Infant Mental Health Week – Attachment

As Infant Mental Health week draws to a close, we take a look at how baby massage can not only strengthen and support your bond with your baby, but the affect this has on a baby’s mental health.So many parents attend the classes not because of a particular physical ailment or issue, but merely to have some time out from busy day to day lives in order to bond with their baby.

Baby massage and the class environment; comfortable, relaxed and informal, enables you as a parent to focus on your baby and learning a new skill, whilst your baby has 1:1 attention and a positive physical and emotional experience from their primary caregiver.

As we have discussed before, baby massage has countless physical benefits for your baby, but the emotional and mental benefits massage can have on both the parent and baby are often over-looked.

I have worked with many parents, particularly mothers over the years, who arrive at one of my classes and feel bad for confessing that they are struggling to bond with their baby; for various reasons, post-natal depression being one of the most common.

Often the baby’s behaviour reflects this and they start the classes, unsettled and reluctant to be massaged for the duration of the class.

However, after developing the routine of the classes and having that un-hurried 1:1 time together bonding through nurturing touch, the difference in both parent and baby is phenomenal and not to be over-looked.

Maternal mental health is ever prevalent in the media and society as a whole at the moment and we are now hearing more and more about the mental health of our children and the effects this has on them throughout their early infancy and childhood.

Establishing that strong parental bond in the early stages is essential to not only protecting and promoting the mental health of your baby but also to supporting parental mental health too.

‘Attachment Theory’ has been documented consistently over the years and we are now all too aware of the detrimental effects on children’s mental and emotional well-being if they are unable to form at least one strong and consistent attachment in their first year.

We understand that for some parents, the parental bond is not always an instant process and can take some time, but things like baby massage classes can only work with you to support and develop that bond in an un-hurried and non-judgemental environment.

Baby massage is just as much for you and your feelings and mental state as it is for your baby so why not allow yourself time out of your busy lives to set aside a few hours each week to really focus on and bond with your baby, whilst learning a new skill and meeting new people.

We all know that parenthood can be an isolating place and these types of classes are the perfect starting point for meeting other like-minded parents, as well as being a brilliant socialising opportunity for your baby too.

With so much focus on mental health both for parent and baby, let’s work together to take as many small steps as we can to support ourselves and our infant’s mental health by allowing you both time to breathe and bond in a calm and relaxed environment.

 

Baby Massage Class; What Can I Expect?

Attending any class or group as a new parent is a daunting and nerve-wracking experience for some, particularly when you don’t know what to expect.

Here, I’ll set the scene for what you can expect from your first (and following) baby massage classes.

And remember……. Everyone is in the same boat!

Baby Massage classes are all about you and your baby and the instructor should do all they can to make each and every parent and baby feel as comfortable and at ease as possible.

  • You’ll arrive at the venue and be signposted/directed to the relevant room where your class will be held.
  • The instructor will be waiting for you and the room will be set up, ready for your arrival and the start of the class.
  • The temperature in the room should be warm, at all times of year, to enable you to undress your baby for the massage.

 

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The class should be designed and delivered in a relaxed and friendly manner, allowing you and your baby to feel completely comfortable and relaxed. Please don’t worry if your baby cries, needs a nappy change/feed or even falls asleep! This is totally normal! And remember, the instructor has seen all of this before! Just do what you need to do to settle/tend to your baby, even if this means leaving the room – there is no pressure or expectations.

  • Depending on when you arrive, you should have some time before the class to chat with the instructor and other parents – this is a great time to introduce yourself (although there will be time for this at the beginning of the class!) and get accustomed to new surroundings.
  • Once everyone has arrived (Again, please don’t worry if you are running late or arrive once the class has started! This is not school! Just come in and get yourself comfortable!) the instructor will introduce themselves, the class and the strokes you will be working on in the session.
  • All strokes are provided in your information pack and so you can either follow from this or watch the instructor perform them on her doll. If your child is asleep, dolls are available for you to practice on.
  • We will work through the massages slowly, ensuring your babies are comfortable and happy and allowing you some quiet, comfortable bonding time with your baby through the massages – after all, this is what these classes are all about!
  • As we work on the massages and work through techniques, feel free to chat to each other or ask questions, we want you to get the most out of these classes as you possibly can!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for support throughout the session – the instructor is here to support you!
  • The class generally comes to a natural end as we complete the strokes for that session, but there is no rush to leave! Feel free to stay and chat, to each other, as a group, to the instructor or ask to speak to the instructor privately if you wish.

