Purpose: Premature infants lack the tactile stimulation they would have otherwise experienced in the womb. Infant massage is a developmentally supportive intervention that has been documented for several decades to have a positive effect on both full term and preterm infants. The purpose of this study was to assess the short and long term benefits of massage on stable preterm infants.
Methods: A quasi experimental design was used, 66 infants were recruited from two university hospitals with tertiary level NICUs; 32 infants received the massage therapy by their mothers. Data collection by a researcher blind to the infants' group assignments included weight at discharge, pain responses on the PIPP scale at discharge, length of stay in hospital, neuro-developmental outcome (Bayley scores) and breastfeeding duration at 12 months corrected age.
Results: Infants who were massaged had significantly lower scores on the PIPP after a heel-stick compared to before the massage and had lower PIPP scores at discharge compared to the control group. Massaged infants had higher cognitive scores at 12 months corrected age. Weight gain, length of stay, breastfeeding duration and motor scores did not differ between groups.
Conclusion: Stable preterm infants benefit from massage therapy given by their mothers and may be a culturally acceptable form of intervention to improve the outcomes of preterm infants.
Keywords: Bayley score; Breastfeeding; Cognitive development; Motor development; Pain; Premature; Tactile massage.
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