The Affect of Human Touch by Carole Osborne

Nurturing touch during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period is not a new concept. Cultural and anthropological studies reveal that massage and movement during pregnancy was and continues to be a prominent part of many cultures. India’s ancient Ayurvedic medical manuals detail therapists’ instructions for rubbing specially formulated oils into patients’ abdominal skin. Traditional sculptures depict Eskimo fathers supporting and lovingly stroking their wife’s backs as attendants assist in the birth. In hospitals worldwide, midwives hold and stroke laboring women through most of their labors. For billions of women, over thousands of years, touch has provided loving support and knowledgeable assistance and ease pregnancy discomforts.

Anthropological studies indicate that most of the world’s more peaceful cultures use touch prominently during pregnancy and early childhood. Studies correlating cultural anthropologist’s data on infant physical affection and adult physical violence show an 80% correlation in 49 societies between high infant physical attention. This attention starts in the womb from the onset of pregnancy. Lack of sensory input of touching and rocking by the mother appears to disrupt the development of neuronal systems that control affection and mediate violent behaviours. This sensory system starts to be affected in the 1st trimester of pregnancy.

World news reveals this problem daily and calls for solutions. Fortunately, many personal stories and slowly growing data suggests that massage therapy has some potential to reverse this trend, contributing to healthier mums and infants. Massage Therapists and other touch professionals can contribute to a more peaceful world by caring and nurturing mothers through massage, enabling the mothers to be more able to care for and nurture their babies. For example, in one study, pregnant woman massaged twice a week for 5 weeks experienced less anxiety and less leg and back pain. They reported better sleep and improved moods, and their labors hard fewer complications, including fewer premature births. This translates into less separation of mum and newborn, and more time toward the type of bonding that seems so integral to a culture that naturally expresses peace, love and happiness.

Given this connection between touch and reduction of violence, massage therapists working with woman in pregnancy can take great solace and pride in their contributions to more loving families, communities and the world.

Author – Carole Osborne