There are things I wish I had known before I had my first baby. Like how to hold a baby for example, that would’ve been useful; and that breastfeeding is really difficult, and that there will be some days when it feels like all you’ve achieved is getting out of bed and making it to the lounge to feed your new tiny human. But of everything I have learned since, knowing how to reconnect to my baby after those early days when postnatal depression (PND) left me in a fog of anxiety and loneliness, has probably been the most valuable to me.

I became pregnant fairly soon after returning from our honeymoon in 2010. That was great because I was 34 and wanted to get the factory into production asap. I got my wish and you’d think I would’ve been jumping for joy. I thought I would be too, but funnily enough I wasn’t. It is not that I was disappointed I was pregnant, that’s not it at all! To be honest I don’t even know why I wasn’t excited, even to this day. All I can say is that from the moment that life changing second line appeared on the pregnancy pee-stick, a dark cloud descended overhead and stayed there. It was a cloud that slowly grew over time and was filled with fear, anxiety and sense of ‘I don’t think I can do this’.

The pregnancy shuffled along like everyone’s does. I had a few issues here and there but nothing too dreadful. The usual nausea in the early days, a pelvic instability until my wonderful osteopath sorted it out, but overall it wasn’t too bad. I managed to quell the rising fear while the baby was just ‘The Belly’. I did all the things I was expected to do; wash the baby clothes in soap flakes, prepare the room in gender neutral colours, smile and feel excited about having a little person to love and take care of. That last one was the really tricky bit. I was too anxious to feel excited but I did a pretty good job of pretending.

The day of the birth arrived and 29 hours later we had a small, perfectly beautiful, little girl. After a few hiccups, like learning how to actually hold a baby and dealing with the epidural headache from hell that dominated my first two weeks of motherhood, we went home and started to get on with things. There was one small problem however; I didn’t have a damn clue about anything baby related. Nothing. I didn’t know what to do when she cried all the time, I didn’t understand the supposed recommended routine of ‘feed-play-sleep’. Breastfeeding? How can something that’s so natural be so bloody difficult? This became the bane of my life for the next 6 months. It felt like I was glued to couch some days as my tiny baby seemingly sucked the life out of me. At least that’s what it felt like. I was lost, bored and I was lonely. Motherhood felt like an isolated little island in the wild sea of my emotions.

After my first baby I tried to go back to teaching but my heart wasn’t in it. Following my second baby (no PND that time round thankfully) I decided to retrain. I wanted to help people so I became a remedial massage therapist. I specialised in sports, then pregnancy massage. The natural next step was to do infant massage. When I began my training in 2016 it was like a light switched on. All I could think was, “If only I had known about this, things with my first baby might not have seemed so hard, I would’ve had something to use to bring us together sooner.”

Research was undertaken in 2002 by Vivette Glover, Katsuno Onozawa and Alison Hodgkinson at the Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Hospital to determine what effect infant massage would have on mothers suffering from postnatal depression. Their findings were very positive but they agreed more extensive research was needed to learn more on the subject. The primary outcome of their study was to determine if infant massage improved the mother-baby relationship with a second potential benefit being an improvement in the mothers’ depression. The results of the research found that:

“The benefit of the massage classes to the mothers and babies was very clear. Although other studies have shown that both counselling and drug treatment can improve mothers’ depression, this is the first time that an improvement in mother-baby interaction has been established. It does seem likely that massage classes have a potentially very important, acceptable and safe role, in helping women who have problems interacting with their baby.”*

Infant massage doesn’t cure PND but it gives suffers a practical tool to help them shine a little light in the darkness and begin to find their way back to where they want to be: with their baby.

By Allison Bayliss
Box Hill mama and paediatric massage instructor.

*Glover V, Onozawa K & Hodgkinson A. Benefits of Infant Massage for Mothers with Postnatal Depression. Semin Neonatal 2002; 7 495-500