How Infant/Baby Massage Can Help with Postpartum Depression
By Angela Hitchcox
When a mother goes home from the hospital or birthing center with her new baby, she is thrown into a major life transition following her pregnancy. Some mothers have to leave their babies in the NICU upon their discharge and are only allowed structured visits. All of these women are educated in the hospital on how to care for their babies, and how to care for their own postpartum bodies. Nurses will cover signs of normal postpartum blues or depression; they will also cover instances in which to call the doctor for mother or baby. However, nothing can fully prepare these women for the changes that they will go through hormonally, socially, and psychologically.
Postpartum Depression can occur and present itself anytime between one week and one year postpartum. The factors that can contribute to postpartum depression can be both biological and environmental. Biological factors could include severe shifts in hormones as the mother adjusts to life with a baby and the changes her body goes through. Examples of environmental causes are labor and delivery complications, prenatal hospitalization, a cesarean section, traumatic delivery, NICU stay, strained relationships, loss of a loved one, and breastfeeding problems.
Mother/baby bonding can be impacted in a negative way when the mother suffers from postpartum depression. In instances of postpartum depression, the mother can experience depressed mood, experiences anxiety, abnormal irritability, difficulty sleeping, little or no pleasure or interest in normal activities, and increased fatigue. It is important in those cases to consciously work on increasing the bond between a mom and her baby. Therefore, being proactive and arming themselves with positive coping skills is vital to moms and their babies. Infant Massage does just that.
Infant Massage is a complementary holistic therapy that has been around for centuries. The art has been handed down for generations beginning over 4,000 years ago in the Eastern and Pacific cultures. Our Western culture has just recently been introduced to infant massage in 1978 by a yogi named Vimala Schneider McClure who worked in orphanages in India. Infant massage incorporates Swedish and Indian massage, reflexology, and yoga techniques.
This type of therapy claims to decrease the symptoms in a mother diagnosed with postpartum depression simply by touching her baby. Infant massage allows the mother and baby to connect on an intimate level. It stimulates the senses of touch, sight, and sound in both mother and baby. These interactions during massage cause positive effects on the mother psychologically and physiologically.
Psychologically, it promotes a sense of well-being in the mother. The positive reactions from the baby help build her confidence and bring about feelings of competence in caring for her baby. Her mind can practice focusing as she performs the strokes, and simultaneously negating the negative thoughts. Communication skills are enhanced as she gives and receives nonverbal communicative cues. It gives the mother a sense of accomplishment knowing she learned something new that helps her baby, therefore, allowing her to feel an increased sense of confidence. Infant Massage is touch therapy that also claims to increase the mother’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is an endorphin and neurotransmitter that is linked to increasing positive moods and a more pleasurable outlook on life.
Physiologically, the stress hormone cortisol decreases. There is a release of oxytocin (the love/cuddle) hormone with touch therapy as well. The mother’s breathing slows down, her muscles release, and her facial expressions can show softening. The relaxation of all of those tensities help to increase blood circulation and oxygen throughout the entire body. The mother’s senses of touch, sight, and sound are enhanced as she engages with her baby. The positive stimulus of the senses and the positive hormone shifts can help the woman have improved sleep, less fatigue, more interest in her baby, and less irritability. Both mother and baby reap the benefits of these positive effects.
The use of infant/baby massage can be astoundingly beneficial for the mother and might help to decrease her risk of postpartum depression. So, why is it not recommended for all postpartum mothers by their OB’s, Pediatricians, Occupational and Physical Therapists? Many never hear about infant/baby massage and some are only given a brochure by a healthcare provider. A brochure will often tell the benefits but give no referral or resources for training. As awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders increases there is hope that moms will get access to information about alternative therapies along with traditional treatments.
Society has taught us that unpleasant thoughts and emotions about motherhood or our baby are signs of weakness. We have been taught to act as if learning motherhood and connecting with our babies, while caring for our homes and families comes easily or comes without challenges. We bottle our feelings of inadequacy as a mom for fear of being judged and shamed. These feelings of shame, along with hormonal shifts, new family dynamics, social isolation can cause many to slip into depression quietly and under the radar until it is too late.
We need to give these mothers every tool possible to feel in control of their journey. Accessibility is key. Moms need to be encouraged to speak out and seek counseling. We must empower and embrace the women entering motherhood. Therapies like Infant/ Baby massage should be routinely discussed and women should be provided locations/practitioners who can teach them this technique and art. Our goal as a society should be to equip new mothers with the right resources to navigate motherhood.
Angela Hitchcox is a mother and an RN with 22 years of experience caring for mothers and babies. She has worked the majority of those years in the hospital setting, then in the clinic setting, and now in the private setting. Angela holds a Certification as an Infant/Baby Massage Instructor, teaching and educating parents privately. Recently, she was certified as Birth and Bereavement Doula. You can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Mama Baby Connection on facebook.