By Lucy and Rebecca from For Baby & Me After teaching baby massage for a combined 10 years, we have seen for ourselves just how much parents gain from doing one of our courses. Sometimes baby massage gets dismissed as … Continue reading
Recently NCT teachers and volunteers have been tweeting using #mynctstory. The stories are inspiring, well worth a read. I decided to add to them and write my story…
Becoming an NCT teacher was not something I would ever have imagined myself doing back when my daily life involved commuting, management meetings and excel spreadsheets. But one of the most incredible things about becoming a parent is the way we change in ways we can never anticipate.
So my NCT journey started almost 9 years ago. I was pregnant, constantly on the verge of throwing up and inhaling packets of M&S wotsits. A friend said ‘you must do NCT’ and without any further thought I booked my course. Fast forward a few months and one birth later and I was in a whirlwind of coffee mornings and pizza (my NCT group had Papa John’s on speed dial). We talked about everything: feeding, weaning, sleeping and going back to work. A few of the mums moved away and we all started going back to work. Life seemed back to normal for a short while.
However after having my second baby and a birth that didn’t exactly go ‘to plan’ I started reading to help make sense of my experience. In amongst the nappies, agonising sleep deprivation and the awful irrepressible sense of guilt that being a mum to two small children evokes, I had a moment of realisation. I could not go back to daily commutes – something had changed. I needed to channel my learning about birth and motherhood into something, dare I say it, more profound. I realised I was drawn to discussions about birth, they were happening all around me and I wasn’t getting bored. Far from it, it was constantly fascinating. I was learning so much.
And this is the bit that might be surprising. The bit that you might not associate with the NCT. I didn’t have a sense that I wanted to evangelise about birth, to tell women how to give birth. In fact quite the opposite, I wanted to help them realise that the decisions we make are profound. That giving birth isn’t something we forget about the next day, that it isn’t just about having a healthy baby. That these experiences stay with us for decades: how strong we felt or how helpless, how those first few minutes felt when we could finally hold our baby, how nurtured and respected we were. So I wanted to help women choose, to help them make their own choices, to feel informed and empowered, and above all not scared. And I really wanted to help both parents feel supported through this enormous transition.
Training to teach NCT was the natural next step. It took just under three years of essay writing, of practising teaching and reflecting (NCT teachers spend a lot of time reflecting). Mainly I am proud of the feedback I get from couples, many of whom say they enjoyed the experience of coming to classes and feel that their experience of birth (however that unfolded) was changed as a result of coming. Some remark how much more confident they felt as a result, how they felt more prepared for the demands of being a parent. They mention how supported they feel, about how their NCT group talk at all hours of the day and night, and how they can’t imagine how it would be to not have each other.
There is never just one option, there are many. Every baby is different and every parent is different, we really must make the decisions that are right for us in order to feel empowered. This is so important, as are the networks of parents who form through NCT classes. Most of us don’t have our parents living next door, yet it is when we have a baby that we meet our neighbours and become a community.
So in my case I didn’t just gain some new knowledge and skills, I gained a whole new vocation, I met people living near me, one of whom has become an amazing friend and business partner. I have also met some of the most passionate, intelligent women who also just happen to be NCT teachers (you know who you are). You could say that nine years ago I started antenatal classes, but I’m still reaping the benefits!
Rebecca is a NCT teacher and certified infant massage instructor working in West London.
What is ‘colic’?
Sadly there is no established cause as yet for what is commonly termed ‘colic’. The NHS describes colic as ‘excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy.’
Typically babies are aged between three and twelve weeks with symptoms including intense crying which is frequently in the late afternoon or early evening. Babies may draw their knees up to their tummy or arch their back when crying which may indicate abdominal pain and babies may appear less able to tolerate intensely stimulating environments.
It can be incredibly hard to see your baby in such discomfort and one of the most important things we always recommend to parents is to gain as much support as possible.
The healing power of touch
It may be reassuring to know about the benefits of the healing power of touch. Given the immaturity of the digestive system in infants, tummy pain can be a contributing factor in excessive crying. Whether the tummy pain is the primary cause of the crying or a result of the crying we cannot be sure, but what we do know is that massage is ideal for stimulating the digestive system and helping it to function more efficiently.
There is a routine you can perform on your baby which provides a useful tool for gentle relief of tummy pain and should leave you feeling empowered, confident and more ‘in tune’ with your baby.
The massage is easy to follow and has been researched to provide stimulation for the digestive system, relieves abdominal wind, digestive cramping and constipation, and helps to assist with elimination. The routine releases built-up stress by calming and relaxing your baby and relaxing the stomach area. Applying nurturing touch releases relaxing hormones and reduces stress hormones such as cortisol in your baby.
It is recommend that once you have learnt the routine, that it is used 2 to 3 times a day at a time when your baby is not distressed nor demonstrating feeding cues (for example this may be during a nappy change). Being consistent and following through with the routine on a daily basis is the key to ensuring relief for your baby and should prevent symptoms increasing.
