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Postpartum Anxiety and Massage

Many mothers can attest that motherhood is no easy feat. Perhaps more daunting are the first few days after the birth of your first child. While most may imagine these days as filled with joy and excitement, the reality is that many first-time mothers experience anxiety, from mild to severe, as well as exhaustion and fatigue. Researchers Jahdi, Mehrabadi, Mortazavi, and Haghani (2016) warn that postpartum anxiety may be a stepping stone to postpartum depression (which may lead to long-term consequences for mother and child), and decided to test whether massage was an effective treatment for anxiety in primiparous women.
 
The researchers found 100 mothers who had given birth a day before the study to include in their single-blind clinical trial. The mothers were randomly separated into two groups: a massage group and a control group. The massage group received a 20-minute seated massage. The procedure was as follows:
 

“The mother was seated on the edge of the bed. Then, the researcher grasped the top of the mother’s shoulders with both hands and placed the thumbs of each hand just below the base of the skull, making tiny circular movements on the upper neck. In the next stage, the researcher placed the palm of one hand at the base of the skull and made a long and smooth stroke all the way down the patient’s spine to her waist. The second hand followed the first at the base of the skull and stroked down the spine as the first hand returned to the base of the skull. Next, the researcher placed her hands on either side of the mother’s neck under the mother’s ears and stroked down and over the mother’s collarbones with her thumbs just over the shoulder blades and repeated the motion several times. Then, she placed the thumb of each of her hands beside the spine, beginning with the shoulders, and moved the thumbs down the spine to the waist and repeated this movement several times. Finally, she completed the procedure by placing her palms on each side of the mother’s neck and making continuous, long, sweeping strokes down the neck, across each shoulder, and down the back near the spine and repeated the entire process several times.”

 
The researchers then tested the mothers on their anxiety, using a STAI test. The mothers who had received a massage had significant decreases in their anxiety scores immediately after the massage, as well as into the next morning.  Since massage regulates the autonomic nervous system, can adjust neural activity (amygdale, frontal brain, control network), and stimulates afferent c fibers in the skin, it is not all too surprising that massage is effective in alleviating anxiety symptoms. An interesting topic of study may be stress levels for new fathers, and whether massage can help new fathers too.
 
As new mothers are acclimating to the new physical and emotional demands of motherhood, massage can help bring them moments of peace and calm.
 
 

Reference

Jahdi, F., Mehrabadi, M., Mortazavi, F., & Haghani, H. (2016). The Effect of Slow-Stroke Back Message on the Anxiety Levels of Iranian Women on the First Postpartum Day. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 18(8). doi:10.5812/ircmj.34270