Background: Infant massage is increasingly being used in the community for low-risk babies and their primary care givers. Anecdotal claims suggest benefits for sleep, respiration, elimination and the reduction of colic and wind. Infant massage is also thought to reduce infant stress and promote positive parent-infant interaction.
Objectives: The aim of this review was to assess the effectiveness of infant massage in promoting infant physical and mental health in population samples.
Search strategy: Searches were undertaken of CENTRAL 2005 (Issue 3), MEDLINE (1970 to 2005), PsycINFO (1970 to 2005), CINAHL (1982 to 2005), EMBASE (1980 to 2005), and a number of other Western and Chinese databases.
Selection criteria: Studies in which babies under the age of six months were randomised to an infant massage or a no-treatment control group, and utilising a standardised outcome measuring infant mental or physical development.
Data collection and analysis: Weighted and standardised mean differences and 95% confidence intervals are presented. Where appropriate the results have been combined in a meta-analysis using a random effects model.
Main results: Twenty-three studies were included in the review. One was a follow-up study and thirteen were included in a separate analysis due to concerns about the uniformly significant results and the lack of dropout. The results of nine studies providing primary data suggest that infant massage has no effect on growth, but provides some evidence suggestive of improved mother-infant interaction, sleep and relaxation, reduced crying and a beneficial impact on a number of hormones controlling stress. Results showing a significant impact on number of illnesses and clinic visits were limited to a study of Korean orphanage infants. There was no evidence of effects on cognitive and behavioural outcomes, infant attachment or temperament. The data from the 13 studies regarded to be at high risk of bias show uniformly significant benefits on growth, sleep, crying and bilirubin levels.
Authors' conclusions: The only evidence of a significant impact of massage on growth was obtained from a group of studies regarded to be at high risk of bias. There was, however, some evidence of benefits on mother-infant interaction, sleeping and crying, and on hormones influencing stress levels. In the absence of evidence of harm, these findings may be sufficient to support the use of infant massage in the community, particularly in contexts where infant stimulation is poor. Further research is needed, however, before it will be possible to recommend universal provision.