Newborns with low birth weight are vulnerable to a significant number of diseases during early childhood. If not treated properly, some diseases can cause permanent complications, including neurological, behavioral, immunological, and respiratory disorders.
Observational reports indicate that children with low birth weight tend to be more reactive to external stimuli but have low adaptability and decreased daily activity. They tend to pay little attention to their surroundings, except those babies who sleep in the parents’ bed during much of the night.
Literature on this topic advocates the potential benefits of massage in the care of premature and low birth weight babies. Infants receiving massages seemed to experience fewer postnatal complications and to exhibit fewer stress behaviors. They also gained weight faster. But does massage improve infants’ sleep patterns?
To investigate further, a group of Russian researchers conducted a study entitled “Massage Therapy and Sleep Behaviour in Infants Born with Low Birth Weight” to evaluate the effects of massage on the sleep behavior of infants born with low birth weight.
What Did They Study, and How Did They Study It?
Fifty babies with low birth weight (twenty-two boys and twenty-eight girls who weighed less than 2,500 grams at birth) were enrolled in the study. Of these babies, forty-one (nineteen boys and twenty-two girls) were born both underweight and preterm (gestational age less than thirty-six weeks). Nine babies (three boys and six girls) were born with low birth weight but were full term.
An identical group of infants (both in number and gender) formed a second control group. So, each participant in the study group had a counterpart in the control group.
All children were considered healthy, showing no signs of malformations, intrauterine infections, or inherited or progressive diseases. The babies in both groups were enrolled at two months of age.
The study group received massage therapy that included gentle rubbing, stroking or passive limb movements, and other means of kinesthetic stimulation. Infants in the control group were allowed to follow their usual routine and were not subject to massage intervention.
In the study group, massage therapy was performed regularly for six months (i.e., until the babies reached eight months of age). The control group was monitored closely during the same period of time. All the mothers (or caregivers) were asked to complete a questionnaire that addressed the clinical signs and symptoms that their babies experienced during this period. They also completed a questionnaire about the characteristics of their baby’s behavior during sleep.
Yes, Massage Your Baby.
The differences in sleep routine and sleep behavior among the infants of the two groups, although not impressive, demonstrated the beneficial effect of massage therapy. Massaged babies required less additional feeding upon waking during the night and were apparently more alert during the daytime.
An important result of this study is that a lower frequency of snoring was reported among the eight-month-old infants who had received massages. Snoring has been repeatedly associated with the mechanisms and clinical markers of obstructive sleep apnea, which is common even in childhood. It seems logical to assume that massage therapy might be useful as a preventive measure against sleep and breathing disorders for babies at risk.
Massages can definitely help premature or low-weight babies in many ways and may even help babies to sleep better. However, consult a pediatrician before starting any alternative therapies, such as massage.
Kelmanson, Igor A., Elena I. Adulas. “Massage Therapy and Sleep Behaviour in Infants Born with Low Birth Weight.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 12, no. 3 (2006): 200–205. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com