Mothers who engage in baby massage report lower symptoms of postnatal depression

Examining the effectiveness and experiences of mother-led infant massage.

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Postnatal depression is a significant public health issue that may escalate and lead to adverse outcomes for women, infants, their families, and the wider society. Well-known risk factors for developing PND include previous mental health issues, suboptimal social, partner, and emotional support, low income, and exposure to previous trauma, including traumatic birth.

While perinatal mental health is acknowledged globally, barriers to implementing practice guidelines persist. Infant massage is a helpful technique that can enhance mother-infant interactions, provide extra social support for women, and improve infant health outcomes. Introducing facilitated infant massage classes could aid in preventing, reducing, or identifying symptoms of postnatal depression (PND).

A new study- published in PLoS ONE- examines the effectiveness and experiences of mother-led infant massage on symptoms of maternal postnatal depression. It also aims to synthesize these findings to inform policy, practice, and further research.

The researchers systematically searched five academic databases (CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and Allied and Complementary Medicine Database) in February 2023 without setting any limits on date or geography due to limited research in this area. They evaluated the quality of the studies using the Joanna Briggs Institute quality appraisal tools. They separately assessed the risk of bias in included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool. Data analysis was conducted through a narrative synthesis.

The literature search returned 323 studies, 8 of which met the inclusion criteria for the review. This review identified a total sampling of 521 women with maternal postnatal depression.

The results are presented under three themes:

  1. The effectiveness of mother-led infant massage on symptoms of postnatal depression
  2. Women’s experiences of mother-led infant massage
  3. The effects of mother-led infant massage on the mother-infant relationship

The review emphasizes that women who practiced infant massage experienced decreased postnatal depression symptoms, enhanced interactions with their infants, and improved self-efficacy. The study suggests that infant massage led by Public Health Nurses or Community Midwives could be beneficial in alleviating these symptoms and empowering women.

Scientists noted, “Unequivocal outcomes relating to women’s experiences were evident in three studies. All three studies reported increased maternal satisfaction levels during infant massage owing to positive cues from infants, i.e., smiling and eye contact. Additionally, structured class settings, calming atmospheres, engaging instructors, and peer support contributed positively to maternal satisfaction levels.”

“Women also reported a reduction in guilt and an opportunity to experience calm in addition to increased self-confidence and self-esteem.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Geary O, Grealish A, Bright A-M (2023) The effectiveness of mother-led infant massage on symptoms of maternal postnatal depression: A systematic review. PLoS ONE 18(12): e0294156. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0294156

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