of his patients lives. That early separation between mother and child can be a precursor to emotional distress in later adult life. The importance of this period has now been recognised in a UK cross political party manifesto entitled “The 1000 Critical Days,” which mirrors Dr Laing’s approach. Frederick LeBoyer was also inspirational. LeBoyer was a classical French obstetrician, who during a prolonged period of meditation, re-experienced his own birth. As a result of this experience he pioneered for “Birth without Violence” for mothers and babies.
Tell us a little about your work with children? 

During the years that I gave groups I think I must have seen more mothers and babies than any man alive.  Since teaching teachers, I now have over 22,000 teachers all teaching Developmental Baby Massage techniques in different parts of the world. I now only work teaching my techniques to teachers and working with mothers who have babies affected by developmental delay.  I have an International Skype Clinic and have much success teaching mothers from all over the world whose babies are affected by Stiffness / Floppiness / Developmental Delay.
Where has your work taken you? 
My work has taken me all around the world some seventy times including Japan, South America, Australia, Spain, Indonesia, UK and the Continent.  Also an inward journey through the medium of Yoga and meditation
Where to next?
I look forward to expanding the teaching of Developmental Baby Massage and have the benefits of this teaching more widely recognized in both “normal” development and mother and child relationships and for those children who have developmental delays.
Any tips/recommendations for nurses working at the bedside with sick and/or premature infants?
Premature babies especially need skin to skin touch with their mothers because they have “missed” the final stage of an important developmental period within their mother’s womb. In my experience “sick babies” need to be held, not necessarily massaged whereas premature babies need to be held and rubbed gently. This can be done with the baby clothed and a warm relaxed hand. (For the first 6-8 weeks we all need to be held, rubbed, rocked and re-assured while we “gather our senses” in a new and unfamiliar environment.
Any tips/recommendations for parents of NICU babies?
For those babies confined to incubators-this is no substitute for the warmth and love of their mother’s body, but when confinement to an incubator be absolutely necessary it’s best that when possible normal procedures like bathing, nappy changing, etc., be done by the mother. Also for the mother to make the most of this time to spend a quiet period holding, caressing, and talking to her child. We know that the baby’s heart beat, breathing rhythm and body temperature (the incubator is warm but the baby can be cold) all regulate skin to skin around the mother.
How important do you think massage and touch is for an infant-particularly those who spend their first days in neonatal intensive care?
Touch is proven to be as important to a baby as any vitamins and minerals. With touch babies thrive, without it they die of something called Marasmus- a Greek term meaning to waste away. The earliest records of this can be found here.
In the 1920’s hospitals in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia stopped putting babies under 12 months of age in institutions because of the high mortality rate.  Instead,they were given to ‘foster carers’ and the mortality rate dropped.
How can they benefit?
Massage is our most immediate and convenient form of self help and pain relief.
Developmental Baby Massage is completely in line with a baby’s development. It assists mother and child attachment and provides relief from the emotional stress of a difficult confinement and/or birth. It also helps to empower mothers to trust in their instincts and abilities and assist their child achieve their potential in all stages of development from birth to standing.
Thank you so much Peter for sharing your story and for contributing to the development of babies the world over!  It is obvious in his videos that Peter’s work is far more than just a job.  He establishes a trust with the child, the parents, and instills confidence in parents’ ability to care for their children.  Watch the videos below, but be warned, you might need tissues 😉
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Photo Courtesy of Sabrina Pestana 
For more information and/or to contact Peter, check out the following links:
If you know of any infants that might be in need of Peter’s expertise, he has an international clinic for babies with developmental delay via Skype/FaceTime.    He sees patients all over the world.  He never refuses a child whose parents are too poor to pay ❤
walker@thebabieswebsite.com
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7 thoughts on “The Baby Whisperer

  1. Thank you for this incredible story of ONE man. IF, we had just a small glimpse of his LOVE, there would be NO war of any kind on Earth. There would only be PEACE, kindness to all nations, smiles, hugs, groves of followers, most of all…a gracious Heart. He is awesome!

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