Baby Massage aims to help parents understand their baby’s behaviour and respond to their baby’s needs using touch. In every session it is important to stress the following points; The parent is doing the best they can to help their baby. Young babies often suffer from periods of fretfulness and behaviour usually improves from 12 weeks onwards. Babies love simple things and are creatures of instinct. They associate the womb with relaxation, comfort and safety and therefore recreating “womb-like” conditions can be an effective way to soothe baby. Traditional style slings can offer parents a way to provide baby with all of the security they need with skin contact, movement, and warmth and comfort whilst enabling the parent to do the things they need to do during the day. They can be very useful for fretful babies as they mimic the womb effectively. Parents are facing more and more sophisticated demands in modern society and we can lose sight of the fact that babies are infant mammals wanting to be carried and cling to their carer in infancy. In western culture, there is a tendency to provide a secure “nest” for baby on a play mat or cot and for the parent to then go about daily chores or activities. The baby mammal instinctively does not understand this experience. Babies are generally more settled when close to their carer. In my experience, holding babies does not make clingy children but instead creates well bonded, secure and independent children who feel able to explore the world knowing they have a strong attachment with their parent or carer.
Despite possible low points when dealing with a colicky baby, parents can always focus on the happiness a baby can bring too.
Postnatal depression – Coping with a newborn baby can be difficult especially if it is unsettled. Parents may feel helpless, powerless or unable to cope. These feelings can lead to negativity and/or depression. There is greater recognition of postnatal depression now which affects many women after birth. The website www.mama.co.uk offers support and advice for women who may feel they are finding it difficult to cope.
The following information is downloadable from their website and is useful to give to clients with information on Mama. Postnatal Depression (taken from www.mama.co.uk) Although postnatal depression (PND) commonly follows on from the blues it can also start some time later, usually within the first postnatal year. A period of intense elation can sometimes come before the onset of PND. Causes It is not known for certain what causes PND, but it seems likely that in some cases it is the sudden change in hormones after the birth which may be the trigger.
Research has shown that there are a number of things that may make some women more vulnerable to developing PND. These include: a previous or family history of depression lack of social support no one in whom the mother can confide a poor relationship with her own mother or partner major life events in the 12 months before the birth (for example, bereavement, moving house, unemployment) social circumstances (for example, poor housing, financial worries) a traumatic birth experience (research has shown that the way the mother feels about her birth experience is more important than what actually happened) unrealistic expectations
Symptoms – The symptoms of PND are many and varied and are experienced in different combinations by different women, or even at different times during the course of the illness. The following list is not exhaustive but includes the most common symptoms.
Anxiety – The mother may be in a state of intense anxiety, obsessed with often quite unreasonable fears about the health of the baby or herself or partner. She may only feel safe if someone is with her at all times. Panic Attacks The mother with PND may be experiencing panic attacks; her heart may beat faster, her palms may sweat and she may feel sick. She may even feel as if she is going to faint. These attacks can strike at any time, although commonly in stressful situations, like shopping or travelling by bus or train, and especially if the baby starts to cry. The mother may subsequently start to feel the symptoms of a panic attack if she is faced with this situation again and can then become afraid to go out in an attempt to avoid another panic attack.
Tension and irritability – The mother may feel tense, her neck tight, her body hunched; she is unable to unwind and relax. She can be very snappy. The slightest thing can cause her to shout at the children, rant and rave at her partner.
Depression – Depressive symptoms can vary in severity from a low, sad feeling to feelings of intense, almost paralysing despair. She may experience a feeling of being in a long dark tunnel with no way out. She may talk of feeling numb, empty and generally lethargic. She will have no interest in outside activities. Her thoughts will be negative, focusing on her failures.
Exhaustion – She may feel constantly tired and drained of energy; unable to cope with household chores, uninterested in her own appearance or surroundings. In spite of this exhaustion, she may have difficulty sleeping; either finding it difficult to get to sleep or waking early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep again.
Lack of concentration – inability to make decisions Depressed mothers frequently feel confused. They are unable to concentrate on reading, watching television or even conversation. Making the simplest decisions, like what to wear, seems impossible and she may spend a lot of time making lists in an attempt to get organised.
Rejection of baby/partner – Some mothers blame their partner or the baby for the way they are feeling. They may also feel detached from the baby/partner and may feel that everyone would be better off if the baby/partner were to leave her. The lack of feeling towards her baby/partner can cause a mother intense distress.
