Dads massage - Expanding spirals of joy
We all know how wonderful it is to share in the journeys of new parents as they attend our classes. To watch them arrive in week one, nervous, unsure of what the class entails, sometimes still unsure of their parenting, of this new development phase their baby is going through, excited, tired, learning. For me, this really stands out in my baby massage classes. Babies are often only a few weeks old and parents are still finding their way. And then comes magic week 3 in the course. Suddenly, everything feels different. Everyone seems a little more at ease. There is easy chatter about when their baby likes to be massaged at home, how the dips and swings really help in the witching hour and often, there is chatter about how their baby is integrated into the rest of the family.
This topic of how other family members are bonding and caring for babies often brings to my mind the Birthlight spirals of joy. Of how they start around the baby and parents, scooping in siblings and other family members before widening out towards the extended family and community. We know that the stronger these spirals are, the more securely bonded a baby and its parents are, and the more supported that the family is, the better the outcomes for all.
Creating strong and supportive groups of women is at the centre of our Birthlight classes, but what about the Dads and Partners? The 'other' parents, usually not having anywhere near as much bonding time with their baby, not accessing these support groups, not having a magic week 3!!! How can we enhance their spirals, to strengthen these wider family bonds?
One way is to create classes especially for Dads/Partners, run at an accessible time for those working full time. It could be a full 6 week course, a short 3 week course, even a one off workshop. Covering whatever you feel works best, either massage or baby yoga or a combination of the two. If you have café next door where mums can hang out (and be on call for any breastfeeding needs) then all the better. This one on one time with their babies is invaluable.
The above Australian study of infant massage and father-baby bonding (Cullen et al, 2000), found that at 12 weeks old, babies who were massaged (by their fathers) greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalising and touch than those in the control group, and the fathers experienced improved self-esteem as a parent due to the increased involvement.
“As they learn to soothe their babies, fathers notice their own stress levels are lessened. Together, they experience the calming power of touch, and begin to build life-long attachments” (Tiffany Field, PhD, Director of Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and co-author of a survey on father-infant massage)
The theory behind this is simple. We know that oxytocin is the hormone of love and bonding. We know that massage increases oxytocin in the participants. And we know that fathers experience increased oxytocin from caring for their babies. It's so straightforward. Provide the opportunity for fathers to engage in bonding practices that we know work, and voila- you have more actively bonded fathers.
After a recent 1 1/2 hour massage and yoga workshop that I ran, some of the mums (who were already attending my classes) remarked on how they had noticed a significant increase in their partners parenting confidence. They noted that having a tool-kit of things to actually do with their babies really helped, but interestingly, it was also the very act of booking a course, going out with their little one, getting them in and out of the car on their own, getting through the moments where their baby cried in the class, and doing all the other things that primary carers do everyday. It seemed at least partly due to Dads taking the lead role, if only for a short time, that was so significant. Having space to figure it out themselves, without mum, (no matter how well intentioned) watching over, really boosted their confidence. Mums reported that their partners took more responsibility for care taking tasks, and did so with joy and playfulness. Now I believe that this responsive parenting already existed in these Dads, the experience of going on the course just made a little space for it to grow.
Another mum mentioned that her husband could now relate to her experience of being in groups with a crying baby, how it could feel so stressful and overwhelming. In the intense days of early parenting having a shared understanding of each others experience can really help a family effectively support each other.
As a teacher, it's so lovely to meet the other parent- to see the whole family and it is always such a privilege to share the journey with these new families. To know that there are endless spirals of joy, whirling and spinning- Mothers, Fathers and little ones all finding joyous moments together.
As always, we'd love to hear your experiences. Please do tell us if you run dad's courses, and how you find they work best. And in the lead up to fathers day, check out these gorgeous pictures of dads with their babies.
Birthlight Baby Yoga Tutor
If you're interested in reading further around Fathers and infant massage, you may find the below links of use.
Cullen, C., Field, T., Escalona, A. & Hartshorn, K. (2000). Father-infant interactions are enhanced by massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 164, 41-47.