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The Incredible Effects of Baby Massage on Postpartum Depression.

Posted on 12 September, 2018 at 13:55

‘Parenthood is like taking a trip on a safari. However, instead of the semi-safe vehicle made of metal and fully equipped with an engine that could speed off in an emergency, you are riding a bicycle. You must power said bicycle with the strength of your own body while you navigate the rocky road because not only are you the guest but you are also the tour guide.’


This safari trip is something that you have been planning and prepping for a long time. You did the research, saved the money, bought the necessary equipment, and planned it out. This might be sounding a little familiar, it’s very similar to prepping for the arrival of a new baby. When getting ready to go on a vacation or experience something new that you have been looking forward to for the longest time, your riding on a high thinking about all of the possibilities, the breaks from the typical day-to-day grind, and quite possibly, the pause in reality.’

And then you get the newsflash: Once the bouncing bundle of joy is here, there are overwhelming possibilities (enough where you have no idea where to start, and everyone seems to be an expert on how to parent your child, except you), every day is new, and reality hits you like a lion attacking their prey.

This type of attack can often leave you with this; postpartum depression (PPD). Two words that weigh heavy on many.

The safari analogy is one I read on a mothering blog a few months ago. It made me laugh, which I love, and I also thought it was the perfect way to describe the journey into parenthood.

Postpartum depression is not an exclusive club for woman who have previously suffered from anxiety or depression. Postpartum depression can affect any woman or man regardless of their mental state prior to introducing a new baby into their home. Not every mother will experience this, and talking about PPD is not to scare you, but to educate you. When it happened to me I didn’t even know it was possible and I wish I had known more about it to help me recognize the symptoms.

Every time I talk about my own experiences with PPD I ALWAYS have people say, but you’re so confident…rationally you would have known that it was just a phase… How long did it last, just a few weeks?...I never thought that would happen to someone like you…

For me, becoming a mother is something that I thought I’d always wanted. When I became pregnant with my son, I was so excited, I counted down the days. I loved being pregnant, and my pregnancy was wonderful. Delivery was very long & tough, but we’ve all got our stories, trust me, now I can hardly remember it. But we were both fine. He didn’t eat well so we stayed in the hospital for a few days. However, when my husband and I got home, of course, there were a few things to do, take him to be registered, pick up some groceries, etc. I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was just us, there was no family or close friends to rely on so everything we did always involved taking our son with us. When we took the city bus to the registration office I felt like I was having a panic attack. I absolutely didn’t want anyone to look at my son, I didn’t even want people to breathe in his general direction. Most people (myself included) LOVE to see a new baby and of course new parents are excited to introduce their child to the world, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe. We were leaving the comfort of our home and it felt so strange. But I was tired right? I’d just spent 5 days in the hospital, I was sore, don’t all moms feel this way? It’s no big deal, I’ll feel better tomorrow. I had never been a mom before, so I had no idea what I should be feeling or thinking but the feelings I was experiencing should have been my first clue.

As the days turned into months, I was realizing that I was feeling so ‘down’ almost every day and although I did leave the house, it filled me with dread and I hated it. I blamed it on our new routine, breastfeeding/pumping, and the lack of sleep. I felt utterly alone. Don’t get me wrong, there were many days that I was happy, but in the many moments that were not like that, I felt like the world was crashing down on me.

Above all, what I really didn’t expect was this feeling of rage. I was so mad. I would be totally fine, and the most insignificant inconvenience would turn my world upside down. I remember taking an hour and a half to feed my son and as soon as we were done and I burped him he threw up every single drop all over the floor and the furniture. So you can see how quickly you can go from an excellent moment to feeling horrendous, now having to clean, now you have a crying hungry baby again, and you have to wait for your milk to fill back up. And really all you want to do is sleep. I felt so angry and defeated, I put my son in his bouncy chair and went into the bathroom to cry.

These types of instances and feelings happened on the regular. After fighting myself over the initial admission there was something wrong, I approached my husband. I was so nervous to tell him. He is great, he is my best friend, but he had married a woman who had it together. Someone smart, capable, confident, who researched everything, I had a colour coded filing system…I was someone who didn’t really need any help. So, telling him that I didn’t feel like that was me anymore was so hard, it was like losing my mask. But, telling him was the best thing I could have done. I also was able to tell him things that set my rage off that I never told him about and then I just silently resented him. When he didn’t even know he was doing anything that bothered me! He listened and that is what I needed. I needed to say it out loud, to admit how I was feeling.

