Do Babies Born Prematurely Benefit from Massage?

Babies and children simply love to be touched. It is a crucial part of their development and they thrive on it. All children need physical contact for healthy development and growth. For some, massage can play an important role in nourishing this growth.

Normal affectionate touching is important however, a regular routine of infant massage can offer additional benefits to both the caregiver and child. Nurturing touch promotes neurological, physiological and psychological function. Studies have shown increased weight gain, improved immune function, and myelination of nerves. All of these are needed in order to encourage healthy brain and muscle development.

Much of the research available today supports benefits of infant massage for babies born prematurely. This research has been ongoing since the 1970’s, and has been conducted at various institutes with infants who were born prematurely, exposed to drugs in utero, and infants that had developmental and motor problems. All categories of these babies showed benefits after receiving nurturing touch.

One specific study performed at the Touch Research Institute in Miami was the massage of preterm infants to improve growth and development. The data of this study suggests that tactile-kinesthetic stimulation can facilitate the growth and development of newborn infants. Greater weight gain and superior performance on developmental assessments persisted across the first six months for the group of infants that received the massage treatment. Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has suggested that these enduring effects may be mediated by better parent-infant interactions. Heightened responsiveness of the newborn infant may enhance the early parent-infant relationships which may, in turn, contribute to optimal growth and development at later stages in infancy.

Healthy, well babies can also experience a variety of developmental and behavioral improvements when they receive regular massage from their caregivers. These benefits may include neurological development, decreased hospitalization, improved digestion and healthy weight gain.

In addition to the many actual physical benefits, massage can become a regular time for parents check in with their baby, alerting parents to subtle changes in their baby’s health and encouraging the parent to communicate with their baby in a language they understand – touch.

If massage is a regular scheduled time of the day, it can also result in precious relaxation and together time for both parent and child. With the baby lying on their back, making eye to eye contact with mom or dad, they receive full focused attention that results in full communication and support. Massage deepens feelings of attachment, and enhances communication between parent and child promoting the physical and emotional well-being of babies and young children.

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