by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
Spending time in a hospital with your new baby, specifically a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
When your baby is born you have many different feelings. Joy, happiness and love are just a few examples of how you may feel. However, when your baby is born early or with a complicating medical condition, those feelings may also include grief, disappointment, anger and fear. In many cases being born early also means spending time in a hospital, specifically a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This experience is much different than being home with your family.
Once infants are hospitalized, they experience several different types of touch
The first touch the infant may receive is negative touch - anything that is painful, invasive or uncomfortable. Most of this negative touch comes in the form of procedures that are necessary for the infant's health and survival, and are performed by someone other than the parents. The other main type of touch the baby receives is positive touch. Sometimes there is a lack of positive touch - due to the parent’s fear or the healthcare team’s busy schedules. This can also be affected by the baby’s developmental level.
Generally, when positive touch is provided, it is done so by the parents and this type of touch is anything that is considered loving, nurturing, soothing or comforting.
It becomes imperative that nurturing touch is introduced to help balance an infants experience of negative touch. By balancing the negative touch interventions with positive touch, the baby is less likely to suffer long-term problems, such as tactile defensiveness or touch aversion. Both of these are conditions that arise when there is an overabundance of negative touch without the balance of positive touch.
Introduce nurturing touch in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as soon as it can be done so safely
When a child is affected by a touch aversion, they might not like to be touched. Sometimes this is all over, other times it is in specific areas. Specific areas often include the infants heels or around the mouth. This is caused because of negative experiences in these area (an infant receiving numerous heel sticks or being ventilated). This can create a problem with lifelong consequences for the baby and their family.
This is why it is invaluable to introduce nurturing touch in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as soon as it can be done so safely. Kangaroo Care, or skin-to-skin care, is an emerging practice in the NICU which does encourage touch and holding of the infant. This close skin-to-skin contact can help an infant regulate their breathing, heart rate and body temperature. Being close to the parents also encourages bonding and connection. Once a baby is stable enough for touch via skin-to-skin contact and containment holds, infant massage may then be introduced slowly to provide an infant with an appropriate amount of developmentally appropriate stimulation.
Infant Massage has been shown to have numerous benefits for the baby, parents and healthcare team
For infants; infant massage can:
Facilitate weight gain in preterm infants, 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
- Recent research shows there are significant benefits to infant massage that out weigh over-stimulation
- Properly applied techniques produce increased benefits, such as improved developmental scores and earlier discharge
Healthcare staff and specially trained pediatric massage professionals may introduce infant massage into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to facilitate a safe, effective family centered care approach.
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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