We reviewed different approaches to helping fathers have good mental health and found that learning to massage mother and/or baby works.
In two studies, fathers were taught by a qualified masseuse to massage their pregnant partners. In the first, the fathers were instructed to follow a 20-minute massage routine twice a week at home, for 5 weeks. In addition, both expectant parents were taught a 20-minute relaxation technique. In the second study, the twice-weekly 20-minute massages were continued for 16 weeks. Both trials found reduced anxiety levels in fathers and in the second, reduced symptoms of depression.
The third massage programme focused on baby massage, with four weeks of training for fathers of infants aged 5 to 14 months. This resulted in significantly lower levels of stress.
Why might massage training work? Perhaps it helps fathers to have a tangible role and be fully part of the process. Otherwise, they can feel like a spare part and withdraw, which is not good for mood and stress. Perhaps the gentle contact with mother and baby helps the father to feel calmer and happier – such contact is known to stimulate the “love” hormone, oxytocin, and decrease testosterone, both of which lead to brain changes that tune men into caring.
by HOLLY ROMINOV
School of Psychology, Australian Catholic University
This post was previously published on Fatherhood.global and is republished here under a creative commons license 4.0.
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