As a massage therapist of nine years I obviously believe in the power of touch. I have seen it, I feel it and I spread it. It can be one of the most powerful tools of communication between people. But how powerful is it for babies and pregnant women?
It was in 1979 Columbia, with high infant mortality rates from premature births and a lack of incubators arose a new model of care called Kangaroo care. It was an idea that arose out of desperation, but to this day is inspired and quite obviously natural instinct. Essentially premature babies were worn in a sling skin to skin for 24 hours a day by their mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, neighbour whoever was able to and close to them in their life. The results were astounding as they found “skin-to-skin holding stabilizes heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant's body temperature, and conserves a baby's calories”. This groundbreaking model of care set the field for more research. How could being skin to skin be that powerful and how far does it go?
Now, after you birth your baby every hospital across the country should promote skin to skin straight away with the mother, father or other birth partner. For me the most important outcome I have seen and experienced from skin to skin is it’s natural ability to suppress pain. Before I had children I didn’t really know how this was possible and I was very skeptical. It wasn’t until the birth of my second that I realised the impact it would have on me.
During my labour, I was practising hypnobirthing and the one thing that kept me rooted, on course and not afraid was my husband’s hand being constantly on me. I kid you not, the minute he took his hand away I felt a rush of pain go through my body. Lucky for him it was only a four hour labour! I was completely mind-blown and so was he. But then it went further and our second born was going to open my mind completely. From the get go he wanted to be on me, skin to skin, day and night; far from the western approach we read about. This was completely new to me as our first wasn’t like this. I had to explore co-sleeping in depth as he had to be in bed with me or he just cried, he breastfed really well and loved it and he just always wanted to be in a sling on me with his head on my chest. Fast forward to now and he is nearly two yet he still LOVES skin to skin. If he is teething, falls over or is poorly he just sticks his hand in my top and he stops crying immediately. He had a surgery when he was thirteen months old and when he came out and the anaesthetic was wearing off all I had to do to calm him was put him on the boob with his little hand stroking my chest and he fell asleep for two hours, on the boob, content as anything and woke up like nothing had happened. Unreal eh?
But enough about babies let’s explore how this can help you when you are pregnant. Firstly, when you feel your baby feels. That is really important to remember. So if you go and get a pregnancy massage, reflexology, your nails done whatever it is you like that includes some kind of contact you enjoy...your baby is feeling those feel good hormones too. Jackpot! When my clients get a pregnancy massage it is different to a regular massage. The techniques used aren’t that different but it’s the way the woman is reacting. Your body is under a lot of stress physically and emotionally, hormonal changes and just going through something you may not have experienced before so a massage during this time can tick loads of boxes.
Positive touch through a massage can be so uniquely powerful as it can give you both emotional and physical healing. Ever heard of emotional release? Yes it can give you that. Ever heard of back pain? Tick. Ever heard of fluid retention? Yes it can make that better. The list is really endless. Now, what’s even better is if you can anchor those feelings right there and then to your birth through hypnobirthing. If you listen to particular music or scripts and get a pregnancy massage at the same time, BOOM...job done. You will plant these wonderful oxytocin filled feelings into your subconscious so when you go into labour you can simply press play, listen to the music you had on during your massage and get your partner to then massage you. Labour pains? No thank you!
So what are my top tips for maximising your use of skin to skin? If you are pregnant it could be your way of relaxing, it could be a chance for you and your partner to bond and for him/her to help you, it is helping you relax emotionally and physically and you are passing all that oxytocin oxygen rich goodness to your baby. Once baby arrives put them on you, embrace them being on you skin to skin and just enjoy it. Plant yourself on the sofa, do some necessary healing and time out and just be in the moment.
Some positive touch could be all you and your baby need to make a life changing difference and pave the way for generatations to come.