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Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 - Infant Massage with Coombe Wood MBU

Updated: May 3

a mother connects with her baby through massage
Mother and Baby Connect

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is always a wonderful opportunity to highlight the far reaching benefits that infant massage offers. You would be forgiven for thinking that baby massage was all about babies, yet it is well evidenced that the benefits can reach parents, the entire family and even society has a whole.


Research shows that infant massage can support maternal mental health in many ways such as reducing the incidence and symptoms of postnatal depression, reducing stress and anxiety, improving maternal sleep quality and boosting parental confidence and self esteem, by better understanding your baby's language. Infant massage is well recognised as a support tool for families, with national health and government centres opting to train their teams and community services.



Today, I am delighted to be speaking with Coombe Wood Mother and Baby Unit in North West London. Coombe Wood is a highly regarded specialist perinatal inpatient services for mothers and babies, providing treatment and support for pregnant and postnatal women experiencing mental health and emotional difficulties. Coombe Wood and the Brent and Harrow Perinatal Mental Health service have sent many of the team to train in infant massage, to use these skills as a positive intervention with their families.


This was written by Dr Rose Spencer, Principal Perinatal Psychologist & Natalie Larcombe Lead Nursery Nurse 


Can you tell us a little more about what you do at Coombe Wood?

Coombe Wood is a highly regarded specialist perinatal service providing inpatient treatment and support for pregnant and postnatal women experiencing mental health and emotional difficulties. We are a 10-bedded unit and treat mothers with babies up to a year old. We have been providing support for over 70 years!


We are a multi-disciplinary team which consists of clinicians, nurses, nursery nurses, therapists and support staff who are experienced specialists offering mental health treatment for mothers and support with infant care and development and encouraging the formation of lasting positive bonds.

 

Our bespoke inpatient unit has been designed to provide a warm, welcoming therapeutic environment that promotes maternal mental health while ensuring the safety of babies and their ongoing development. We also seek to involve families in the care of mothers until recovery, and to include fathers, siblings and other family members in the baby’s developing attachments. We are based in North West London. 

 

Why did Coombe wood choose to train the team in infant massage?

Our nursery nurses and lead psychologist are trained in infant massage. We consider this a wonderful intervention to support the bond and attachment between parents and their babies. Naturally, a lot of the therapies and intervention we provide are focused on talking and verbal communication and infant massage is a great way to help promote the relationship beyond words and through the physical touch. Infant massage compliments our therapy program as a different and unique way to help enhance a time of connection between the mother and her baby. 

 

How do you decide which families will benefit from an infant massage course? 

We used to run an infant massage group every Monday morning. However, we found it to be a bit tricky in terms of when mothers, and babies (!) felt ready for the massage group and to juggle all the various needs. Also, we wanted to be inclusive and it was challenging to offer the structured group and at a set time, as often a mother and her baby might not be able to attend all the sessions. So, we have found that offering infant massage one-to-one to be more accessible. This is open to all mothers and babies, it might be a little more ‘ad hoc’ for example, learning a massage stroke to help with digestion, or structured sessions to learn a full range of strokes and movements. It is very individualised. We do of course have to be very mindful about how well a mother is feeling and if she feels ready to offer infant massage, and we take things at a very gradual pace.


What benefits do you see infant massage has on the families you support?

We get great feedback from those who have attended infant massage.  Mothers have expressed they like to learn new and different ways to interact with their baby, as well as finding ways to help with winding, digestion, sleep etc. It’s also a protected time for mother’s to be with their baby, notice different communication signals and to learn about what their baby likes and dislikes!

 

Some feedback includes:



I like the connection it has created between me and baby
I liked the discussion at the end of the class
My baby has been sleeping better
Baby is relaxed afterwards, very smiley

Dr delivers baby massage class
Dr Spencer delivering for the Brent and Harrow Community Perinatal Mental Health Service

Furthermore, the discussions throughout the sessions often create meaningful conversations and reflections about motherhood and attachment.  We know that the mothers we work through are going through a lot and is a very difficult emotional time-infant massage helps to create special moments between the mother and her baby and is just a delight to observe.




A huge thank you to Dr Rose Spencer and Natalie Larcombe for taking the time out of their very important work to share more with us. Connected Babies offer comprehensive IAIM baby massage instructor training around the UK, both open and in-house for organisations and trusts.


Accessing Support


For more information about Coombe Wood, please visit the website

And you can follow on Instagram @coombewoodmbu


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