Research Exclusive: Massage Improves Growth Quality Among Male Preterm Infants, MASSAGE MagazineTwice-daily massage to preterm infants resulted in improved quality of growth among male preterm infants by decreasing body fat deposition, according to recent research.

The study, “Massage Improves Growth Quality by Decreasing Body Fat Deposition in Male Preterm Infants,” involved 44 preterm infants receiving neonatal intensive care. These infants were randomly assigned to either the massage group or the control group. There were 12 girls and 10 boys in each group.

Preterm infants in the massage group received a 20-minute massage twice a day, at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., six days a week for a total of four weeks. Nine licensed massage therapists, certified in infant massage, provided these sessions, which were based on the Infant Massage USA protocol and modified for preterm infants by eliminating abdominal massage.

The same licensed massage therapists also performed the control sessions, which involved standing quietly by the infant’s bedside for 20 minutes twice a day, at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., six days a week for a total of four weeks.

Among the outcome measures for this study were daily dietary intake, body weight, body length and body circumferences, as well as skinfold thickness and Ponderal Index (PI), which are measures of body fat. Skinfold thickness was measured by caliper at three different places on each infant’s body—the triceps (TSF), mid-thigh (MTSF) and subscapular (SSF).

“Preterm infants are lighter and shorter at term than term-born infants, but their total body and interabdominal fat mass is up to 70 percent greater,” state the study’s authors. “These alterations to body fat deposition impair growth quality and may result in part from the numerous stressful events associated with preterm birth.”

Analysis of the data showed no significant differences between the massage and control group for measures of energy and protein intake, weight, length and body circumference. However, the research did reveal that male infants in the massage group had smaller increases in PI and skinfold thickness at all three places of measurement as compared to male infants in the control group.

“Weight gain alone … is a poor indicator of the changes to body fat, [and] for that reason we evaluated body fat deposition by PI and regional skinfold thickness measurements,” state the study’s authors. “Despite similar weight gain, massage-group male infants had lower PI change, an indicator of total body fat, as well as skinfold-determined peripheral (TSF and MTSF) and central (SSF) subcutaneous fat deposition compared with control-group male infants.

“This finding,” they continue, “suggests massage promotes lean mass over fat mass in male preterm infants.”

Authors: Laurie J. Moyer-Mileur, Shannon Haley, Hillarie Slater, Joanna Beachy and Sandra L. Smith.

Sources: Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah; and School of Nursing, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. Originally published in March 2013 in the Journal of Pediatrics, 162(3), 490-495.