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Wrap me in smiles

Babywearing and mental illness

Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes for me it is complete isolation. I would describe it as being detached from everything around you, watching as life happens to you rather than living it. Some days are better than others, I can be happy maybe even get joyful at times. Then there are the bad days where opening my eyes in the morning is an uphill struggle, the only thing I can focus on is how long it will be until I am back in bed again.

When I found out I was pregnant I was at a very low point. My relationship broke down, I was made redundant, I lost my home and of course had morning sickness, nose bleeds and low blood pressure that comes with pregnancy to deal with on top! To say it was not the best period of my life is an understatement. My world was cold, dark and extremely lonely. I was under the care of the mental health team throughout my pregnancy having regular visits and therapy to help as much as possible.

When I gave birth to my daughter I was amazed by her, she was so untainted by the world, I just wanted to have her on my skin and to feel her gentle breaths. Holding her, my little empty world suddenly occupied two of us, it was so wonderful to feel a part of her and her apart of me. I hated it when my mum insisted I dress her, I felt like I was tainting her and felt I was almost losing the first moments.

When I was moved up to the ward I had her in my night shirt against my skin as it just felt like the right thing to do. Every bit of me just wanted to have that close contact that feeling of being.  When she was in her little plastic crib in the hospital I missed her, even though she was right there. All I wanted was more skin to skin contact with my perfect child.

With the Buggy I felt I was not able to offer her enough comfort, she looked so small and helpless like I had abandoned her. I also found it next to impossible to get around any shops (especially at Christmas with all the additional stands) I was constantly apologising to people for knocking over things and when she cried I ended up carrying her and trying to push the pram and carry my baby. It really made me anxious if I had to go anywhere. I started to avoid going out if I could.

On a get together with some friends they were discussing ‘babywearing’. At first I thought it was very odd but as the conversation progressed I realised this was everything that I had been looking for! I could have that close contact with my baby all the time! We watched a few clips we found on youtube and I fell in love with the idea of wrapping. I found that these wrap thingies are harder to buy than I thought, department stores didn’t sell them! In the end I bought a stretchy hybrid as it looked similar to what I had seen with my friends. I loved it, my daughter with was back as part of my world, she gave me back my life and I was free from the restrictions of the buggy. Getting out and about really helps to lift my mood, carrying made that possible.

Together we learnt to breast feed in the carrier, feeding her made me so proud and bought that wonderful feeling of bonding with her. My isolated world was opening up as I carried her with me, tucking her little body inside my jacket, feeling the warmth of her against me. When my anxiety was building I found that I was able to calm myself easier, so that I was able to avoid a full panic attack. My daughter’s soft calm gentle breathing, helped to regulate my own. It is very hard to hyperventilate when you have someone asleep against your chest.

A few months into my Baby wearing journey, a friend asked me if I would like to go to a ‘sling Library’, I was so excited to go and try more options that may be open to me. To my delight they had a wrap, It was a size 6 brown woven wrap and it was love at first pass, I had to get my hands on one! It was at this point I was introduced to the wonders (and dangers) of Selling groups on Face Book.

The first wrap I bought was a size 5 woven wrap, it bought me so much confidence,  I loved interacting with my daughter as she grew, sharing our adventures together. I even enjoyed talking to people more as I had people ask about my wrap, 10 wraps later my passion and love for carrying only grows stronger!

My Daughter has grown into a very confident and independent toddler, we still enjoy cuddles and wraps regularly and she had her favourite one that she hands to me when she wants ‘up’. She even owns a woven wrap and a stretchy wrap of her own and she loves nothing more than carrying the toy of the day about with pride.

On days when I am struggling with my mental health and my darling girl is pushing me to my limits, I find that I can back carry her giving me space and time to calm myself while giving her the comfort she needs. I do have bad days and unfortunately it is more than likely to be something I will have to face for the years ahead but I can know for sure I can provide the emotional support my child needs.

I have now learnt that having your child close to you in arms or in a carrier, triggers the release of a number of hormones, one of which is a called Oxytocin that helps with bonding, milk production and in short makes you feel great. It has been termed “the Love Hormone” and affects both men and women. The calming cuddle of carrying will benefit you both, sharing an extended cuddle.

“We have shown that touch not only raises oxytocin, but it reduces cardiovascular stress and can improve the immune system, too. Try telling people that you hug rather than shake hands and see what happens when you give others the gift of oxytocin. Studies show that the more one releases oxytocin, the easier it becomes to do so. That has certainly been my experience in practicing these oxytocin-releasing activities” - Paul J. Zak, The Moral Molecule

As well as the release of oxytocin, knowing you have the ability to comfort your child brings confidence and will intern release Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres. The feeling of accomplishment and pride is a good feeling and one we naturally hunt for as Humans (we also have a much higher amount of it than any other species). It is believed that it is down to Dopamine, that we as a species have been as successful, as it is our inner drive as such. Low dopamine can lead to low mood, low motivation, loss of voluntary movements, less sleep, poor memory and much more.

“Dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation. “- Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Exercise has been seen as a great treatment for depression as this also releases a group of hormones called endorphins. Endorphins alone help with weight loss but by carrying your child you are giving your body a gentle and natural workout. Carrying your child is believed to not only aid your muscles, to strengthen and return to their pre pregnancy position, but this also helps baby to develop their own muscles too. Endorphins help to give a boost to your mood and can reduce or even eliminate pain. The word Endorphin means body made opiate due to its effects on mood and pain reduction.

“Endorphins are linked to your body's reward circuits as well and are associated with other feel-good activities like maternal behaviour, eating and drinking or having sex. “– Dr Mercola, Exercise and Endorphins Make You Happy

Oestrogen is a group of steroid hormones, that can be released when we are relaxed and calm, breathing with your baby is an amazing way to encourage more Oestrogen. Oestrogen helps from serotonin which is a mood boosting neurotransmitter. Most anti-depressants use SSRI this is an uptake inhibitor slowing the body’s disposal of serotonin, women’s oestrogen levels fluctuate through their menstrual cycle and post birth. Some studies are looking into the similarities between PMS and Baby Blues. Relaxing into a meditation like state will help with the regulation of oestrogen for both men and women, having your child against you will regulate your breathing as well as theirs.

“The key happiness hormone, serotonin, has a huge impact on your mood, but this brain chemical is also known to affect memory, appetite, sleep, cravings, pain tolerance and digestion. Low serotonin levels have been linked to development of various mental issues, primarily depression.” - Know Your Happiness Hormones & How to Increase Them by Stephlina D'cunha

‘Baby wearing’ has given us so much more than simply a way to get around, I was at extremely high risk of developing post-natal depression and having issues bonding with my baby, but fortunately I didn’t. I truly believe that carrying her and having the increased skin to skin is the only reason I have not had severe post-natal issues. Post-natal depression is thought to affect around 15% of new mothers, I am one of many people who are facing the feeling of depression and anxiety, no matter what happens you are not alone.

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