Purpose: To examine the immediate responses of preterm infants to two forms of unimodal [auditory only (A) and tactile only (T)] and two forms of multimodal sensory stimulation [auditory, tactile and visual (ATV); auditory, tactile, visual and vestibular (ATVV)].
Method: A convenience sample of 54 clinically stable preterm infants (33-34 postconceptional weeks) was randomly assigned to 1 of 5 experimental groups [Control (C); (A); (T); (ATV); and (ATVV)]. Stimulation was applied for 15 minutes once daily for 4 consecutive days.
Results: Outcome measures included pulse (PR) and respiratory rate (RR), oxygen saturation, behavioral state (BS), and body temperature. Repeated measures ANOVA identified significant differences among the groups during intervention for PR (p < .001), RR (p = .01), and BS (p < .02). Infants receiving any intervention with a tactile component showed increasing arousal (change in BS), and increased PR and RR during stimulation. Group T infants had higher proportions of PR > 180 while Group ATVV had higher proportions of PR < 140 (p = .0001). Group ATVV showed increased alertness following stimulation (24%) in contrast to having the least alertness during stimulation (11%).
Conclusions: Tactile stimulation alone may be too arousing for these infants while the addition of vestibular stimulation may modulate arousal and facilitate optimal arousal prior to feeding.