 

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These are your classes and you should be able to use them and gain advice, confidence and support as you wish throughout your course.

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The Ancient Art of Baby Massage

 

In previous blogs we’ve looked at the impact, effects and benefits of baby massage but where did Baby Massage originate from? How did it start and how did it develop? In this blog we will take a deeper look into this and explore the ancient art of baby massage and how it has developed over the years.

In some cultures, there is evidence to suggest that the practice of baby massage is over 300 years old and has been passed down through the generations. In many parts of the world baby massage is a daily part of the care routine until the baby has learned to walk.

Vimala Mclure was the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage, it was during her work in a small orphanage in India that she became aware of the importance of traditional indian massage for it’s soothing effects.

Traditionally, an Indian mother regularly massages everyone in the family and this is a skill that is passed onto the daughters of the family.

At the orphanage, babies were massaged almost every day, Vimala had not seen this type of nurturing interaction in the US.

Vimala decided to combine her practical experiences at the orphanage, yoga and reflexology principles into a simple routine  – through this the International Association. of Infant Massage was born.

She designed a special approach for babies with symptoms of colic and developed the ‘Touc Relaxation’ technique.

The same baby massage programme is now taught in over 60 different countries around the world and the basic IAIM principles encompass working together to support parents through creating a nurturing environment for both parent and child, this is why parents and babies are at the forefront of what IAIM represents.

Baby Massage – The Emotional Benefits

In the last post we look at the physical benefits of Baby Massage, this week we will be taking a deeper look into the emotional benefits that baby massage holds for both babies and parents.

The whole baby massage process is an emotional journey for both parent and baby, and a deeply beneficial one for all involved.

Baby massage has the power to support the overall bonding process between parent and baby whilst also promoting the child’s emotional intelligence as we explore receptors and feelings.

Massage offers a wonderful experience and a special time to communicate both verbally and non-verbally with babies, so that they feel loved, valued and respected. Long before babies are able to speak, they communicate with the world around them through touch and we naturally communicate the same way with them. If a baby cries, for example, we often cuddle them or stroke their back. Massaging your baby is an extension of the instinctive natural impulse to use touch to soothe, heal & communicate and enables your baby to develop an understanding that their needs will be met.

Similarly, baby massage supports and develops secure attachments between the baby and primary caregiver as well as reducing crying and emotional distress due to the hormones that are released when the baby becomes relaxed during their massage. These strokes and techniques increase the babies levels of relaxation which contributes the aiding longer and more natural sleep patterns.

The emotional benefits of baby massage are not just limited to your baby, there are also significant emotional benefits for you as a parent too. Baby massage enables you to feel closer to your baby whilst also gaining a deeper understanding of your baby, their needs, cries and body language. Not only will you benefit greatly from the calming one-to-one time with your baby but many parents of baby massage classes say they felt empowered and the courses increased their confidence in their ability to care for and nurture your baby.

 

 

Baby Massage – The Physical Benefits

As discussed in previous posts, baby massage classes not only have incredible mental benefits for both parents and babies as well as aiding the bonding and emotional intelligence of your parental bond, but baby massage and the strokes and massages you will learn over the period of the course, also has incredible physical benefits for your baby and can support in dealing with and overcoming a variety of common ailments and illnesses in young babies.

Each week of the course we focus on massaging different areas of the body, which have corresponding health benefits for your baby. Similar to the effects of reflexology, each area we focus on aids and supports healthy growth and development in this particular area as well as supporting your babies learning and development.

For example, when we focus on massaging the tummy/abdomen area; parents commonly  report a noticeable difference in their babies digestive processes, particularly those who have struggled with constipation and colic in their baby previously. Learning and developing these skills relaxes our babies body, which results in their bodies becoming more responsive to these new strokes and massages which in turn stimulate the body’s natural movements and in turn begin to work with and process the ailment they have been struggling with.

