Effective and caring postnatal care is what’s needed to facilitate the healthy development of pre-term babies. Technological advances have dramatically increased a preterm baby’s survival rate. Preterm babies are cared in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) using advance techniques. Preterm babies have special nutritional needs as they grow at a faster rate than full-term infants. In the NICU, in order to meet the preemie’s need for increased nutritional needs, high energy supplements and high-energy and easily digestible milk formula are used to help the preterm baby gain needed weight. In addition, the mother can pump breast-milk and supply her baby with needed antibodies. Pumping can help the mom feel as if she is contributing to her baby’s health and help mitigate feelings of helplessness.
Touch and massage are known in folklore as a basic treatments for many types of ailments. It’s well-known that the babies in orphanages who are without the proper care and attention and the experience of touch suffer from failure to thrive syndrome.
Today’s current research has shown touch to be necessary for babies to grow physically and emotionally. Tiffany Field, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Touch Institute at the University of Miami have conducted numerous studies that show the benefits of touch, including relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety in postpartum women.
Studies have shown the benefits of infant massage to be facilitating bonding in both mom and baby, decreasing stress hormones in both mom & baby), reducing colic and GI symptoms, and it relieves muscle pains and assists recovery for preemies.
One of the ways in which massage benefits premature infants is to facilitate weight gain. Tiffany Field and her colleagues at the Touch Institute and Sari G Ferber and her colleagues at the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv University, Israel, both conducted studies that showed a massage protocol, administered over ten days in medically stable premature babies, helped a premature baby gain 28-47% more weight than the premature infants who were not methodically massaged.
Li Li Chen and her colleagues at the China Medical University in Taiwan also studied the benefits and efficacy of touch with premature babies. In China, shiatsu and acupressure massage are folk medicine techniques that are commonly practiced widely passed on within families. The researchers wanted to see if this folk knowledge could be put good use in the care of premature babies.
They studied a total of 40 infants. All infants received routine NICU care. However, the 20 infants in the shiatsu-acupressure group received 15 minutes of massage one hour before meals 3 times a day for 10 days. The study found that, by the second week, the babies in the shiatsu-acupressure group gained significantly more weight than the babies who were not receiving massage.
The acupressure points used on the premature infants were: Conception Vessel 12 (CV12), located on the front of the body, at the top of the stomach above the umbilicus, Stomach 26 (St36), located bilaterally on the outside of the knees, and Kidney1 (KI1) located on the bottom of the foot. All these points are known to have powerful mindbody effects in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Infant massage, both Western and Eastern styles, have been shown to provide effective benefits for premature babies. Nurses can engage in this care. Parents in the NICU can train parents in these simple, effective techniques. In this way, parents feel more involved in their baby’s care and are also contributing significantly to care for their premature baby’s needs.