Infant massage and mental health - the full facts
In recent years the medical and mental health communities have become increasingly aware that our earliest experiences, particularly in the first year of life, have a life-long impact on our mental health. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, behavioural difficulties and emotional difficulties have all been linked to our early life experiences.
A healthy and secure parent-infant relationship is now recognised as one of the essential building blocks of mental health. Caring touch is one of the critical factors in this relationship. A lack of nurturing touch in infancy has been directly linked to mild and serious social and relationship difficulties (including violence) later in life (Blackwell: 2002; Field: 2002; Takeuchi, Miyaoka, Tomoda, Suzuki, Liu & Kitamura: 2009).
One area that has received particular attention is the impact of post-natal depression (PND) on babies.
Studies have found that babies of post-natally depressed parents are at greater risk of a number of problems, ranging from delayed speech development (Herrera, Reissland & Shepherd: 2004) through to anxiety (Gartstein, Bridgett, Rothbart, Robertson, Iddins, Ramsay, et al.: 2010)
and even to social and peer difficulties at school (Weinberg & Tronick: 1998).
It is believed that these sorts of difficulties come from PND disrupting the relationship between the baby and their parent (Weinberg & Tronick: 1998).
The IAIM is one of a growing number of organisations and groups calling for recognition that, as well as ensuring proper support and treatment for the parent with post-natal depression, there also needs to be a response which supports the baby and the /relationship/ between them.
There is now substantial evidence that the IAIM program appears to significantly improve the relationship and interactions between parents who are post-natally depressed, and their babies (Underdown, Barlow, & Stewart-Brown: 2010). Effectively, learning and using infant massage
appears to provide a "buffering" effect for both parents and babies, and is one way in which a healthy relationship can be supported whilst the parent is receiving individual treatment.
There is also some evidence that the IAIM program helps to alleviate symptoms of PND for some women (Fujita, Endoh, Saimon & Yamaguchi: 2006; Onozawa, Glover, Adams, Modi & Kumar: 2001). This evidence is, however, *not *conclusive (Glover, Onozawa & Hodgkinson: 2002). While there are certainly some benefits for some women, researchers are still uncertain about which women are likely to experience a decrease in depressive symptoms. In addition, research supporting some positive effects for mothers were conducted using the /protocols of the IAIM program
Therefore, we urge parents and health professionals alike to be cautious when reading unsubstantiated, vague or misleading claims that other methods or approaches to "infant massage" (such as non-IAIM classes, videos, books, etc) can "treat" or "help" with PND.
Parents who wish to access the same program that has been shown in the research as having a positive effect in the context of PND (Glover, Onozawa & Hodgkinson: 2002; Onozawa, Glover, Adams, Modi & Kumar: 2001), should ensure that their instructor is Certified by IAIM.