For you as a parent, not only do these new skills provide you with a new means of bonding with your baby, but also enables you to feel more empowered in supporting your baby through these difficult times where you otherwise may struggle to ease their pain – so many parents have reported that as their child’s symptoms began to subside, so did their anxiety surrounding their babies illness/ailments.

One of the biggest physical benefits that so many parents report as a result of the classes and continuing to use and develop the massages at home is the improvement in baby’s sleeping routines. As we mentioned above, the massages and strokes allow the baby to relax not only their body but their minds too, which naturally aids sleep as well as the emotional responses this bonding stimulates in the babies brain which also contributes to the overall responsiveness to sleep and ‘down time’ which is supported by the massage.

Massaging each area of the baby’s body holds physical benefits for them. Let’s take a closer look at each area; Massaging around the jawline, ears and along to the chin can help relax this area which can be prone to grinding and clamping shut leading to headaches and jaw ache as well as easing teething pains.

By massaging the hands, this helps with the development of movement of the wrist, hand, fingers, and the child’s overall dexterity. There are Pressure points near the wrist, that when massaged can help with and relieve anxiety.  Hand massages also support flexibility of the fingers, in addition to the cognitive benefits of building brain trails for developing finger movements.
Massaging the face relaxes the eyes and supports the corrugater muscles (small muscles close to the eyes) relax on the forehead. Similarly, massaging around the lips, promotes smile movements and expressions and in turn helps with brain training and helping babies locate where they smile and the physical and cognitive feelings associated with these expressions.
Baby massage classes are only the beginning in terms of developing the agility of many muscles and joints and it is ideal to keep exercising gentle movements with your baby after your classes end to ensure the fluidity of their muscles and joints grow with them. Activities like baby yoga, helps with movements for crawling and walking, in addition to stretching the muscles of the back, rotation of the shoulders, hips, arms, hands which overall contribute to long-term physical fluidity in a child’s gross and fine motor movements and skills.

Maternal Mental Health

Whilst having a baby is a wonderful and exciting time, it can also be a daunting and scary time too, resulting in a knock-on effect on the mental health of so many parents. ‘Maternal Mental Health Week’ aims to raise the profile of maternal mental health issues, offer support and ultimately let you know, you are not alone.

Baby Massage classes can support parents in not just supporting their babies development and developing a bond but also whilst benefiting the mental health of parents too.

As well as being a fun and relaxing skill to acquire, baby massage can help enormously with a range of physical and emotional issues that may be experienced by young babies and/or their parents/carers.

From developing the parent-child bond in those who have had a difficult pregnancy, a traumatic birth or are suffering from post-natal depression, to helping ease common newborn conditions such as colic and constipation,
I have experienced massage changing an unsettled baby to a happy content one, with the added benefit of a much needed confidence boost for their parents.

Baby massage can help with so many things that every parent struggles with. I hope to create a calm, relaxed non-judgemental atmosphere within the group to promote relaxation and confidence building. Everyone who books on to the course worries about their baby crying and upsetting the other babies but i always tell them very early on that every baby in the room will cry, wee, poo and be sick, most of the babies attending the course will be struggling with reflux, colic, wind, constipation and much more- that’s why they are there. I explain that the room is theirs to do with whatever they feel comfortable doing.

I have very young teenage parents who are struggling with coping for a newborn and much older parents who have had successful careers struggling with exactly the same things. It’s very powerful to watch these parents bond together, learning at the same time to cope with another life so dependent on them. I have many parents with additional needs that need time and extra explanation of the massage strokes but when they realise that have perfected it and can see their own babies relax and respond to them it is incredibly moving.
Many parents have lost babies or been very poorly themselves or their babies have had to have fought for their lives to be here. I allow these parents time to talk openly and frankly about their experiences and sometimes it is the first time they have allowed themselves to do that. It is incredibly powerful, humbling and heartbreaking to hear their stories but it then allows them time to work through their emotions and feelings to promote healing and strength. I always signpost those to the midwife counselling service at the hospital or liaise with their workers if I feel they need extra help with that.

Baby massage is SO much more than massaging your baby. It is about bonding and forming a golden thread that will run between you both for the rest of your life, it’s about picking up on your babies cues and learning about each other’s needs. It’s about creating an environment that is relaxed and calm, close and about the basic human need  of love and nurturing touch.