I came across the modality of infant massage after beginning my studies in Ayurveda (ancient practice of healthcare, typically referred to as ‘Indian medicine’ but upon translation from Sanskrit means ‘the science of life’).
In Ayurveda, the practice of self-massage called Abhyanga, forms an important treatment for balancing the body; but especially important for a woman during her pregnancy and post-birth.
After delivering a baby, the body has an aggravation or imbalance to her Vata dosha body system; pertaining to excess air and space from the very act of birthing this beautiful baby into the world.
According to Ayurveda, this excess in the air and space elements gives rise to certain symptoms of excessive movement and activity, especially within the nervous system. This then produces symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression…hello post-natal depression?!
From an Ayurvedic perspective, by adding warmth, oiliness/oleation and smoothness from the oil used (typically warmed cold-pressed sesame oil, however there are several Ayurvedic preparations available), it works to pacify this imbalance by bringing the opposite aspects of the earth and fire elements.
Bringing these qualities works to nourish…rejuvenate and pacify this excess movement and can help this woman reduce her symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and depression that ensues.
Typically, the first 40 days after birth are the most sacred, or focussed on this rebalancing of the system. However, the practice of self-massage is an important part of recommendations of daily practices for all people experiencing the effects of this Vata dosha imbalance; so forms an important part of a daily routine from an Ayurvedic perspective.
I absolutely loved this rationale and it felt so incredibly nourishing and beautiful! It felt like an understanding of the huge change that our bodies endure after growing and then birthing our babies, that feel so divinely feminine in holding our women in a very sacred space and to ‘rebuild’ her system from an elemental and very basic foundation again.
It illustrates that beautiful tribal hold that a woman requires from her ‘village’ to support her in this journey from maiden to matrescence…in such an organic and nourishing way!
So, I absolutely revelled in supporting this practice to help mothers with post-natal depression; in order to support her nervous system and to bring about calm and relaxation to her stretched system…so I wanted to know and devour more!
I then stumbled across Infant Massage Information Service (IMIS) based in Sydney when I finally moved back home. I went on to gain qualifications as a PMC (Paediatric Massage Consultant) and a CIMI (Certified Infant Massage Instructor) as I wanted to gather as many tools as I could to help mothers get through their PND journey with as much lightness and ease as possible.
I wanted to make this my life’s mission…
What I learned from this beautiful modality of infant massage; is that it brings so many healing aspects that are so relevant to mothers with post-natal depression that I want to shout it from the rooftops!!
I thought, that if massage can support the woman’s healing…then surely touch between a mother and her baby would be so healing too!
And what I learned…was just that.
The benefits that infant massage can bring to both the mother and baby…are undeniable.
So, what exactly are the benefits?
What I learned from the Infant Massage Information Service (IMIS) is that it can do the following;
+ It can enhance bonding and attachment for both mother and baby (SO CRUCIAL in PND! Actually, one of the most unspoken symptoms of PND, that this is a vital tool!)
+ It can increase the neurotransmitters Serotonin and Dopamine for both mother and baby; which can enhance mood, reduce anxiety and can help sleep (so important in the biochemical warfare that happens in post-natal depression as a result of changes in hormones…so this is a very important effect)
+ It can increase Oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ for both mother and baby (hello connection and ‘feel good’ emotions; again so critical in this cruel dis-connection that occurs from the barrage of hormones and biochemistry of PND)
+ It can reduce Cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ for both mother and baby (reducing the ‘fight-or-flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system; which can assist in sleep and reduced aggravation and anxiety)
+ It can strengthen the immune system of the baby and reduce crying
+ It can increase weight gain for low birth weight babies (this can reduce the stress that ensues from low birth weight and being labelled ‘failure to thrive’…one of the many things that caused anxiety in my breastfeeding journey)
+ It can act as a pain reliever by ‘enhancing endorphins’ which can be helpful for colic, teething and wind
+ It can enhance the vagal nerve activity, which is the biggest nerve in the gut-brain axis. This can positively affect the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems (the vagal nerve is connected with the production of GABA which is the inhibitory neurotransmitter associated with anxiety, so this is a very promising effect)
+ It can enhance the confidence and self-esteem for the mother that they are able to provide comfort (again, how good is this?!
When mothers are feeling low and inept, anything that will enhance any confidence is so beneficial and important to provide some respite with postnatal depression)
For me, learning this modality makes me want to scream from the rooftops as to how many benefits massaging your baby can bring when you are feeling down and out from PND.
I remember I did the bare-minimum and was stuck festering and ruminating on how terrible I felt in my silent and closed room…had I participated in massaging my babies, my connection and biochemistry may have returned to equilibrium sooner or at least allow subtle healing and less pain for my entire household.
It is a simple, yet beautifully connective piece in the puzzle of supporting women and their children with post-natal depression; something that I am so passionate about sharing to the world at large!