Content note: This article shouldn’t be substituted for professional medical and psychological advice.
The day I became a mother for the first time is still so deeply etched in my memory. That intoxicating newborn smell, the feel of his wispy hair on my chin, and those tiny fingernails on petite little hands.
Becoming a mum is amazing, right? Sure, taking your new baby home can be challenging, stressful, confronting and downright exhausting; but it is, still, an incredible and transformative experience.
But how is it for the more than one in seven women who suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety?
As a mama of three, surrounded by women who are getting married and having babies, I’ve had more than a few mum friends who have suffered through postnatal depression (PND). Having walked hand-in-hand with these friends, I know what an incredibly debilitating illness PND can be, and the way it can impact on a mum’s ability to find joy in her new bundle.
This awareness became even more compelling for me when I became qualified in teaching baby massage to parents. As I led courses with first-time mums around Canberra, I’d meet women who’d been diagnosed with PND and would tentatively confide in me the absolute struggle they found in caring for their baby.
What also became clear to me at such times, though, was the way that massage and loving touch positively impacted these women (as well as their babies). The result was invariably transformative. In one case, I met a mother who wasn’t even able to leave the house. We met for private sessions in her home and she told me she felt useless and not especially interested in her newborn baby.
However, over the course of our four weeks together I watched something change within her. She was smiling. At me, yes, but most importantly, at her baby. She was listening to her baby. She was starting to enjoy her baby. I bumped into that same mother about six months later and it was like meeting a new person.
Seeking help from a medical professional is obviously the first and most important step in overcoming PND. Yet baby massage has amazing potential as an alternative intervention that can help you build confidence and find your happy hormones again.
Here’s three meaningful ways I see baby massage making a difference:
1. Improved communication.
PND can make it a lot harder for a mum to communicate effectively with her baby. Sure, babies don’t speak to us using words, but they have their own way of communicating their needs through babbling, body movements and facial expressions. If you’re living with PND it’s possible to miss these cues. Feeling depressed and anxious can mean you’re more distant from your baby, and not as ‘tuned in’ to their needs.
Baby massage provides an opportunity to stop and focus solely on your baby. That time spent touching, chatting and making eye contact helps you learn more about your baby’s non-verbal communication cues and, in turn, allows you to respond more appropriately to their needs.
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2. Increased confidence.
I believe that massage can improve communication between mum and bub – by massaging your baby you can become more tuned in to her needs, and she will then reward you with eye contact, smiling and babbling.
This feeling of closeness and understanding can, in turn, allow you to feel more confident as a mother. This benefit is especially significant for mums suffering from PND where confidence can be at an all-time low. When you nurture that closeness with your baby, those day-to-day tasks become a lot more manageable (maybe even enjoyable!).
3. Increased 'happy' hormones.
Serotonin is often called the ‘happiness hormone’ and regulates mood and prevents depression. I believe that massage increases oxytocin levels in both mum and bub. This is the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone which facilitates bonding and helps you fall more deeply in love with your precious bundle.
Victoria Sylvester is a mother-of-three and Certified Infant Massage Educator with Infant Massage Australia. She is also the owner of Little Bairn, an award-winning range of eco-luxe, ‘certified organic’ skincare products for mum and baby.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postnatal depression, please seek professional help or contact PANDA on 1300 726 306. If yu are in immediate danger, call 000.