Premature babies are exposed to numerous stresses in intensive care nurseries, including loud noises, bright lights, blood drawing, and invasive procedures.  Stress can have negative effect on these babies’ immune systems.  Massage therapy can be beneficial because it lowers stress and improves their immune system.

Massage has been used in premature and low birth weight babies to promote growth and development. Before birth, babies are exposed to physical stimulation.

Also, premature and low birth weight babies are often placed in incubators, open beds, attached to numerous monitors that interfere with them being touch as often as full term babies.

The Touch Research Institute has conducted numerous studies that revealed the benefits associated with infant massages.  It stimulates the immune system, and increases the baby’s resistance to infect.  Also massaged babies gain weight faster, and experience an increase of their oxytocin levels, a hormone that has pain relieving properties, and a calming effect.

A review of medical research studies found 14 randomized massage studies involving premature and/or low birth weight babies.

The review included studies in which a group of babies did not receive massage and were used in comparison to those who did.  In most of these studies babies were rubbed or stroked for about 15 minutes, three or four times a day, usually for five or ten days.

When compared to babies who were not touched, babies receiving massage, gained more weight each day (about 5 grams). They spent less time in hospital, had slightly better scores on developmental tests and had slightly fewer postnatal complications, although there were problems with how reliable these findings are. The studies did not show any negative effects of massage. Massage is time consuming for nurses to provide, but parents can perform massage without extensive training.

 

Benefits for Babies:

• Improves weight gain

• Helps the baby to become more organized

• Allows the baby to be more alert, so he can interact with you and others

• Helps start oral feeding earlier (rather than tube feeding)

• Promotes healthier bones

• Supports parent-infant interaction
• Facilitates weight gain in preterm infants1
• Lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
• Increases muscle tone
• Improves sleep and awake patterns
• Shortens lengths of stay in hospitals
• Improves cognitive and motor development at eight months of age
• Infant massage is an inexpensive tool
• Can be used as part of the developmental care plan of preterm infants

 

 Benefits for Parents and Caregivers

• Provides all of the essential elements of intimate parent-infant bonding and attachment: eye-to-eye, touch, voice, smell, movement, and thermal regulation.
• Encourages pre-verbal communication between caregiver and infant.
• Helps parents feel more confident and competent in caring for their children.
• Helps parents to ease their stress if they are a working parent and must be separated from their children for extended periods during the day.
• Provides parents with one-on-one quiet time or interactive play with their children.
• Creates a regular time of intimacy between parent and child.
• Increases parents' self-esteem by reinforcing and enhancing their skills as parents, and validates their role.
• Gives parents the tools for understanding their child's unique rhythms and patterns.
• Teaches parents how to read their infants' cues and recognize their states of awareness.
• Gives parents a special way to interact with their children who may be hospitalized Helps parents feel a greater part of the healing process.
• Daily massage helps parents to unwind and relax.
• Provides a positive way for fathers to interact with their infants/children.

Sources:

Massage for promoting growth and development of preterm and/or low birth-weight infants

www.bliss.org.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=4

http://www.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab000390.html

http://www.lovingtouch.com/infant-massage-nicu

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