An increasing amount of scientific evidence has shown that when a new mother experiences postnatal depression, the infant feels it on both psychological and physiological levels, and the developing relationship between them suffers as a result.
The therapeutic nature of massage can help a depressed new mother bond with her new born, as well as help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the depression itself, leaving her to finally enjoy her baby.
New mothers suffering from postnatal depression may benefit from the many different forms of massage, including remedial, Swedish or deep tissue massage.
Scientific studies have proven massages’ beneficial effects when carried out on new mothers suffering with PND. Massage treats the depression by physically stimulating the nerve receptors of the nervous system. This in turn causes a release in chemicals into the body, such as the mood-lifting neurotransmitters serotonin or dopamine into the body, that both naturally increases feelings of happiness and well being in the mother. Other internal chemicals associated with stress, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are also reduced with massage.
A mother suffering with PND also experiences a shift in brain activity with massage. Massage encourages increase in alpha brain waves known for their relaxing, calming qualities.
The practice of infant massage employs the use of very gentle stroking and touching only. It allows the mother to bond with their child, improving mother-child interaction and consequently the relationship between them.
Recent scientific research has shown that the psychological and physiological affects of PND may be relieved in both the mother and infant in infant massage. The studies suggest that some stressors for mothers themselves may also be reduced, consequently also leading to an improved quality in the relationship. How this works is not yet clear to, but it has been associated with a release of oxytocin by the mother, and a through the mothers’ greater understanding of their babies' cues.
Science has also shown the benefits of massaging an infant far outweighs the traditional technique of ‘rocking’. In comparison, infant massage was shown to encourage healthier sleep patterns and more positive behaviors in the infant, which also lead to a reduced anxiety levels in the depressed mother.
Other benefits of infant massage to mothers suffering of PND and their infants include:
- A calming bonding experience between both mother and infant, enhanced by the release of certain endorphins and oxytocin in the massage.
- Increased infant self-awareness.
- Relief of physical and emotional stress in the infant’s body.
- Support of the maturation of the baby’s nervous system, in turn assisting their brain/body communication.
- Assistance to the baby’s blood and lymph circulation, encouraging a stronger immune system and generating feelings of well-being in the infant.
- Encouragement of healthy, more peaceful sleep patterns in the infant.
- Reassurance to the infant, ensuring they know that they are loved, cherished and cared for.