Massage Therapy for the Postpartum period.
Many cultures have been integrating massage therapy in the antenatal and postpartum stages of a woman’s life for hundreds of years. Western societies are beginning to catch up as research is proving the many benefits massage can provide to a woman during this time. Massage when pregnant allows a woman to turn inward, focus and care for herself and ultimately prepare her mind and her body for the journey ahead. However, once a child is born, focus shifts from the mother to the infant. Yet this often when women are often at their most vulnerable and diseases such as Postnatal Depression are not uncommon.
Postnatal Depression (PND) can be a devastating illness that not only affects the mother, but everyone around her including her infant, partner, other children and extended family. The effects of PND can be moderate or severe and the symptoms can appear immediately or gradually over the weeks and months during that first year. There are many biological, psychological and social factors all playing some part in the manifestation of the disease and each woman will suffer at differing levels of intensity with differing symptoms.
The Postnatal and Antenatal Depression Association Inc (PANDA) advises it’s important for women to be able to recognize the signs of PND and lists some of the symptoms on their website:
- Sleep disturbance unrelated to baby’s sleep needs
- Appetite disturbance
- Crying or not being able to cry
- Inability to cope
- Negative, morbid or obsessive thoughts
- Fear of being alone or fear of being with others
- Memory difficulties and loss of concentration
- Feeling guilty and inadequate
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Thoughts of harm to self, baby or suicide
Some women sum it all up by saying “There is no joy in anything any more”, and “I feel like I have lost myself”
Extending beyond the woman is the effect that a depressed mother can have on the development of her infant. Many studies are finding that the infants of depressed mothers have an increase in negative affect, less empathetic response, less motor tone and activity, more irritability and less robustness and endurance.
Even a mother’s perception of her child can be altered if she is in a depressed state
Although massage is currently heralded by society during pregnancy, little emphasis is placed on the continuation of care through the postpartum period. Therapists should be actively encouraging their pregnant clients to maintain this vital element in her self care routine. That she continues to nourish and nurture her body through massage and cherish herself once the baby is born.
A woman who continues her massage therapy through the postpartum period is at less risk of developing PND. Those who do develop PND will benefit greatly from massage and it’s ability to reduce the symptoms of the disease. Working with her team of health professionals and carers the massage therapist is able to provide invaluable support at a time when she needs it the most. Massage aimed at activating of the parasympathetic nervous system will promote sleep, reduce the stress hormone cortisol and increase serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters that help reduce depression)
On top of all this, massage allows a woman some time to herself away from the demands of her family to focus inwardly.
Interestingly, some of the most delightful research has come from the studies linking infant massage to mothers with PND. When a mother performs massage to her infant, she both defeats the depression in herself and combats its effects on the baby. The development of the infant is enhanced and mother child bonding is increased. The positive affect displayed by the infant, improved sleep and release of oxytocin (the love hormone) can help the mother come to see her baby and her role as a mother in a new and more positive light. It can take time, but such positive feedback encourages continued cycles of interaction between mother and child
Those who are suffering from postnatal depression often require a lot of support and as a massage therapist you can be an invaluable part of her support network. The positive role massage can play in the health of a new mother, her baby and ultimately her whole family is heartwarming and inspiring to the therapist.
Flourish Massage Therapists, Sarah Harris and Michelle Masterson have special interests in working with women during pregnancy and in the post partum period.
2 Abrams, S.M., Field, T., Scafidi, F. & Prodromidis, M. (1995). Newborns of depressed mothers. Infant Mental Health Journal, 16, 233-239
3 Jones, N., Field, T., Fox, N.A., Lundy, B., & Davalos, M. (1997). EEG activation in one-month-old infants of depressed mothers. Development & Psychopathology, 9, 491-505
4 Field, T., Morrow, C. & Adlestein, D. (1993). Depressed mothers’ perceptions of infant behavior. Infant Behavior and Development, 16, 99-108.