How we can help
For Baby & Me massage courses will provide you with much needed support in a nurturing, calm and caring environment. We have also developed one to one sessions which focus on excessive crying and can take place in your own home where you will have the opportunity to learn:
- The Colic Routine: massage, touch relaxation and gentle movements
- The most appropriate time to massage a colicky baby
- Which oil to use for massage
- More about how the digestive system functions
- Other ‘fourth trimester’ calming techniques
To book onto one of our group baby massage courses or to book a bespoke colic session, or to enquire about hosting your own baby massage course for a group of friends please get in touch by emailing email@example.com
As a first time mum I spent ages choosing a Moses basket, mobiles and sleep music, it honestly didn’t enter my head that my little boy wouldn’t want to go to sleep in his basket. It certainly didn’t occur to me that maybe the answer was not to put him down.
So in desperation and the need to have my hands free I borrowed a sling from a friend. Almost immediately I could feel his little body relax. He still cried, but he cried a lot less. As he was so close to me I could pick up on his cues a lot more quickly. Without realising it, I was creating a 4th trimester.
The concept of the 4th trimester helps us understand the transition a newborn makes in the first few weeks after birth. In the womb babies are in a wet, warm, dark, secure and snug environment and are constantly being rocked. They do not know hunger and can always hear their mum’s heartbeat. At birth, they are suddenly faced with a very different world – light, space, dry, cold, separated (to varying extents) and hungry. Considering this, perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a newborn baby to adjust immediately to life on planet earth.
Some babies make this womb to world transition easily, others less so. Many of the things parents do to calm their babies actually re-create many of the comforting, familiar experiences babies had during their time in the womb. For all babies, these techniques can be very calming. Here are some ideas:
The womb is a constantly moving space and babies tend to respond to movements such as —dancing, swaying from side to side, going for an exaggerated quick walk or bumpy car ride!
Skin to skin contact and being in contact with warm, naturally unscented skin is calming for babies. This helps to stabilise body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in both parent and baby.
This offers a wonderful experience to communicate with your baby both verbally and non verbally. There are numerous benefits such as increased levels of relaxation and improved sleep patterns. It also helps us to gain a deeper understanding of our babies behaviour, crying and body language.
Take a bath.
A nice, warm bath can be calming for babies, and better still a bath with mum or dad can be a wonderful bonding experience enabling time for skin to skin.
Recreate familiar sounds.
Your baby’s time in the womb was marked by many rhythmic sounds. Hearing is developed in the third trimester of pregnancy, babies hear their mothers’ heartbeat and voices first and external sounds later. This explains why your baby loves listening to your voice and why sounds similar to those heard in the womb can be very calming to newborns.
Help your baby learn to deal with sensations of hunger.
Hunger is a new sensation for babies—and they may find it hard to calm when they feel hungry. Feeding babies when they wake at night might help them transition back to sleep, especially when lighting and interaction are kept at low levels of stimulation. Babies also find sucking to be the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool; one of their few forms of self initiated self-regulation. Sucking helps a baby’s skull bones to return to their normal position after birth as well as providing them with comfort and security.
And finally, baby-wearing.
Wearing your baby in a sling is one of the easiest ways to keep a baby calm and happy and increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness”. Finding a good comfortable sling is vital so it is worth trying on different styles. The T.I.C.K.S guide to safe baby-wearing sums up some helpful guidelines.
I hope this gives you some ideas about how the womb environment can soothe and ease your baby’s transition in to the world.
How many times has a well-meaning friend or family member told you that ‘you’ll make a rod for your own back’ or warned you that if you help your baby go to sleep, she’ll never learn to sleep by herself? Probably many times! In fact it appears to be conventional wisdom that our babies can be taught bad habits, so to contradict this can often appear radical. We are often advised to reprimand or withhold affection from babies when they exhibit frustrating behaviours, such as throwing food from their highchair or when they cry out in the night for a cuddle. The message popular media would have us believe is that babies will manipulate their parents until we show them that we are in charge.
And yet, scientific evidence contradicts this advice completely. The part of our brain that comprehends ‘naughty’ and ‘good’ is developed well after birth, and is still developing through toddlerhood. As Sue Gerhardt writes in her fantastic book ‘Why Love Matters’, babies are simply not capable of this degree of impulse control. Babies have basic needs that must be met in order for them to thrive. Consider how much babies relax when they held by their parents. We know that their heart rate and temperature will be regulated by the comforting parent and that feel-good hormones, opioids and oxytocin, are released in their brains. This results in tension being dispersed and the baby calmed. Babies need help managing the stresses that life throws them.
In infant massage classes we teach parents to talk to their babies, to make close eye contact with them and to observe their cues. We always suggest asking permission before starting massage. This teaches babies that their feelings and needs are respected. When parents use nurturing touch with their babies, they are soothing their babies and communicating love in a powerful, physical way. And often, when a baby is soothed so is the parent. As Vimala McClure, the founder of the IAIM puts it: “the bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood”.
As babies grow, their brains will forge connections and they will start to make sense of the world around them. By showing our babies that they will be physically comforted when they are distressed we are helping them grow up feeling calm, secure, respected and loved.
