Objective: Multiple studies have documented an increase in weight gain after 5 to 10 days of massage therapy for preterm neonates. The massaged preterm neonates did not consume more calories than the control neonates. One potential mechanism for these effects might involve massage-induced increases in vagal activity, which in turn may lead to increased gastric motility and thereby weight gain.
Study design: The present randomized study explored this potential underlying mechanism by assessing gastric motility and sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity in response to massage therapy (moderate pressure) versus sham massage (light pressure) and control conditions in a group of preterm neonates.
Results: Compared with preterm neonates receiving sham massage, preterm neonates receiving massage therapy exhibited greater weight gain and increased vagal tone and gastric motility during and immediately after treatment. Gastric motility and vagal tone during massage therapy were significantly related to weight gain.
Conclusion: The weight gain experienced by preterm neonates receiving moderate-pressure massage therapy may be mediated by increased vagal activity and gastric motility.