Peter Walker is the foremost international authority on developmental baby massage. A physical therapist, he specialises in massage and movement to enable a child’s motor milestones from birth to standing and walking during 1001 Critical Days. He gives a one-to-one skype clinic mostly for parents with children up to two years of age with developmental delay, and a certificated teacher training course in developmental baby massage directed at physiotherapists, midwives, health visitors, neonatal nurses and others working with mothers/partners and children from birth to standing and walking. He has written numerous books on this subject, his latest, the ABC of Developmental Baby Massage is due to be published in the Spring 2022. Peter has worked with mothers and babies for over forty years and has 25,000 certificated teachers worldwide.
OGMN: What drove you to choose your career in physical therapy and how did you get involved in offering developmental baby massage techniques?
PW: In the early eighties, I met, and was greatly influenced by the work of a renown psychiatrist the late, RD Laing, and renown French obstetrician the late Frédérick Leboyer.
Laing claimed many of his patients’ emotional problems went back to a traumatic birth and the way in which we are ‘welcomed’ into this world. Leboyer was the first to advocate ‘Birth Without Violence’ and made one of the first baby massage films, ‘Loving Hands’.
As a result of these meetings, which I was most fortunate in being able to continue with Laing for a number of years, I began to include developmental baby massage in the postnatal yoga practice that I was developing in London. Further practice with one-to-one sessions and my work with groups at the Active Birth and the Viveka centres in London added to my success and inspired me to start teaching my own teachers and form the Developmental Baby Massage Centre, which I did some forty years ago.
As a ‘hands on’ father to five children, I was able to get a good insight into the value of developmental baby massage to our family relationships and my own children’s health and development.
OGMN: What’s the best part of your job?
PW: Being of use to mothers/partners and seeing them help their children to achieve what they were told would be impossible. Receiving letters of recommendation and films from families that I work/have worked with. Teaching my teachers and receiving positive comment and recommendations from them regarding what I teach.
OGMN: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
PW: Being accredited with the free teaching of baby massage in childcare centers throughout the UK. Personally, teaching over twenty-five thousand Developmental Baby Massage teachers worldwide.
OGMN: Recently the Chancellor announced funding for early years programmes and spoke about the importance of a child’s first 1001 days. As one of the people credited with the inception of the idea of the 1001 critical days programme, can you tell us what this funding will mean?
PW: The mother and child relationship is the closest we ever get to another human being on this earth. It is a relationship built upon nine months of organic empathy. Birth itself, is one of, if not the most dangerous journey that we experience in our lifetime. To reduce birth trauma and its effects upon mothers and babies, we need stress-free midwives, to assist stress-free mothers to give birth to stress-free babies. These people are in the front line of community care and are in dire need of more financial support.
We know, and have known for many years, that serious investment given to reduce stress and increase the number of health visitors and midwives struggling with near impossible case caseloads, will have a huge effect upon safe childbirth and the happiness and wellbeing of mothers, babies, partners and families.
OGMN: How can your programme support parents and children from birth to walking during the 1001 critical days?
PW: From birth onwards is the time to relieve the effects of birth trauma and separation anxiety. Where a loving touch can encourage a closer bond between the mother and child and strengthen the mother/partner and child relationships.
These early weeks and months is a time when little gentle massage and movement can encourage children to attain head and neck control, and promote the qualities needed for further development.
Where a parent can combine massage and movement to enjoy and share in their child’s physical development and achievements, and to include ‘therapeutic play’ to assist the child make the most of the benefits that their ‘motor milestones’ have to offer.
During this time, introduced as a daily routine, developmental baby massage encourages early parental intervention and enables the parent to practice some soft massage and movement therapy that is known to reduce and even prevent developmental delay and disability.
OGMN: For those families that need more support, what techniques would you advise parents with babies with developmental delay or disability?
