Two studies will be discussed in this article. The first study relates to the administration of massage therapy on depressed pregnant women, and their subsequent reduction of depression symptoms. The second study discusses the effect of depression during and after pregnancy on their newborn child.
The first study was performed by Tiffany Field and associates, of the Touch Research Institute in Miami, and was titled, Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. The second study was also performed by Tiffany Field and associates, and was titled Depressed mothers' infants are less responsive to faces and voices. The second study was a review of the studies previously performed by Touch Research Institute.
In the second study, newborn babies were evaluated using several different scales for their responsiveness to faces and voices of caregivers. They orient less readily to the sounds of voices, and also to the crying of other infant around them. The Brazelton scale was used to evaluate their response time, and the results were compared to the standard for infant responsiveness. They also had a delayed reaction to music, such as slowing of their heart rate, and this delayed responsiveness was both in response to vocal music and instrumental music.
The infants of depressed mothers continued to show different than normal reactions to their mother’s non-smiling and non-contingent faces. A non-contingent facial expression might mean that the infant is used to seeing a mean or angry face even when they have done nothing wrong. This suggested to the study authors that the infants had become used to their mother’s irregular behavior toward them, and no longer reacted to it in a negative way. As the study participants grew older, their mothers, who had been depressed, became more authoritarian in their parenting style, as well as more angry and anxious around their children.
On a positive note, in their studies they found that these interactions could be improved by the mothers receiving pre-natal massage to help with their depression, and later they were given postnatal coaching to help them understand more normal and effective ways to interact. Both of these interventions helped the infants to have more optimal neonatal behavior, as well as having positive effects on the growing infants’ development.
The study mentioned above, Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women, found that after the massage therapy treatments, they had measurable differences in their depression and anxiety, as attested to by higher dopamine and serotonin levels concurrent with lowered cortisol and norepinephrine levels. In addition, their infants had better neonatal outcomes such as a reduction in the incidence of low birth weight and prematurity. The scale mentioned above also showed more favorable outcomes in the newborns whose depressed mothers received massage therapy.
The studies mentioned here conclude, and I believe rightly so, that massage therapy is an effective, non-invasive way to reduce depression in new mothers, and to improve the outcomes for newborns. These improvements also continue as the babies grow and develop past infancy and into their first few months of life. It is likely that in the future the results of studies like these will encourage midwives and obstetricians to recommend massage therapy for patients who have shown clinical signs of or who have been diagnosed with prenatal depression.