Treat Your Preemie to a Massage

Infant massage may boost immune system and weight gain in preemies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) If you love getting a massage, you probably enjoy feeling refreshed afterward. Massages can recharge many people. It appears they might recharge little babies too.

A recent study found that massaging preemies might help them. Preemies who received regular massages gained more weight.

They also showed a little more strength in their immune systems.

"Talk to your doctor about baby massages."

The study, led by Jocelyn Y. Ang, MD, from the Departments of Infectious Diseases and of Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, aimed to determine whether infant massage could help boost preemies' immune systems.

The researchers compared two groups of babies born before they were due that were in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

One group of 58 babies received infant massage five days a week while the other group of 62 babies received usual care without massage.

The babies were assessed for their weight, the number of infections they had, the amount of time they spent in the hospital and their immune system health.

The health of their immune systems was determined by measuring certain amounts of immune cells in their system, including T cells, B cells and "natural killer" cells. All of these cells help fight infections.

The babies were all tracked for up to four weeks or until they were discharged from the hospital.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the number of natural killer cells in the babies of both groups were not different.

However, the power those natural killer cells had was a little different. The babies in the massage group had a higher level of "cytotoxicity" in their natural killer cells.

This means that their natural killer cells were more toxic against other cells. This is a good thing because it means the natural killer cells would be more effective at killing intruders.

The babies with the highest amount of cytotoxicity in their natural killer cells were those who received the massage five or more days a week.

The babies who had received massages also gained more weight than the group that did not.

The researchers therefore concluded that massage therapy may help the overall outcome of preterm infants, but they suggest conducting larger studies with more babies.

It's unsurprising that massages can benefit even the tiniest of bodies to Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT of Revive Physical Therapy and Wellness in Edison, New Jersey.

"Under normal circumstances, babies are held and coddled by their parents, but if babies are hospitalized, there is less opportunity for this type of contact bonding," Shiao said.

"When premies were given massage therapy, their immune systems boosted and weight gain was noticeable not only because massage is generally therapeutic but because the hand contact from the therapist was naturally soothing and stress relieving for the baby. A parent's touch is what a baby needs in this stage of growth. "

She said massage can offer other benefits as well.

"Also, from an alternative medicine aspect, massages can involve an energy exchange to promote increased healing," Shiao said.

The study was published November 12 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 11, 2012
Last Updated:
November 14, 2012