Fifteen years ago I was a first time mum to my beautiful eldest son. I was comparatively young to be a mother at 23 but had spent my life around young children so felt pretty confident with my new-born. One of the first things that I was excited to do was sign up to a baby massage class. It was such a disappointing experience, as I had been so excited about learning massage and sharing some special time with my son, but we both hated the class and I felt like a failure as a mother.
I am sure you are wondering how a potentially soothing and calming class became so terrifying. It was perhaps partly my perception, but that makes the memories no less painful. We would all arrive at the studio for the class and be asked to undress our babies and lie them on a mat in front of us. That is where the trouble started for me. I would undress Finn and he would scream. We also had to take nappies off and that always resulted in my delightful son urinating all over the mat, me and occasionally the baby next door. Then we had to lie our babies down on a mat in front of us. Finn of course would scream again (just as I had calmed him down after removing the clothes and mopping up the wee).
We would then massage for three quarters of an hour, during most of which Finn would scream and I would repeatedly pick him up, feed him, rock him and try and put him down again. Gradually getting more and more stressed and upset as time went on. I could feel the steely gaze of the other mothers and the teacher who would offer helpful comments such as, “Are you finding it hard to cope?” which upset me even more. I wasn’t finding it hard to cope; it was just that the environment of that class was the total opposite of what my baby wanted! I felt increasingly judged, isolated and disempowered so we decided on week 4 of the 6 week course that we would rebel and do our own massage class at home away from prying eyes and judgemental comments, and we loved it!
So strong were the negative memories of that first baby class, that for the next 10 years I never went to another baby class again with either my second or third child. I had never felt as inadequate as a mother and was not keen to repeat the experience. Then I met Julie Long and Shelley Brinkley and discovered another way!
Suddenly everything that I had experienced as a first time mother was explained and was considered normal. I felt a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders. I finally understood that what I had experienced all those years ago was not down to my capabilities as a mother, but due to the needs of a baby in the first few months of life (the fourth trimester).
The first thing that I was taught as a trainee teacher was that young infants in the first 12 weeks of life are often over-stimulated by massage – so timing is the key. Classes should be structured so that it is normal for a Mum to dip in and out, not complete the whole class but be able to learn all the techniques covered so that she can use them at home when the time is right for her and her baby allowing her baby to get used to a positive touch. The next great lesson that I learned was that there was no point massaging if your baby was crying, tense, asleep or over stimulated or if the mother felt stressed. One of the primary reasons for massaging a baby is to stimulate a positive hormone exchange between mother and child; if either party is not in the right mood this exchange will not take place. This focus on the emotional aspect of massage really interested me as it was so closely linked to my personal experience, and from further research it is clear that there are so many conditions like colic that can have emotional or stress related causes that can be eased or improved by positive touch. Another great revelation – young babies hate lying on their backs due to the primitive reflexes that we are all born with – so it is ok to massage in arms and you don’t have to unwrap a baby and lie them down naked – massage through clothes is just as beneficial.
In our Munchkins class movement is incorporated as well as white noise, and focus is paid to Mum’s posture and movement as well. It really is a holistic approach to learning baby massage designed to empower Mum and give her confidence that her choices for her baby were the right ones. There is so much more to baby massage than a collection of strokes and moves; what really counts is positive touch, active bonding and a happy confident Mummy surrounded by a group of supportive and understanding friends.
Over six years later I take great pride in our Munchkins classes at Suffolk Babies. I will never forget the isolation and sadness that I felt in my first baby class, but I think that has made me a far more perceptive and supportive teacher and trainer. I love meeting groups of new Mummies with their tiny babies and watching as their babies grow into toddlers and the Mummies as they bloom in motherhood and develop lasting friendships with the other women in their class. There is a hidden art to baby massage and I now know that Munchkins holds the key.