His advice was the perfect one for the situation. Go and talk to your doctor. And so I did. My Doctor was great and so supportive. She went on to explain that PPD strikes, more often than not, soon after the baby arrives. There is a drastic change to the status quo, hormones are running rampant, and you are left to try and figure out what the heck is going on.

It was time to take some steps to help myself. This leads me to some steps I took to tackle my postpartum depression,

1. Realize that something is “not quite right.”

You know you better than anyone else does. Trust yourself.


2. Get some help

Schedule an appointment with your doctor or seek out professional care to help get through this. Talking to others who have experience PPD may also be helpful.


3. Know that you are not alone.

I went online, I read blogs, I read stories, I read about other people’s experiences and it was so helpful. PPD affects as many as 1 in 7 women so you are most definitely not alone. I found it especially helpful with the angry feeling that I kept having. I was like; ‘if I’m depressed why he heck am I so mad all the time?’ I thought it was strange, but I quickly learned that that was very common and definitely a symptom of PPD.


4. Understand you are still a great parent

I felt like I had to be doing everything perfectly all of the time. If I wasn’t, I wasn’t being a good parent. Making homemade baby food, taking him to all the right places, taking all the right photos, recording all the right milestones…It can quickly become overwhelming. You are doing everything for your child; you’re fine, no one is keeping score. Do all those things, or do none of those things. It doesn’t matter.


5. Find something that makes you happy.

This one should seem simple, but sometimes it isn’t. You need to take a moment to reflect on things that brought you joy prior to having a baby. Do those things. Not all at once. What that meant to me it was putting some exercise back in my life and finding something that made me laugh again. I found (by chance) an amazing podcast about movies, NOTHING to do with motherhood, and it reminded me that I still liked things, I was my own person still and not just someone’s mom.


6. Baby Massage

At that time, I also found baby massage which was a game-changer for me.

I was looking for something to do, something to force me out of the house and I was googling things to do in Edinburgh and I came across it. I liked the sound of it, and thought it would be good for us as some of the benefits listed sounded like things I needed. So I signed up. In my first block of sessions my son was quite young, he felt small and fragile, I went very slow, and he loved it. He would smile, and coo and it made me feel so good knowing that I was doing something nice for him and something that he was enjoying.

We had such a great experience with my first block of classes that I did another, and then another. He got bigger every time, as they were spaced out, and he looked forward to it. Not only was I taking him to the classes, I was also doing it with him every day at home. He had a long birth, and as a result he was quite ‘stiff’. He saw a physio therapist, even at such a young age, and I incorporated massage into our stretches and daily routine. It was so good for both of us that I absolutely feel in love with it. I really wanted to train to become a Baby Massage instructor so that I could share it with other moms and try to give them a safe space to come to so they could, talk to other moms, have a cup of tea, eat some chocolate, sit down and know that for an hour, they were going to have a chance to relax and do something positive for themselves and for their little one. My class is just as much for Moms as it is for babies. I try to make things as inviting, relaxed and comfortable as possible to Mom feels like she has had a get-away, even if It’s just a small one.

What’s so great about Baby Massage?

You know how it goes: You put your baby down, she cries. Pick her up and, presto -- she's calm and smiley again. If just holding your baby can be so soothing, imagine how she'll benefit from a full-body massage? In fact, studies have shown that massaging your wee one can reduce crying and fussiness, help her sleep more peacefully, and alleviate common wail-inducers like constipation and colic.

"When you give your baby a massage, you're stimulating his central nervous system," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "That sets off a chain reaction: It makes his brain produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical, and less cortisol, a hormone that's secreted in response to stress. As a result, your baby's heart rate and breathing slow down, and he becomes more relaxed.”

The positive impact of the ‘feel-good’ hormone, oxytocin, is now a key factor in research into the physical, emotional, social and educational benefits of positive touch.

Oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Within 40 seconds of nurturing touch, the hormone is released into the bodies of those giving as well as those receiving gentle touch. So everyone gets the benefit!

More research by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that oxytocin has a positive effect on reducing anxiety and aggression, and promoting relaxation, well-being and attentiveness. Research also shows that it helps with bonding and developing trust and social interaction with others, so it is central to understanding the benefits of Massage.

"Oxytocin has the ability to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the level of stress hormones, increase tolerance of pain, and promote learning and a feeling of calm."

