Juan Pedro, three months old, is one of Brazil’s babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that has recently been linked to the Zika infection.
His mom, Daniele Santos is one of the many mothers who feel overwhelmed by the shrill and constant crying that often occurs in babies born with smaller heads. According to Santos, Juan’s profound and loud discomfort led to her husband abandoning the family.
The baby is currently under care at a hospital in Recife in northeastern Brazil. Recife and Brasilia, the country’s capital city, are at the epicenter of the Zika epidemic, seeing most of the birth defects linked to the mosquito-borne virus.
So far, scientists were not able to definitively prove that Zika can cause microcephaly in babies, but the evidence grows rapidly as the virus spreads through the Americas. The unusually small head of the children born with microcephaly can result in developmental problems.
Many mothers, including Santos, were not helped much by traditional or modern medicine. However, this is where a new parental therapy group called “Room to be a Mother” comes into play.
In an attempt to bring some relief to Santos’ baby and others, the group’s trainers have held two free workshops in Recife this month. They were mostly targeted at impoverished mothers whose babies have been born with Zika-related birth, teaching them natural ways to soothe the children.
During the classes, mothers are taught how to massage the baby in a traditional Indian shantala way while keeping them close to their chest with a simple sling.
It’s already been proved that skin-on-skin contact between the mother and the baby can release endorphins and reduce the production of stress hormone cortisol – in both the baby and the mother.
The second technique involves the use of a specially shaped bucket that baby takes warm baths in; the shape is designed to mimic a mother’s womb. After massaging Juan Pedro, using the sling for close contact and giving him bucket soaks daily, Santos says she has seen improvements.
Not only is Pedro much calmer, but he cries less after taking his daily bath and massages. According to therapist Rozely Fontoura, the shantala massage is particularly useful in producing the pleasure hormone endorphin.
Fontoura also follows up with the mothers after they take the therapy classes to make sure they use the techniques in whatever way helps the baby the most.
There have been more than 900 confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil so far, and most of them are considered to be related to Zika infections in the pregnant mothers.
Image Source: Gannett