REBECCA Meldrum longed to hold her baby in the early days.
But Sarah had arrived 12 weeks early, spending the next 101 days in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in Melbourne and Wodonga hospitals.
Most of that time Sarah was in a baby incubator.
East Albury first-time mum Ms Meldrum said she savoured her precious few cuddles with Sarah, conscious of the myriad cords connected to life-saving equipment.
She was told not to overstimulate her medically-fragile daughter.
“It’s very difficult to bond with your baby when they’re behind glass,” she said.
“She only came out of the incubator for the first time at Wodonga hospital.”
Having connected with Border mum, Clair Armstrong, in the Mercy Hospital for Women’s NICU in Melbourne, Ms Meldrum said their shared journey continued in Wodonga, where they learnt about infant massage.
Ms Meldrum said baby massage had instantly given Sarah relief from wind and constipation – a result of a preemie baby’s immature gut – and restored their parent-baby relationship.
She said after a traumatic start she felt empowered by infant massage, which complemented the enormous efforts of medical teams.
“Many of the touches in hospital were stressful and upsetting for Sarah being on ventilation, invasive medical tests and procedures,” she said.
“It was important for me that Sarah learnt that when I touch her, I won’t be overwhelming her with stressful experiences.
“Baby massage has allowed my mothering instincts to come to the surface, in a way that is both bonding and healing.”
Wodonga neonatal nurses Erin Trathen and Sarah Dechert co-founded Baby and Me Massage on the Border this year.
Ms Trathen said she had seen good results in other centres and was glad it was being replicated on the Border.
“It improves constipation, colic and wind, it can help with sleep and settling babies and it can help with postnatal depression,” she said.
Ms Meldrum said beyond creating intimacy with Sarah and understanding her individuality, it encouraged pre-verbal communication.
“She looks me right in the eyes during some of the massage sequence and becomes quite chatty – making vocalisations and improving her eye contact with me,” she said.
Ms Dechert said they offered prenatal or postnatal group classes or private instruction.
“It’s not just mother-specific either; dads and bubs can do it, grandmothers and bubs, aunties and bubs.”
“We want to create that connection really early.”