Kerstin Moberg’s The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing. In essence, her research shows that when a mother touches her baby, oxytocin is released in both the mother and the infant. Touch and connection with the infant change the mother’s hormone levels. Oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins are released, and the mother’s body begins to help itself feel better. When she holds or strokes her baby and the baby smiles at her, this gives additional positive feedback to the mother. (2) By guiding mothers to use nurturing touch with their infants, we not only help them to begin feeling better about themselves, but their infants are happier as well.

Furthermore, from a neurological point of view, for your baby, the effects of Baby Massage positively influencing the Heart Rate Variability (Field et al., 2010; Smith et al., 2013), reduces the stress response, leads to a faster maturation of both visual function and brain activity (Guzzetta et al., 2009Guzzetta et al., , 2011)

Not only does it have physical benefits, but giving your infant regular massages is good for his emotional well-being too. Affectionate touch and rhythmic movement are among the most powerful forms of communication between babies and their parents. It will help you learn how to read your baby's signals and respond better to his unique needs, which can give you so much confidence as a new parent. Infant massage encourages early mother–child interactions through the promotion of maternal ability to understand the baby's cues, leading toward a decrease in depressive symptoms (Onozawa et al., 2001; Glover et al., 2002; O'Higgins et al., 2008). This was a big one for me. Baby cries, I mean really cries, and you try it all, feed, change, cuddle, sing, walk, bounce, etc. EVERYTHING. I was repeatedly transferring money into my baby’s bank account - and they are still crying! What do they want? The more time you spend with your little one trying to understand their cues, the easier this becomes. You know what they want (more often than not. I’m not professing to be a baby-mind-reader, I mean, that would be amazing), but for the most part the more time spent close up and monitoring their cues the better you get at knowing what they need and being able to be responsive to it. In massage you essentially look at their faces the whole time, judging subtle changes in their expressions and learning what these mean.

We also do lots of singing in Mellow Baby’s classes and I really encourage it for all parents and caregivers. Did you know that talking to your mother has the same effect as a hug and can help reduce stress levels, as the sound of her voice ALSO release Oxytocin, so with Baby Massage you’re getting it both ways, you get the oxytocin release from the touch as well as the vocal element.

Babies are often in busy rooms full of chaos. But the moment your voice cuts through the noise, flows into their tiny ears, they know it, and they know you. It’s so amazing. They have been listening to you talking for 9 months, they have been next to you for such a long time, they love to be next to you and they love to know that you are always near.

It’s not just some mama-baby magic, it’s actually science.

According to a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a child’s brain has stronger responses when exposed to their mother’s voice versus the voice of a stranger — even if the mother is speaking nonsensical words for even a fraction of a second! Science magic.

Think about moments when your child is upset — you often hold them and comfort them with your body, but do you ever do that without also soothing them with kind words and tones? Your warm arms and voice are usually essential components to calming a distraught child.

Your child’s anatomy isn’t the only element affected by your voice — their emotions are also soothed.

But, it not just the child’s listening skills that light up when exposed to their mama’s tones; parts of the brain connected to emotions, rewards, and facial recognition also perked up their ears, much more so than when exposed to the strangers’ voices.

Researchers found there is a correlation between the children recognizing their mother’s voices so rapidly, and the increased activity in many areas of the brain — specifically the area of the brain linked to rewards. They suggest the brain becomes trained to latch on to the voice of the mother so quickly so it can attempt to get some rewards from her.

“Oh! That was Mom’s voice! Maybe she has some kisses and hugs for me. Or milk. I hope she has milk. Or maybe we can just be close, because I like that as well.’

Babies and Children do not care if your singing voice sounds like a toad being strangled — They want your attention and your voice, so give it to them - it will be yummy honey to their ears, brain, and emotions.

Baby handling can also be a new concept for many parents. You are given this fragile being to take home and told to do your best to keep them alive for the next 18 years…that’s a tough shift! I had no real experience holding, changing or touching an infant before which is another reason why baby massage is so great for helping parents gain more confidence with their baby handling and ensuring you little one is in positions that are safe & comfortable for them.

The theory underlying the importance of Baby massage is to encourage parent-baby interaction and communication. To promote bonding and attachment between parent and child. Touch helps babies thrive, allow mothers to feel connected to their infant, and help mothers work through the many feelings and emotions they are dealing with.

I urge everyone to explore the amazing benefits of Baby Massage with their own family. It can really help to keep your mental health, and then mental health of your baby on track.

You got this Momma!

Categories: Baby Massage, Mom Life

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