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Research and policy

Research: baby massage

8 Nov 2006

  • Imperial College London - research relating to postnatal depression
  • Touch Research Institute - preterm infants and preschool massage
  • University of Warwick - Research says massage may help infants sleep more, cry less and be less stressed

Imperial College London, Faculty of Medicine

Report: Massage and mother baby interaction with depressed mothers, carried out by Foetal and Neonatal Stress Research Group.

Results: Mothers with postnatal depression are known to have a worse relationship with their babies. The aim of this study was to find whether a programme of attending mother baby massage classes would be beneficial. A group who attended five massage classes was compared with a similar group who attended a support group. At the end of the test period the massage group had significantly less depression and very significantly better interaction with their babies, than the control group. This is the first time that a method has been found for improving the relationship between a depressed mother and her baby.

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Touch Research Institute

The Touch Research Institute (TRI) was established in 1992 by director Tiffany Field, PhD, at the University of Miami School of Medicine. It was the first centre devoted solely to the study of touch and its application in science and medicine. In 2005 there were three TRIs, dedicated to studying the effects of touch therapy. They have researched the effects of massage therapy at all stages of life, from newborns to senior citizens. In these studies the TRIs have shown that touch therapy has many positive effects. For example, among other things, massage therapy:

  • Reduces stress hormones, and
  • Alleviates depressive symptoms.

Following are some specific research reports from TRI relating to massage for infants.

Preterm infants

Report: Massage of preterm newborns to improve growth and development. Field, T., Scafidi, F., and Schanberg, S. (1987), Pediatric Nursing.

The data reviewed suggests that the growth and development of preterm neonates [newborn infants] can be facilitated by tactile-kinesthetic stimulation. Greater weight gain and superior performance on developmental assessments persisted across the first six months for the group of infants that received the massage treatment. Field has suggested that these enduring effects may be mediated by better parent-infant interactions. Heightened responsiveness of the neonate may enhance the early parent-infant relationships which may, in turn, contribute to optimal growth and development at later stages in infancy.

Preschool massage

Report: Preschool children's sleep and wake behaviour: Effects of massage therapy. Field, T., Kilmer T., Hernandez-Reif, M. and Burman, I. (1996), Early Child Development and Care.
Study: Preschool children received 20-minute massages twice a week for five weeks.

Results: The massaged children as compared to children in the wait-list control group had better behaviour ratings on state, vocalisation, activity and cooperation after the massage sessions on the first and last days of the study. Their behaviour was also rated more optimally by their teachers by the end of the study. Also, at the end of the five week period parents of the massaged children rated their children as having less touch aversion and being more extroverted.

For more information on TRI go to

Massage may help infants sleep more, cry less and be less stressed

New research by a team at the University of Warwick says that massage may help infants aged under six months sleep better, cry less and be less stressed.

The team of researchers from Warwick Medical School and the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick was led by Angela Underdown. They looked at nine studies of massage of young children covering a total of 598 infants aged under six months. They found the various studies showed a range of significant results including indications that infants who were massaged cried less, slept better, and had lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol compared to infants who did not receive massage. One of the studies examined also claimed that massage could affect the release of the hormone melatonin.

One study also provided evidence that massage could help build better relationships between infants and mothers who had postnatal depression, although the reviewers said more research is needed to confirm this effect. One other study indicated that massage, eye contact and talking had a significant effect on growth and a significant reduction in illnesses and clinic visits for infants receiving little tactile stimulation in an orphanage but this was an unusual set of circumstances and the other studies, where infants were receiving normal levels of tactile stimulation, found no effect on growth.

The studies mainly involved infant massage by parents who were trained by health professionals in appropriate techniques...The review is called Massage Intervention for promoting mental and physical health in infants under six months (Review).

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(University of Warwick, 8 November 2006)

Tags: Talk To Your Baby

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