To minimise the risk of infection and avoid putting ‘undue strain on the baby’s heart and lungs’ touch was minimal for premature babies and holding and touching mostly accompanied medical or hygienic procedures. As a direct result many premature babies identified being picked up with a stressful experience and consequently this would tend to make the mother and child relationship more difficult up on the baby’s release from hospital.
Far from touch putting undue strain up on the baby’s heart and lungs we now know that it is separation from the mother that causes arrhythmic heart rates, periodic breathing and irregular body temperatures. All of these due to the stress of being separated from their mothers. Some years ago I read of two doctors , Aldez and Rhea who gave a very clear indication of what happens when premature babies are kept with their mothers.
In despair at the mortality rate on their neonatal unit these two doctors removed the babies from incubators and gave all the babies back to their mothers. The mortality rate on their unit dropped. Pre-term infant research in neonatal intensive care units at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, show it’s possible to detect objective hormonal changes following regular periods of baby massage.
Those babies massaged averaging a 47% more weight gain per day, against those who weren’t, even though both study groups did not differ on formula intake in volume or calories.
Those babies massaged were awake and active a greater percentage of time during the sleep/wake behaviour observations.
Those babies massaged showed more mature habituation, orientation, motor and range of state behaviour and on average were hospitalized 6 days less than the non massaged babies.
This information is supported by other supplemental studies reporting ‘greater weight gain, motor activity and alertness’ in similar massaged preterm infants.
Eight months on these same babies still showed a weight gain advantage and were performing better on the Bayley Mental and Motor Scales. Superior growth and development thought to result from better parent infant interaction facilitated by the babies being massaged and more responsive during the newborn period.
These and other studies show the benefits of massage on healthy preterm infants.
Studies of regular baby massage upon fetal distress include;
COCAINE EXPOSED NEONATES;
These babies show perinatal complications, neurological and behavioural abnormalities. Central nervous system deficits indicative of fetal distress include, lower vagal tone, increased heart rates and lower Agpar scores.
Behavioural studies show stress behaviours that include tremors, restlessness, irritability, hypertonia, and abnormal reflexes.
Although best to eliminate infants who had also been exposed to alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, studies show 85% of drug exposed neonates are polydrug exposed. Because of the exposure in these infants to other drugs as well as cocaine, these findings can well apply to some other drug exposed babies.
Despite this however, in this study, cocaine was the primary drug used.
Two groups of fifteen medically stable babies equivalent in age, birth weight,intensive care unit duration and current weight were observed.
All continued receiving standard nursery care and parents visited, held and fed their babies, with massage therapy provided for half the group.
In short the massaged infants showed a 28% greater daily weight gain than the non-massaged, although again the groups did not differ on calorie or volume intake. The massaged babies experienced fewer postnatal complications and had more mature motor behaviours, fewer stress behaviours and better orientation after only 10 days of 15 minutes a day, baby massage treatment.
Bearing in mind AIDS is among the top ten causes of death in children from 1-4 years old, the results of another study on the benefits of baby massage on preterm neonates testing HIV positive is also extremely encouraging.
In brief, in the absence of compensatory treatment provided by baby-massage. exposure to HIV can contribute towards developmental delay and a failure to thrive as early as the newborn period.
On the positive side its clinically proven, that deterioration in HIV exposed newborns, can be reduced with baby massage therapy. Weight gain is greater with significantly fewer stress behaviours, as compared to the non massaged group. The mothers of HIV exposed babies also encouraged to massage their babies showed lower anxiety levels, their anxieties related to their despair at their babies condition.