postpartum-depressions-webIf your client enjoyed the benefits of massage during her pregnancy, she might have even more reason to continue the practice once the baby arrives.

Researchers say that the baby blues, which include crying spells, fatigue, mood swings and sleep difficulties, are short-lived and minor when compared to postpartum depression.

The latter may occur as long as one year after delivery and may feature any of the above symptoms, although with greater severity. New moms with postpartum depression also may have thoughts of harming themselves or their babies.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 8 and 19 percent of new mothers suffer with depression.

Massage During Pregnancy

Some research shows that massage—even before the baby arrives—can be beneficial. Touch Research Institute Director Tiffany Field, Ph.D., conducted a review in 2010 that examined the postpartum effect of massage on women who had experienced massage during pregnancy. Findings show that depression following delivery, as well as cortisol levels, were lower in women who had been massaged while pregnant.

Functional MRI, conducted as part of the study, showed an increase in blood flow to areas of the brain involved with depression and stress, leading Field to conclude that massage regulates activity in the autonomic nervous system.

Additionally, Field’s study showed that these effects carried over to the babies, who also had lower cortisol levels and higher scores on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. This tool serves as a health screen immediately after birth and also measures a range of behaviors, the infant’s individuality and strengths.

Massage After Pregnancy

According to Kristi B. Gabriel, L.M.T., owner of Healing Waters Massage Therapy in Jacksonville, Florida, massage works on the whole person—physically, mentally and spiritually. “ Women who have just had a baby need time for themselves. They need tension worked out of their muscles and they need quiet time to relax,” she says. “All of this increases their overall sense of well being and reduces their stress. This also leads to quicker recovery.”

After delivery, massage helps increase circulation and digestion, relax the muscles and provide pain relief, she says. “Massage gives an overall sense of well being and relaxation, increases energy and facilitates better sleep,” Gabriel says.

Gabriel provides a combination of deep tissue and therapeutic massage along with reflexology for her clients post-delivery. She explains that each client is different, but, in general, the benefits of postpartum massage can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Weekly massage will help clients adjust to a new, and sometimes challenging, lifestyle, particularly new moms who have depression, she adds.

Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby

Gabriel points out that “a more relaxed mother will respond in a more relaxed way to her baby. Babies can sense their mother’s mood.” As soon as the doctor gives the OK and the new mom is ready, Gabriel encourages clients to begin or resume massage to help reduce stress and the depression that sometimes follows delivery.