Baby massage has been around for many years but it has only become popular in the UK since the 1990’s. Massage actually starts when a baby is in the womb where it is kept warm and nourished. It is in the womb that the vibration of the mother’s heartbeat is amplified by amniotic fluid and where the baby is massaged continually by the activities surrounding it. After the contractions which stimulate their skin and nervous system, the baby is then exposed to the loving touch of medical staff, parents and friends.
Over the years baby massage has been used more widely to help reduce the symptoms of post-partum depression. Baby massage helps develop and enhance a baby’s physiological and psychological development which according to scientific evidence is effected when their mother suffers from postnatal depression (PND) therefore affecting the attachment bond.
According to figures from the NHS, PND effects 1 in every 10 women within the first year of giving birth. The main predictors of this condition include a history of depression, antenatal anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of support and stressful life events.
A loving massage given to a baby from their mother is the most fulfilling form of nurturing that creates a special bond between the two. Touch is a child’s first language and it is the most basic form of communication. The most important factors responsible for a child’s social and mental development is that of touch and holding.
It is believed that how we are touched during the first few years of our lives actually determines how we cope later on in life as adults. With the release of endorphins (the ‘feel good’ chemical) during the early years of our lives due to loving caring touch, you will be able to cope much better later in life. When these chemicals are not released, it is believed that you have a harder time coping as adults. So it is no wonder that touch plays such an important role in the relationship between parent and child from the very beginning.
Studies performed on children who have grown up in orphanages where they have been deprived of their mothers loving touch, have shown without that stimulus and self-reinforcement of touch they stop growing despite the release of the growth hormone. According to some research touch deprived children are more prone to be aggressive and violent. They lack the experience to discern whether touch is a good or a bad thing. Children who are held frequently are more likely to turn out to be well adjusted, confident and loving adults.
Our skin is the largest sensory organ in our bodies. When mothers hold and cuddle their baby, all the child’s senses are stimulated, generating the feeling of love and protection. Therefore touch and emotions are related to one another. It is known if someone touches you in a hurtful manner you will become stressed and feel threatened but if you are touched in a caring soft manner you will feel safe, loved and relaxed.
Baby massage helps with regulating the baby’s breathing and circulation. Massage is believed to help improve problems with the digestive system whilst also helping with coordination and balance which helps the child to progress from the crawling to walking stage.
When an infant is massaged the production of oxytocin is stimulated which may help with teething as it has a calming pain relieving benefit. The baby’s stress levels are lowered and helps the baby to sleep more deeply which in turn helps relieve anxiety in a mother suffering from PND. The therapeutic nature of massage stimulates the release of serotonin (mood lifting) whilst reducing the level of adrenaline and cortisol which is associated with stress, helping to alleviate some of those symptoms associated with depression, allowing mum to enjoy time with her precious little bundle of joy.
The reason Miamama was established was due to my own personal experience with depression. I believed I would know if I had depression because I had first-hand experience with a family member so therefore I would be able to spot the signs (wrong). I was a nurse so a second reason why I would know if I had depression (wrong again). After a family bereavement I attended counselling as I wanted to make sure I didn’t get depressed (too late). When I was pregnant I read up on postnatal depression and what to look out for and ways to help with bonding.
I had my little bundle of joy and she is my world. I done everything suggested. I breastfed, I read to her, took her walks, sang to her, I self -cared (so surely because I was able to do all this, I was not depressed, wrong again).
So anyway I struggled on becoming more anxious about routines and not accepting help of anyone as that would seem like I was struggling. I was then told about a one off session of baby massage in my local village and I thought what on earth is baby massage? I debated about going (you see I was anxious about who was going to be there, who will be there that I know? or not know? would people be looking at me, what if my daughter needed fed?) however I plucked up the courage and I went along.
When I went into the room and seen a sheet of paper with rhymes on them I thought oh no what have I signed up for, I am going to feel like a right idiot signing these to a baby. Anyway the class started and you know what I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t care if I looked silly signing rhymes to my baby. I forgot about all the stuff around me, I felt like it was the first time I smiled a true smile at my daughter and enjoyed the time with her.
Now I was kind of thinking there was a wee problem here but I pushed it to the back of my mind because this was not happening to me. I started attending breastfeeding support groups to get out and I started to look for a baby massage course in the area but to my disappointment there was nothing available out with the surestart areas, I was devastated. I really felt I needed this for me and my baby.
Anyhow things just rapidly spiralled out of control until one day I was walking around Ikea and I just stopped half way round and said to my husband I can’t do this anymore, I was battling something much stronger than me and it was getting very very dark now.
Having said that even when I went to see specialists I told them I was wasting their time as there was nothing wrong with me (HELLO) well I had a wee reality check as I was told I either accepted help or be admitted and you know what, that was what I needed, how was I going to look after my daughter then? What would people say then
Thankfully with the right support and help I gradually got through this horrible time. I do believe that if I was able to attend a baby massage course, I maybe would have got help sooner. So with that I decided that I wanted to do something that may help even that one lady who just needs that little something to try and relieve that heartache. I wanted to highlight the benefits that baby massage has and the importance of looking after your mental health. As the saying goes, it does not discriminate.
Elaine is the Founder of Miamama and – here’s wee bit about who she is. Feel free to check out her website and what she does…she’d love to hear from you!
This post appeared on previously Miamana here