The Benefits of Massage for Preterm Infants

Premature birth is a stressful situation for parents and child. So many things about preemie care seem frightening: the tubes, the incubators, the constant poking and prodding with medical instruments. One treatment, however, that is proving to be extremely beneficial is the miraculous power of massage for preterm infants.

Premature infants have many hurdles to overcome, but the two most common are strengthening the lungs and overcoming nutrition issues. When a preterm infant begins to gain weight, there are many sighs of relief, because this is always a good sign that things will progress positively for the baby.

Many studies1 have shown that preterm infants who receive massage gain weight more quickly:

"Preterm infants gained 47% more weight, became more socially responsive, and were discharged 6 days earlier at a hospital cost savings of $10,000 per infant (or 4.7 billion dollars if the 470,000 preemies born each year were massaged). The underlying biological mechanism for weight gain in the massaged preterm newborns may be an increase in vagal tone and, in turn, an increase in insulin (food absorption hormone)." 2

Your preemie's time in the warm comfort of the womb was abruptly interrupted. Now, they are in the bright lights and noisy environment of the neonatal intensive care unit whose expertise is necessary, but stressful. This can also interfere with the preemie's ability to thrive. Massage reduces stress for the premature infant:

"Touch interventions were associated with 1) fewer startle responses, 2) decreased need for ventilation, and 3) fewer clenched fists. The stimulated infants averaged greater weight gain, were awake and active for a greater period of time and scored better on the Brazelton Scale." 3

Talk to your team of healthcare providers today if your preemie is not already receiving the miraculous benefits of massage. As well, a licensed massage therapist can teach infant massage. Once your beautiful baby is able to come home, you'll be able to bond quickly with your child and relieve colic through infant massage.

  1. Field, T. Stimulation of preterm infants. Pediatrics in Review 1988;10:149-154.
  2. Field, T, Schanberg, SM, Scafidi, F, Bauer, CR, Vega-Lahr, N, Garcia, R, Nystrom, J, Kuhn, CM. Tactile/ kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics 1986;77:654-658.
  3. Field, T. Alleviating stress in newborn infants in the intensive care unit. Perinatology 1990;17,:1-9.