Inappropriate/obsessional thoughts – Some mothers can feel quite convinced that they are going mad. These thoughts can be frightening and the mother may be afraid to tell anyone about them; particularly if they involve harming the baby. She could feel guilty and may worry that her baby will be taken away if she confides these thoughts to anyone. If at all possible, it is best if the mother is not left alone with the baby as these thoughts are always worse if the mother is alone.
Loss of libido – Most mothers find that it takes some time for their libido to return after having a baby. For a mother suffering from PND, the last thing on her mind is her sex life. Unfortunately, this can place tremendous strain on a relationship. She will feel the need to be loved and wanted but may be worried about being hurt or becoming pregnant again. She may also feel exhausted, and the need for sleep is of paramount importance. Her partner may be feeling upset and bewildered. He is trying to show that he still loves her and wants her but is unable to get it right and so the vicious circle of rejection and resentment can start.
Physical symptoms – A mother may be experiencing physical symptoms as well as depressive symptoms which will add to her distress. These can include, sleep and appetite disturbances, lethargy, headaches, blurred vision and stomach pains. These can all be signs of tension, the body’s way of saying that something is wrong and that help is needed. However, they can cause considerable anxiety and many mothers become convinced that there is something more seriously wrong.
The first and most important step on the road to recovery is for both the mother and her family to accept that she is ill. The second step is understanding that the more help the mother receives and the sooner she gets this help, the quicker she will recover. A mother needs to consult her GP as soon as possible and it can be helpful if someone accompanies her to ensure that she describes her symptoms fully and is taken seriously by the GP. She will need constant reassurance that she will get better, that she is not going mad and that the illness is not her fault. The mother and her family will need to be patient as it may be a considerable time before she is completely better. A mother suffering from PND may be offered one or a combination of a number of different treatments. These include:
Anti-depressants – There are a wide variety of these drugs available now. They are not addictive and there should not be fears over their long term use. GP’s will choose the one which they believe will work best for individual women. The choice of anti-depressants will also be influenced by whether or not the mother wishes to breastfeed. Not all anti-depressants suit everyone, however, and it can be a matter of trial and error to find the one which suits a mother best. Improvement is generally very gradual and there can be unpleasant side-effects that can make the mother feel worse initially. It is important that the mother persists with them, even if they don’t seem to be working, and that she consult her GP if the side effects are particularly troublesome. Once she has begun to improve there can be a temptation to stop the medication. This should not be done too soon or too quickly or she may get worse again. The minimum length of time she should be on the medication is usually 4 – 6 months. When the GP and the mother agree that she is well enough, she should reduce the medication gradually. This will give her the chance to adjust to coping without the drug and will also allow her to increase the dose if there is a recurrence of symptoms.
Tranquillisers – Unlike anti-depressants, the minor tranquillisers (including Valium, Librium, Ativan) are potentially addictive and are therefore not suitable for long term use. They can, however, be extremely useful for short term treatment of severe anxiety, and if a mother with PND is very anxious and not sleeping, her GP may put her on tranquillisers for a few weeks.
Lithium – Sometimes women who suffer from PND experience severe mood swings and they may be prescribed Lithium. It is a mood stabiliser but is a fairly toxic drug and the mother will not be able to breastfeed while taking it.
Psychotherapy or counselling – PND can develop into a vicious spiral in which the mother becomes trapped into a pattern of negative thinking, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and guilt. “Talking therapies” like psychotherapy or counselling can help the mother to get things back into perspective and to find ways of tackling her situation and getting back in control of her life again. A mother’s GP should be able to arrange for her to see a community psychiatric nurse, psychiatrist or counsellor.
ECT – Occasionally, if the depression becomes particularly severe, does not respond to other treatments or the mother feels suicidal, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) may be suggested. The idea of ECT is very frightening to most people, but it can be extremely effective and can shorten the course of the illness quite considerably. The advantages and disadvantages should be fully considered and discussed with medical professionals before a decision is made whether or not to proceed.
Hormone supplements – The use of hormones (progesterone or oestrogen) as a treatment for PND is still unproven and fairly controversial. There is little scientific evidence to suggest that progesterone suppositories are effective as a treatment for PND, although they do seem to reduce pre-menstrual worsening of symptoms in some women. The use of Oestrogen patches is quite recent but there is evidence to suggest that this may be an effective treatment for some women. Research is currently being undertaken to establish the efficacy of hormonal treatments.
