The results of a study involving 40 newborns who recently underwent a painful procedure point toward Therapeutic Touch as an effective method of significantly reducing heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and pain intensity.

The study, “Therapeutic Touch: influence on vital signs of newborns,” involved 40 newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit. All the newborns underwent a painful procedure. The most frequent reason for admission to the neonatal intensive care unit was respiratory distress, followed by sepsis and prematurity, among others.

The Therapeutic Touch intervention was applied to each newborn soon after he or she underwent a painful procedure. Each session took place in a warm and well-ventilated room with soothing background music at a low volume.

“The baby was positioned comfortably, while the investigator stood behind and to its side, maintaining the position of the hands in each region of the body for three minutes, in many parts, such as head, anterior and posterior chest, one at a time,” state the study’s authors. “Sessions lasted from 20 to 30 minutes, and further attention was dedicated to the ill parts of the body.”

The main outcome measures for this study were the vital signs of the newborns: heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature and pain intensity. These four outcomes were assessed before and after the Therapeutic Touch intervention. To measure pain intensity, the researchers used the Neonatal Infant Pain Score.

Comparing the newborns’ vital signs before and after the Therapeutic Touch intervention, the researchers found a statistically significant drop in all four outcome measures. Pain intensity showed the most dramatic drop after Therapeutic Touch, decreasing from a mean of 3.37 to zero on the Neonatal Infant Pain Score.

“During data collection, the researchers of this study noted that the use of Therapeutic Touch [on] the newborn also contributed to calm down the mothers, by noticing their children more relaxed after the application of the technique, especially after suffering a painful procedure,” state the study’s authors. “At the end of the session, the newborn was really more relaxed, with calm face, sleeping for one or two hours, remaining calm after waking up.”

The researchers concluded that Therapeutic Touch is an effective method for reducing pain and increasing relaxation among newborns who have undergone a painful procedure.


Authors: Nadia Christina Oliveira Ramada, Fabiane de Amorim Almeida and Mariana Lucas da Rocha Cunha.

Sources: Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, São Paulo, Brazil. Originally published in 2013 in Einstein, 11(4), 421-425.