We received an interesting question recently...
Does baby massage provide distinctive benefits for families who have conceived through IVF?
Considering infertility affects 1 in 5 couples and the number of people undergoing IVF treatment is on the rise, we thought this intriguing question was well worth exploring.
In one respect, couples who have conceived through IVF can experience the same challenges faced by any parents. There are sleepless nights, feelings of stress and anxiety, coping with unsolicited parenting advice and the challenge of facing a confusing mix of fear and joy while settling into the new role of being a parent. In an interview with Today's Parent, mother Amy Warren spoke about the difference between her experiences after having conceived her first child naturally and her second through IVF:
Amy describes the sensation of 'a dark cloud' lingering over her after her second child was born, saying, "Feelings of stress, worry and disappointment with my body didn't just evaporate when I found out I was finally expecting or when my long-awaited baby arrived."
In addition to the emotional and physical strain couples have been through, there can also be a significant strain on finances to recover from.
Some parents who have conceived through IVF report feeling (and being treated) as though they 'shouldn't complain' and they must be happy, considering they now have the baby they've always wanted.
Postnatal depression and anxiety are common for new mothers regardless of the way a baby was conceived. These conditions affect 1 in every 7 women who give birth in Australia each year. A study published by the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health however, notes the risk of postnatal depression may increase to 1 in 4, for women who have received fertility treatments.
Psychologist, Lila Hakim specialises in fertility counselling in Canada. She says parents can be, "surprised when they don't feel as joyous as they thought they would post-birth," noting many of her patients underestimate how stressful and exhausting fertility treatments will be. "They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a few educated and focused health professionals working together to help someone move out of postpartum depression to feel connected with their baby, their partner and themselves," Harkim says. This is where baby massage can play an important role.
Receiving instruction in infant massage techniques from a Certified Infant Massage Instructor or Paediatric Massage Consultant can start during the latter stages of pregnancy with the use of specialised demonstration dolls. The process of learning massage techniques on a demonstration doll can help expecting parents prepare mentally and emotionally for the arrival of their baby and provide soon to be parents with something positive to focus on.
According to Dr. Roth Edney from 'Informed Infertility', some couples spend the duration of a pregnancy thinking a miscarriage is coming, "When couples have gone through reproductive losses, every time they have an ultrasound they're waiting to find out their baby has died. By the time the baby is born, they're still living with anxiety and waiting for the other shoe to drop." She notes that after spending so much time being negative, it's time for parents to look at ways to open up to the concept that they will have good news.
According to Heidi McLoughlin, founder of the Infant Massage Information Service, the benefits of baby massage may be amplified for parents who have conceived via fertility treatments,
Research conducted by the Touch Research Institute in Miami found Mothers’ anxiety levels were reduced after massaging their infants . In fact, many parents who learn how to massage report a decrease in anxiety and feel that bonding and attachment has improved.
Research conducted by leading universities in Turkey found that massage is effective in increasing mother-infant attachment and a study published by the Journal of Perinatal Education noted participating fathers were helped by increasing their feelings of competence, role acceptance, spousal support, attachment and health by decreasing feelings of isolation and depression.
A number of studies show caregivers report feeling more confident and less stressed, while also feeling a closer bond with their baby after learning infant massage. Studies conducted however have not differentiated between parents who have conceived naturally and those who have conceived through IVF.
Massage provides a wide range of benefits that can make coping with a new baby a little easier. This is important for all parents, but perhaps even more so for parents who have been through a challenging and exhausting conception and pregnancy.
Massage increases the baby’s level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter and hormone that enhances emotions and improves mood. Low levels of dopamine can result in feelings of anxiety and sadness. In fact there are a series of hormones that make you feel good, dopamine is only one. Serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are also known as ‘feel good’ hormones and each of these hormones has been seen to increase (in both the baby and the parents) when a baby receives massage. Various studies have also noted a significant reduction in the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, in infants and their parents following massage time.
A U.K university review of research involving nearly 600 infants found that babies in massage test-groups cried less and slept better than infants in control groups who were not receiving massage.
While the benefits of massage may be the same for parents and babies regardless of whether conception was natural or through the miracle of advanced science, if parents feel they have been through a an emotionally and physically draining conception and pregnancy, baby massage is certainly well worth trying.