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.

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

The University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute has reported for over twenty years the benefits associated with infant massages. It increases the baby’s resistance to infection by stimulating the immune system. Also, massaged babies experience an accelerated weight gain.

Oxytocin levels are increased by massage. It is a hormone with pain relieving and calming properties.

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 control group of babies that did not receive massage. The were compared to the babies who did. The babies, in most of the studies were massaged for about 15 minutes, three or four times a day, for five or ten days. The studies determined that that babies receiving massage experienced more weight gain (about 5 grams), were discharged from the hospital faster, had slightly better developmental test scores and experienced fewer complications. Massage did not have any negative effects. While it is a time consuming process for nurses to provide, parents can perform it without extensive training.

Benefits for Babies:

*Enhances 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 infant-parent interaction

*Promotes weight gain in preterm infants

*Lowers cortisol levels, a major stress hormone

*Increases muscle tone

* Improves sleep and awake patterns

*Shortens hospital stay

* Improves cognitive and motor development at eight months of age

* Infant massage is an inexpensive tool

*Can be used as part of the baby’s developmental care plan

Benefits for Parents and Caregivers

* Provides the essential elements of intimate parent-infant bonding and attachment: eye to eye, touch smell movement, and temperature regulation

* Encourages pre-verbal communication between caregiver and infant

*Helps parents feel more competent and confident in caring for their children

* Helps to lower parental stress, if they are working and must be separated from their child for extended periods during the day

* Allows parents interactive play or one-on-one quiet time with their child

*Creates a regular time of infancy between parent and child

*Elevates parents’ self-esteem by enhancing and reingforcing their skills as parents and validates their role

* Gives parents the tools for understanding their child’s unique behavior and patterns

* Teaches parents how to read their infants’ cues and recognize their states of awareness

Gives parents a precious way to interact with their children who may be hospitalized. It helps parents to feel a greater part of the healing process

* Daily massage helps parents to unwind and relaxe.

* Provides a positive way for fathers to interact with their infants/children

Learn more about holistic family health. Stop by Dr. Elaine Ferguson’s site where you can find out all about infant massage and what it can do for you.