Massage therapy has been used to reduce stress in premature infants and to improve cellular immunity. Usually isolated in incubators that protect them, preemies receive considerably less tactile contact than full-term babies in the critically important first days and weeks of life. One reason for this is that many nurses are hesitant to begin massage therapy for fear of over-stimulating the infant and dealing with other safety concerns. Yet recent research has shown that infant massage therapy offers significant benefits.
Research conducted by the Touch Research Institute revealed a number of benefits associated with infant massage. The studies suggest that massage can stimulate the immune system and thereby increase an infant’s resistance to infection. Also, infant massage could result in enhanced growth in preterm infants, decreased autoimmune problems (where a baby’s immune system literally attacks the body’s own tissues), increased lung function, and decreased glucose levels in infants with diabetes.
Massage therapy was shown to contribute to a rise in natural killer cells in babies afflicted with HIV and cancer. These effects resulted when the massages served to decrease an infant’s stress hormones. Premature infants who were gently massaged also produced higher levels of secreted immunoglobulin A, which protects against respiratory tract infections. Massage even stimulated the production of oxytocin (a hormone that acts as a natural pain reliever and provides a calming effect to the infant).
Other studies showed that preterm infants who received daily massages averaged 47% more weight gain than infants in a control group. These studies suggest that withholding touch therapy from preterm infants in intensive care may delay their recovery from colds and diarrhea.
It should be noted that massage is not a substitute for medical care and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult a medical doctor before undergoing any massage treatments on an infant.