by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
Massage in the NICU
Research has demonstrated that nurturing touch for an infant is critical in establishing the foundation of their psychological well-being. When it comes to babies born prematurely, this can become even more important.
Parents of babies in the NICU may face a serious challenge: bonding with their infants despite doctors' rounds, medical equipment, and requirements for minimal stimulation. When the infant does become stable enough for touch, what can a parent do to provide comfort to their child? One of the best approaches is infant massage!
Preterm infants who were massaged before sleep fell asleep more quickly
According to Tiffany Field and her colleagues at the Touch Research Institute, following five days of massage therapy, infants that were considered preterm gained more weight. The average weight gain was 47%. Preterm infants who were massaged before sleep fell asleep more quickly and slept more soundly with better sleep patterns. Evidence has also indicated that those babies born early also achieve more optimal cognitive and motor development eight months after receiving massage.
Due to their baby’s health, for many families who have babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit there may be some delays in bonding. Delays in the bonding process may occur for a variety of reasons, and infant massage can be very beneficial in contributing to establishing the bond between parent and child. Massage contains all of the elements necessary to begin the process of bonding. Providing massage for a child can help develop a unique language and communication through touch, helping the parent and child to become attuned to each other. In addition to providing regular attentive care such as cuddling, holding and comforting, massage should be introduced slowly and with extra care
How does Infant Massage contribute to bonding?
The physical and emotional elements of bonding include but are not limited to:
Eye-to-Eye Contact: During massage the caregiver is encouraged to make direct eye-to-eye contact with their baby. Research says frequent eye contact is a key indicator of a baby who’s gaining confidence. This eye-to-eye contact provides meaningful communication at close range. A powerful psychological connection, this interaction triggers a message in the brain to temporarily shut down the production of stress hormones.
Skin-to-Skin Contact: During massage, touch, our very first sense is triggered. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and is the primary sensory organ. During the experience of touch, endorphins are released creating a feeling of euphoria for the giver and receiver. It's soothing for both parent and baby, while promoting baby's healthy growth. Touch has been proven to increase the healthy balance, coordination and development of the nervous system.
Vocalization: Babies prefer human voices and enjoy vocalizing in their first efforts at communication. Babies often enjoy just listening to your conversations, as well as your descriptions of their activities and environments. Babies seem to respond to high pitched voices (baby talk) and singing. Research shows babies recognize and show preference for the sound of their parent’s voice over that of a stranger.
Smell: Babies are comforted by scents of their caregiver. Smell is one of the most powerful senses and infants have a strong scent memory. A caregiver’s skin is one of the first smells they experience, so the imprint of that unique scent remains a reassuring, beloved fragrance throughout life.
Entrainment: Parent and baby respond to each other through various cues such as facial expressions, speech and other body movements. The development of this special "language" between them builds love, trust, and respect that can be carried from infancy through adulthood.
Specialized training to provide Touch Therapy for Liddle Kidz® in the NICU
Massage may be a supportive therapy that can be readily applied, most effectively by specially trained massage therapists or by parents who have learned massage techniques from a skilled, educated massage therapist. Pediatric massage and nurturing touch are the most appropriate massage techniques to use in this population. When using massage therapy for children with cancer, your work does not need to be aggressive to achieve its maximum potential.
For more information visit Comprehensive Pediatric Massage Training Course (CPMT)
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