Infant Massage

Specialties NICU


I am a senior nursing student at the University of Minnesota and we had a class session on Complementary Care which highlighted infant massage.

Infant massage has been a common practice in many parts of the world, but it has only recently been researched in the U.S. Infant massage provides both stimulation and relaxation. It stimulates respiration, circulation, digestion, and elimination. Infants who are massaged sleep more soundly and are aided in the healing process during illness (Field, T., 1994).

Preterm infants have been found to especially benefit from massage. Research indicates that massaged preterm infants gain more weight, are awake and active more often, do better developmentally, show fewer stress responses, and are hospitalized fewer days (Field, T., 1994).

In addition to the physiological benefits of infant massage, this practice facilitates parent-infant bonding. Infant massage improves attachment, makes parents feel more competent, reinforces parenting skills, and enhances communication. It offers either parent a set time for quiet, uninterrupted interaction that fosters well being on both sides (Children's Integrative Medicine, 2000).

I would be interested in hearing if any of you have used infant massage in NICU and what your experiences have been.

Some useful web cites on infant massage are:


Children's Integrative Medicine-The Healing Place. (2000). Children's Hospitals & Clinics. Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota.

Field, T. (1994). Infant Massage. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 3(3), 7-12.

Martha Fish, Senior Nursing Student

In the UK, infant massage is recognised as effective in those areas you mentioned and it is an area many staff enjoy participating in. There are courses for staff to become qualified to give and teach infant massage and there are stric guidelines on which babies can recieve massage. I have seen it being very effective on babies for some of the physiological parameters you mentioned. I have also seen the utter joy with parents as they are starting to physically experience a different type of bonding with their child, when they may have had many barriers in their way for weeks or months. This I believe, is the most special aspect of infant massage.


I am a student from belgium. i have a question about babymassage. do you know wheter there is (scientific) research about the effect from babymassage on the attachment with the parents? you would help me a lot with this, this is information for my thesis.

thank you very much

Specializes in NICU, Infection Control.

You need to be very careful about massage for preterm infants. In the hands of a well-qualified massage therapist, it is probably safe, but it is very easy to overstimulate some premature/immature babies. Overstimulation can cause many problems, including apnea and bradycardia.

I suggest you read about Heideliese Als work on preterm development. IMHO, infant massage might be something for Mom to learn after the baby is home and STABLE. It would be very important to know the signs that the baby has had enough and to stop massage at that point.

Specializes in NICU.

I agree with prmenrs. Tiny premature babies are far too prone to overstimulation for massage. Perhaps there's a safe way to do it, but I don't feel it's something we could teach parents to do correctly. We teach parents of preemies never to stroke, rub or massage their baby. We teach parents to let the baby grasp a finger or apply firm pressure to the baby to keep it contained and give boundaries. When I read articles about infant massage being especially good for premature babies, I always wonder if they are referring to otherwise healthy, borderline premature babies, like 34-35-36 weekers, rather than the younger ones.

The book, Developmental Care of Newborns and Infants: A Guide for Heath Professionals edited by Carole Kenner, DNS, RNC, FAAN and Jacqueline M. McGrath, PhD, RN, NNP, CCNS (2004, Mosby, ISBN# 0-323-02443-2) has an excellent chapter (Chapter 14) which is devoted to "Environmental Issues" and has several pages concerning tactile stimulation which includes information (including many studies and their authors) concerning Still, Gentle Touch , Stroking and Massage , as well as Kinesthetic and Vestibular Stimulation . There is a distinction made between stroking, massaging and rubbing. The chapter talks about many studies and generally how much better the babies did (weight gain and earlier discharge) in most of the studies. It's a fascinating chapter and talks quite a bit about family centered care and how to involve parents in their care. Babies involved in most of these studies were between 26 and 34 weeks of age with the average ages being 27-32 weeks.

The NICUs I've heard of that do infant massage have specially trained nurses who take special classes in infant massage before implementing in in their own NICUs and are trained especially to be sure the massage is done on the appropriately stable babies and is done with great sensitivity to the baby's cues. They are also trained to teach other nurses as well as parents.

I highly recommend this book to every NICU nurse working today. There is too much information in it for me to share in this forum but it's all absolutely excellent and can be used when writing policies as well as in our daily care of these special little ones. In the preface of the book, a part describing this text says, "The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) formed an interdisciplinary task force to develop a "core curriculum" that has evolved into NANN's Developmental Care of Newborns & Infants to serve as a cornerstone for education of and clinical practice by NICU professionals. This text provides evidenced-based guidelines for implementation of developmentally supportive caregiving with infants and families served through the NICU and beyond."

Love and light,


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