Pregnancy is truly a special time in a woman’s life, and any woman who’s been pregnant will tell you that the experience, subjectively, feels different somehow. If you thought that this was, perhaps, just romanticizing your past in retrospect, or caused by the (very real!) excitement about your pregnancy, you may be shocked to learn it wasn’t at all in your head.
Well, it was in your head, but that’s not to say it was imaginary; rather, there is a strong and solid neuro-hormonal basis for what you experienced. And, of course, you can
now rest assured: You DID, in fact, experience many, many odd things during your strange, yet fantastically beautiful trip to motherhood.
During this time, a woman’s body changes in many ways. One particular adjustment that the body makes to accommodate all the myriad changes is re-adjusting hormone levels.
Progesterone swings higher, then plateaus at some point. This hormone helps make the body more flexible and able to adapt to physical change.
Higher progesterone also potentiates a distinct shift in the mood and perception in the postpartum patient after delivery, often inducing a sensation of increased sensitivity, a feeling of breast tenderness, and even mild cough and nausea. If you felt this, it was your hormones, not a cold.
If your wife told you it was “really happening”, and you condescendingly suggested it was imaginary, or the result of her thoughts, it’s time you know the plain truth: You were 100% wrong; as strange as it sounds, your wife really could feel the trucks vibrating the house on the highway a mile away and had breast pain from her body’s chemistry, not “depression”.
Conversely, if levels of progesterone taper, severe depression, body pain, and digestive and sleep disturbance may occur. Even with its potential side-effects at the highest end, the goal should be to keep progesterone levels on the higher side, but within range. It may seem as though there’s no way to win, but that’s not entirely true.
Higher progesterone levels are associated with bonding with others, and specifically, the new baby. After the pregnancy, hormone levels fluctuate, and progesterone rapidly drops.
The new mother should definitely hold her baby many hours, whether she is breastfeeding or not. Breastfeeding will induce higher levels of oxytocin, as will regularly scheduled sessions of therapeutic massage.
Stress, a significant dampener when considering its disastrous effects on a mother’s milk production, cannot be avoided, but may be ameliorated with therapeutic massage. This will increase the amount of milk-flow, if breastfeeding. In Indonesia, clinical trials spoken of during an oral presentation at the 2014 Riau International Conference by Stephanie Dwi Guna have demonstrated that specific “Oxytocin Massage” techniques that stimulate the parasympathetic nerves can help increase milk flow measurably, in the word of the speaker, “significantly”.
Skin-to-skin contact, whether therapeutic, or the loving contact between the new Mom and her baby, both keep oxytocin levels at their peak. Breastfeeding probably raises levels highest, as the new mom and baby bond and experience profound closeness that goes back to time immemorial.
Oxytocin also dulls pain, both during labour and also during the month-long recovery from strenuously using muscles all over the body to push the baby out with more force than a woman probably thought was possible, in the case of a natural birth. It also effects tonal change on the uterine tissue, which must also slowly return to its usual state.
Oxytocin, otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone”, is naturally released during pregnancy, as well as during the birthing process. “Is it really released when you hug?” you’re surely wondering. It isn’t named as it is without reason! Hugs do, in fact, heal! It’s not just all hemp-granola and hippie talk! Studies show it’s now a proven fact. So ask your husband and kids for a well-deserved hug to help you with healing~!
During the last trimester, levels of oxytocin soar. Many women report feeling somehow different at this time. It is true that oxytocin can alter perception. It’s associated with trust, empathy, and openness. This bonding hormone must be kept high in the new mother, else a cascade of effects may be experienced, including depression. Therapeutic Massage also increases both serotonin and dopamine, while reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is associated with stress response. Dopamine and serotonin also both help make a person “feel good”.
There is evidence that oxytocin also stimulates progesterone release. And so, nurturing time spend holding the baby is crucial for the hormonal well-being of the new mother. In order to keep hormonal levels in check, breastfeeding is encouraged, and holding the baby as much as possible, whether feeding or not, is an absolute necessity. While high progesterone inhibited lactation during pregnancy, progesterone should also not fall too low during breastfeeding, either.
While the American Association of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the World Health Organization support encouraging women to breastfeed, other authorities, a few random academians disagree, suggesting that telling women that breastfeeding is “natural” and has health benefits is not good practice, because it may make some women feel badly that they cannot produce enough milk, and may not want vaccines or GMO food products for their child, as a logical extension of thinking that more natural options are best. We feel staying informed is most important, and researchers having such concerns, is itself dubious.
Certainly, Therapeutic Postpartum Massage may again play a helpful role; in India, the
practice of Jaapa by a Maalishwali (मालिशवाली), or massage therapist specializing in working on newborn babies and mothers, can be traced back millenia. Like all things new, ancient and revered tradition have roots in observation and experience. In the twentieth century, we began re-discovering ancient cultures with a new respect in America.
Rather than holding a condescending attitude toward what were once erroneously regarded as “primitive” ancient civilizations by Westerners in previous centuries, we began to respect that maybe these various indigenous peoples were on to something, and had developed various sciences worth looking into. Upon further scientific inquiry, this turns out to have actually been the case, as for example, many phytochemicals found in plant remedies, have been discovered and cataloged.
Many other traditional cultures across the human landscape rely on regularly scheduled massage therapy for the new mother and baby. This idea is common in both India and throughout Asia, but perhaps not surprisingly, is also found in other traditional cultures on every continent. It seems that long ago, before “scientific method” had been coined as a phrase, people were learning and advancing from shared anecdotal experience, alone.
In the case with postnatal massage therapy, it seems almost unanimous among cultural groups, that a new mother receive massage therapy with more of an urgency than any other person at any other stage in their life, among people in each cultural group. Now we see, there is ample biochemistry to back up this time-tested practice. Again, the lesson from this is to regard the science of other civilizations that existed and/or may still exist as anything less than parallel and alternative, rather than lesser or without merit.
Authored by D Alban
Copyright 2018 H Miller, D Alban
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