Six years ago I was a first-time pregnant mum and, although I had observed women having positive experiences of complementary therapies in my work as a midwife, I had not used any myself in my own pregnancy. As my estimated due date came and went and my anxiety levels were hitting the roof (I had recently moved house and was living on a chaotic building site) I was in desperate need of relaxation and time out. A colleague suggested I try some maternity reflexology.
A few days later I went along for my first treatment. The nurturing touch, the friendly listening ear and the complete feeling of peace was utter bliss. I left feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. After a chilled out evening I went to bed worry free for the first time in weeks. That night my waters broke and by the following morning I was holding my little boy.
I am not alone. We now know that 57% of pregnant women use therapies such as massage, relaxation and yoga during pregnancy. As a midwife I can see how taking time out during pregnancy and tuning into your unborn baby is vitally important physically, mentally and emotionally. Relaxation also has benefits for babies, as we know that babies benefit from the feel good hormones that are released when pregnant women take time to relax deeply.
Reflexology is not a new therapy, in fact it is over 5000 years old, and has been shown to promote relaxation and encourage the body’s natural healing processes. Reflex zone therapy is specifically used in pregnancy and can treat a number of pregnancy complaints from morning sickness to pelvic girdle pain. It is often used to promote relaxation and encourage the hormones of birth that initiate and speed up labour. Many local hospitals now offer reflex zone therapy to women in late pregnancy.
Clearly reflexology had a profound effect on me both personally and professionally. Now, as a qualified practitioner of reflex zone therapy I can offer women this fantastic treatment and feel I can make a huge difference to women’s experiences of pregnancy, labour and birth.
Lucy offers one to one reflex zone therapy to pregnant women from the comfort of their own homes. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Recently at an antenatal class I was facilitating, a returning client, who was attending with her new baby to speak about her experiences of labour, birth and parenting, talked about the power of her instinct and how it had aided her. The room of expectant parents looked bemused but impressed.
The new mum was absolutely right – one’s inner voice, gut instinct or intuition is incredibly helpful when faced with the deluge of decisions that present themselves to us as a parent.
Certainly, science-based evidence is a great place to start with information gathering but may be of limited help. Equally, decisions that are based purely on other people’s advice may not suit you or our baby’s personality, and listening to others can sap confidence. When surrounded by well-meaning voices, such as health professionals or family members, it can be very helpful to ‘smile and wave’, to listen to the advice but trust that your instinct will help you filter through this advice and arrive at the decisions that are right for you.
Ultimately the best decisions are the ones we weigh up using all information available, and come to with the help of our instinct. But where does this inner knowledge come from? Here are some more tips on how you can find your inner voice:
- Take time out! This might be by having a long relaxing bath, practising relaxation, or going for a walk or jog around the park by yourself. Use the time to tune into your own thoughts and feelings.
- Throw away parenting manuals! Often the more we read, the more confused we can become (as anyone who has recently shopped online will confirm, the more options and opinions that present themselves to us, the harder the decision can be to make). Recognise that most of what you are reading is just one person’s opinion.
- Tune into your baby! If you are a pregnant mum or dad this could be by placing your hand on your tummy or your partner’s bump and just telling your baby that you are there for them, that you are thinking about him or her.
- Hold your baby close! Skin to skin if possible. Relax with each other and enjoy the special time. Remind yourself of how you know your baby better than anyone else and by telling yourself that you will begin to trust your inner voice.
- Massage your baby! Use the time when your baby is in the quiet alert phase to communicate through nurturing touch, through your voice and by observing your baby’s cues.
It is amazing what you will find out about your baby when you gain the confidence to trust yourself. Try it and let us know how you get on!
Much is written about the benefits of baby massage for mothers and babies. Calmer babies, more sleep and improved bonding. Baby massage has even been proven to impact maternal mental health with mothers who massage their babies finding that symptoms of postnatal depression were alleviated.
This is all fantastic, however you would be forgiven for asking, what about dads? Do the benefits of baby massage also extend to fathers? Or is this purely about improving the maternal-infant bond?
We know that fathers frequently worry that they will lose out, that their bond with their baby will be impacted as women appear to have more opportunities to care for, feed and nurture their babies. It is vital that fathers know that their bond with their baby can grow and be nurtured. We often tell parents that bonding is not an event, but a process which can be influenced in a number of ways; from playing and singing, to basic babycare such as bathing, nappy changing and soothing. Essentially any activity that encourages eye contact, being respectful of baby’s cues and which provides an opportunity for positive interaction will enhance the bonding process.
With all this in mind, we were over the moon to read research which corroborated our theory that fathers also benefit hugely from using nurturing touch with their baby. The research study showed that fathers who attended baby massage classes had a significant reduction in stress levels than those who didn’t. The research also showed that participating fathers felt more competent, found it easier to accept their role as father, and were of greater support to their partners. In addition, feelings of isolation and depression were reduced.
The authors of the study noted that baby massage classes gave dads an opportunity to share their fathering experiences. And in our fast-paced world, where time is short, commutes are long and work pressures high, it strikes us that creating this special time, learning skills that will improve the bonding process, reduce stress levels and allow fathers to talk about parenting, is more important than ever.