PW: Firstly, learn how to ‘calm down’ when you are feeling most anxious and distressed. Next, use developmental baby massage to help your child to do the same, and in so doing, teach your child to ‘self soothe’. This will make feeding, sleeping and periods of anxiety so much easier for both parent and child. It’s a huge step towards helping parents to cultivate emotional intelligence and in teaching children, how to do the same and ‘self soothe’, is a real ‘game changer’ to family relationships.
Understand how each motor milestone consists of a number of tiny steps. That a child will not just stand and walk if you lift them onto their feet or reach out and grasp if you just wave an object in front of them.
Know the sequence of your child’s milestones and understand how consistent periods of ‘therapeutic play’ to attain these tiny steps first, can make a huge difference to the child’s ability to achieve the milestone itself.
Combined with massage and movement, early parental intervention can make a radical contribution to improvement where developmental delay is diagnosed or suspected. Only movement can restore movement, and healing happens when messages are relayed from the body to the brain via the consistent practice of the tiny steps needed to attain the skill/s. This can enable the brains unique quality of neuroplasticity to ‘map’ the steps and create new neural pathways for their independent practice.
These early weeks and months following the baby’s birth, is the prime time for intervention while a child is malleable and receptive to physical touch and gentle manipulation and their brain is ‘blossoming’.
Developmental baby massage empowers and enables a parent to practice regularly with their child, at home, the best place, and at the best hour for both.
OGMN: How important is developmental baby massage to aid a child’s physical development?
PW: Developmental baby massage is a wonderful inclusion in the early physical development of all children. It’s not how quickly children learn to stand and walk, it’s how well they develop doing it. A child’s motor milestones follow an identical sequence and each one provides its own individual benefits while also forming a foundation for the one/s that follow. Children can easily miss out on the benefits of these milestones if the parent/s make just standing and walking their child’s primary objective in their physical development.
Developmental baby massage can offer immense benefits to attachment parenting. With a loving touch it promotes trust and closer emotional bonds, its practice enables a more confident parent and child relationship. Together with the knowledge of the sequence and benefits it shows how to engage all children in the weeks following birth, in therapeutic play to achieve the full benefit of these skills, to practice and secure the tiny steps that lead to the achievement of each of these skills from head and neck control to standing and walking.
A whole-body baby massage, from around ten weeks to mobility, combined with a little ‘therapeutic’ movement, promotes good muscle tone, and joint flexibility. This can both strengthen and /or relax and is of great benefit to the child’s circulation, digestion and breathing rhythms.
Given during the 1001 Critical Days, developmental baby massage can help a child to sit and stand with a relaxed body and a low centre of gravity. This promotes strong roots and all the benefits of a well-balanced posture.
OGMN: Are you currently involved with any research?
PW: Only that for my books and articles and in my own work with parents, and other teachers and filmed observations, which allow me to consistently review and update my practice.
OGMN: Are you planning to attend any training events in 2022 aimed at midwives or new parents?
PW: Yes, if it goes ahead, I would like to attend a conference in Poland that was planned but unfortunately cancelled last year as a result of Covid. I am also hosting a range of teacher training courses both in the UK and abroad. These are currently planned from January to October 2022. Most of these are pre-booked but as other dates become confirmed they can be viewed on www.thebabieswebsite.com
OGMN: What would you tell your 21-year-old self?
PW: Cultivate your exhalation to relax and enable ‘emotional intelligence’.
Be of service to others, find an occupation that you enjoy, that is of benefit to our environment and /or the people and creatures living in it.
Eat healthy food and always leave the table feeling a little hungry rather than too full.
Practice yoga, swim and stay on a ‘path with a heart’.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Don’t lose your sense of humour!
OGMN: If you were Health Minister for the day what changes would you implement?
PW: Reopen all the 1,000 childcare centres that were closed with austerity measures. Add more and increase the funding to those who are working face to face with all mothers, babies and families, especially with those families and individuals who are socially and economically deprived.
For more information on Peter’s skype clinic, books and films, or to arrange a teacher training course, or book a place on a course.