Stress management or relaxation classes – Mothers suffering from PND often need to learn how to relax again and cope with the stresses of motherhood. One of the best ways to achieve this is to attend a relaxation class. There are also a number of good relaxation tapes available. Alternative therapies Many women are reluctant to take drugs and there is a wide range of alternative therapies which they can try, such as, homoeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, iridology, crystal therapy, and herbal remedies. Individual reactions to these therapies vary, but it is important that the mother’s GP is consulted, and that a recognised and properly qualified practitioner is used. Self Help There are a number of things that a depressed mother can do to help herself.
Diet – Often a mother suffering from PND will lose her appetite or will simply not have the time or inclination to eat properly. It is however very important for her to eat a proper diet, particularly regular small amounts of starchy high-fibre food. A long interval without food (more than 3 hours) or bingeing on sugary foods can lead to a drop in blood sugar levels. This can make the mother feel shaky and faint and can be enough to trigger a full-blown panic attack if she is already feeling anxious.
Exercise – Regular exercise can be enormously beneficial. It stimulates the release of the body’s natural painkillers, the endorphins, which give a general feeling of well-being. It also helps to tire the mother out physically, which in turn will help her to relax and sleep better, and the general trimming and firming up of her figure will boost her self-esteem. She should, however, be careful not to overdo exercise or she risks exhausting herself.
Rest/relaxation – New mothers often feel guilty about resting and wanting time to themselves. They tend to use the time when the baby is asleep to try and catch up with housework and risk ending up tired, frustrated and resentful. A mother who is able to take some time for her own needs will feel less guilty, less stressed and more able to cope.
Avoiding stress – Potentially stressful situations, such as long car journeys, should be avoided as much as possible until the mother feels more able to cope. Major upheavals like moving house and making major decisions should definitely be postponed. Support groups Motherhood can be a very isolating experience. The new mother may feel cut off from her old friends and work colleagues and may lack the confidence to make new friends. This isolation can make PND very much worse. Joining a support group can help by putting her in touch with other mothers who will understand what she is going through and will be able to offer her support and encouragement.
How can MAMA help?
MAMA aims to offer the kind of support that both mothers and their families need, through information, groups, one-to-one contacts and a national telephone helpline. Information For details of our information leaflets and booklets please contact the MAMA National Office at Waterside Centre, 26 Avenue Road, South Norwood, London, SE25 4DX, or ring 020 8771 5595.
MAMA Groups -Local MAMA groups offer a wide range of services according to the needs of the mothers. These can include regular coffee meetings, talks and discussions, evening meetings and babysitting circles. Not all members will have suffered from PNI but many will have experienced the loneliness, isolation and stresses of motherhood. Many mothers suffering from PNI will find it too daunting to attend group meetings at first, but as they recover, the group can be a non-threatening and supportive way of getting back to normal. Details of local groups are available from the MAMA National Office. One-to-one Contacts- MAMA has a list of contacts and volunteer supporters, mothers who have suffered from PNI and are willing to offer ongoing support to women who are going through the illness. Our supporters adhere to strict guidelines and are given the opportunity to attend workshops to improve their knowledge of PNI and their listening skills.
National Helpline -The MAMA PNI Helpline offers telephone support for sufferers of PNI and their families. Contacting the Helpline couldn’t be easier. A referral is not needed, just ring 020 8768 0123 between 7pm and 10pm weekdays and one of our trained volunteers will be at the end of the line. The MAMA PNI Helpline is funded by the National Lottery Charities Board
Where else can help be found? Association for Postnatal Illness (APNI) 25 Jerdan Place, Fulham, London, SW6 1BE. Tel: 020 7386 0868. Mothers are given telephone and ongoing support by women who have suffered from PNI and recovered.
National Childbirth Trust Alexandra House, Oldham Terrace, Acton, London, W3 6NH. Tel; 020 8992 8637. Offers services locally in the ante and postnatal periods. Cry-sis London, WC1N 3XX. Tel: 020 7404 5011.
A self-help group for parents of crying and/or sleepless babies and young children. A national network of volunteers take telephone calls from parents who want help, advice or reassurance. Parentline Endway House, The Endway, Hadleigh, Essex, SS7 2AN. Tel: 01702 559900. Help and advice from trained volunteers for parents under stress.
Blossom & Berry’s mission is to grow babies with love, touch, responsive care and positive interaction. We create nurturing experiences for parents and babies to deepen connection and confidence. We focus on touch as a way to support infant and maternal mental health as we believe this is the foundation for health and happiness. Blossom & Berry was born out of love!
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About Blossom & Berry
Blossom & Berry offers expert training, support & resources on baby massage, yoga and parent and baby wellness for professionals & parents across the world.
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