Preterm infants in incubators who received 15 minutes of massage showed a significant increase in body temperature versus infants in a control group, who simply rested in their incubators, according to a recent study.

In the study, “Temperature Increases in Preterm Infants During Massage Therapy,” 48 medically stable preterm infants from a neonatal intensive care unit were randomly assigned to either a massage-therapy group or a control group. The infants had a mean birth weight of 1,206 grams. Their mean gestational age at birth was 29.4 weeks.
Subjects in both groups were assessed mid-morning, about one hour after feeding. The isolette portholes for each infant were open for roughly two minutes in order to undress the infant and attach a temperature probe to his or her right outer calf.

Each infant remained undressed during the subsequent 45-minute observation period. The subjects all resided in isolettes with a set temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. During the observation period, incubator portholes remained closed for the control group, while the portholes of those in the massage group were opened for the 15-minute massage intervention and remained closed for the duration of the observation.

Baseline body temperature of each baby was recorded during the first 15 minutes of observation. Temperatures were continuously recorded at 10 samples per second, in order to attain mean temperature for each infant.

In the 15 minutes following baseline observation, the infants in the massage-therapy group received 15 minutes of massage through the portholes of their incubators. The massage-therapy protocol comprised three standardized five-minute phases.

Phase one and three both consisted of tactile stimulation. The babies were placed in a prone position, and the massage therapist stroked with moderate pressure from the top of the head to the neck and vice versa; from the neck across the shoulders; from the upper back to the waist and vice versa; from the thigh to the foot to the thigh on both legs; and from the shoulder to the hand to the shoulder on both arms.

Phase two involved kinesthetic stimulation, where the infants were placed in a supine position, with each arm, then each leg, then both legs together flexed and extended in a bicycling motion.

Those babies in the standard care control group continued to rest in a supine position, with portholes closed.
During the last 15-minute segment of the study, all subjects rested in a supine position in isolettes with portholes closed, and temperature data continued to be collected.

Results of the study showed the temperature of infants in the massage group significantly increased during the 45-minute observation period, peaking during the 15-minute massage period and then remaining elevated throughout the 15-minute post-massage period.

The body temperature of infants in the control group gradually increased during the 45-minute observation period, but the babies who received massage showed a significantly greater increase in temperature as compared to those in the control group.

“Surprisingly, even though the isolette portholes remained open during the 15-minute stimulation period, the increase in temperature noted for preterm infants during that massage-therapy period was significantly greater then the increase noted for the control group,” said the study’s authors. “These findings indicate that heat loss does not occur in preterm infants receiving massage therapy in isolettes, suggesting that this procedure is safe to use on preterm infants in isolettes.”

Sources: Touch Research Institute, Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami School of Medicine; Fielding Graduate University; Department of Human Development & Family Studies, University of Alabama.

Authors: Miguel A. Diego, Tiffany Field and Maria Hernandez-Reif. Originally published in Infant Behavior & Development (2008) 31, 149-152.