ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Baby Massage Benefits For Your Premature Baby

Updated on November 18, 2015

Confusion after having a premature baby

For most women pregnancy lasts nine months and from shortly after birth they have a baby with them day and night. But for some mothers reality is vastly different; the pregnancy ends far too soon, and the baby has to spend a considerable time in hospital. This, coupled with feelings of confusion and guilt that accompany a premature birth, make it harder for the natural bonding process to occur. If you are in that position, please realise that your feelings are normal, and that there is help available. I’ve been there, so I have a good idea how you feel.

This article is one of a series on the challenges faced by mothers of premature babies and highlights the benefits of baby massage as a way to help you and your baby to achieve a loving bond.

Some Benefits of Massage For Your Baby

Professor Tiffany Field, a Miami child psychologist has studied the effects of healing touch on premature babies and found that in comparison to non-massaged babies, premature babies who are massaged:

gain weight more rapidly (Massage stimulates the vagus nerve, which aids digestion)

have better motor skills

have better mental development

are discharged from hospital 6 days earlier

Bonding with your baby

Although the birth of my first daughter was far from straightforward, I knew what it felt like to fall instantly and permanently in love with a baby. This meant that when my second daughter was born very premature the shock of that early birth was compounded by guilt that the deep sense of love was not always present. Much of the time in the early days after Lolo’s birth I felt useless: unable to provide for my baby, relying on hospital staff to tell me what I could do for her. Sometimes when she was very ill there was nothing I could do, and when she was not even able to tolerate the milk I expressed the sense of uselessness was overwhelming.

But mothers are never useless. Within two days of her birth I held Lolo in Kangaroo Care and the calming effect on her was obvious. (See the link to my article at the end of this post.) Kangaroo Care is one of the touch therapies that help both baby and mother to heal from the effects of premature birth. Baby massage is the other.

This article does not tell you how to massage your premature baby because I think that trying to learn baby massage from an article could easily lower your confidence, whereas receiving lessons from a qualified instructor is likely to give it a boost. However I hope you will feel encouraged by reading my experience of massaging my tiny baby and feel able to try it for yourself.

A salute that says “I am not happy."

This photo was not taken during massage, but it shows a premature baby salute. In it Lolo partially covers her face with one hand and stretches out her other arm. In the classic salute the arms would be more rigid and the eyes  more covered.
This photo was not taken during massage, but it shows a premature baby salute. In it Lolo partially covers her face with one hand and stretches out her other arm. In the classic salute the arms would be more rigid and the eyes more covered. | Source

Beginning Baby Massage for a Preemie

Giving a premature baby a massage is very different to doing so for a full-term baby, so be gentle on yourself if it doesn’t go as you expect.

Lolo was about four weeks old, and weighed around 3 pounds, when she was moved down a level of intensive care and a nurse suggested we try massage. At first this involved nothing more than laying Lolo on my lap and establishing eye contact. Lolo rapidly averted her eyes and her tiny arms went into a salute - a classic premature baby signal that indicates distress.

The nurse, Theresa, showed me how to hold Lolo’s hands close into her chest to comfort her, but it still took a few attempts before Lolo could relax enough for me to do any massage. At first I lightly held her feet and then gently stroked her legs, all the time watching her to make sure she was happy with the treatment.

If she held her hands together by herself then it was clear she was enjoying the massage. If she displayed the salute and didn’t relax after I’d held her hands to her chest then it was time to stop. I began to recognise cues, to understand my baby. Even that helped me to feel better, knowing that I could do something right.

A Happy Preemie Baby

Lolo is more relaxed now and her hands are closer to body.
Lolo is more relaxed now and her hands are closer to body. | Source

The Healing Power of Touch

This is part of what I wrote in my journal later that day after the first try at massage: I suppose I am going through a stage of accepting what has happened. Among the feelings of not wanting it to have happened, the feeling of just wanting to hold and protect Lolo, to be with her more, gets stronger and stronger.

Lolo was born at the nearest hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but it was over a two hour round trip from our home. After five and a half weeks she transferred to our local hospital. While this made life easier, none of the staff there was skilled enough to guide me further in baby massage than the leg massages I had already learned to do. Then Lolo became ill again, and needed another drip. During the first four months of her life Lolo had seven blood transfusions. These, and blood tests, have left countless scars on her hands and feet but a more immediate effect was that she hated having her feet touched. If I forgot and held them during a nappy change she screamed, and when I tried to do massage she tensed up. I contacted Theresa who suggested still-holding her feet during Kangaroo Care. Gradually Lolo began to relax again, but by the time she left hospital I had only ever massaged her feet and legs and once laid a hand gently on her tummy.

At home Lolo was still easily over-stimulated (usually by her adoring sister) and stiffened whenever she was picked up or moved. Then she caught a cold. I had been warned of the danger signs for bronchiolitis: fast breathing, unable to feed, turning blue. None of these applied, but I knew something was wrong. She looked greyish and was abnormally sleepy. After a feed she suddenly went white, limp and stopped breathing. Her eyes rolled. Although she began breathing again we rushed her back to hospital. Within hours she was on a ventilator, needing 80% oxygen (air is 23%). It happened so fast I thought she was going to die. In the middle of the night she was transferred to the nearest hospital that had a bed available in paediatric intensive care.

Another month in hospital followed with more invasive – and life-saving – treatments. This time back home, the illness had left Lolo even tenser than before, and I was persistently plagued by memories of her birth, memories that left me feeling numb and frozen.

A nurse had given me the card of an instructor who taught baby massage one-to-one and this suited me perfectly because I was afraid to take Lolo to a group in case she caught another infection. The instructor showed me how to use slow strokes and gentle leg shakes to calm my baby. Lolo began to enjoy the massage. She never managed to cope with a full massage, but after a while I stopped seeing this as a failing on my part and learned to do only as much as she wanted. We did legs and tummy one day, face and back another. She relaxed; I relaxed. I began to trust my ability to sooth my own baby, an ability staff had pointed out while Lolo was in hospital but which somehow I couldn’t then trust.

By 7 months after her birth Lolo rarely cried. She woke in the mornings cooing and smiling. She giggled and grinned. She’s twelve now, and though she doesn’t grin and giggle much in the mornings these days, she does much of the rest of the day!

It’s not so much our experiences that shape us as our beliefs about those experiences. I kept a journal for the first few months of Lolo’s life, and reading it now I can see that over and over I wrote of my love for her, my awe at her strength. Yet for a long time I felt guilty that I hadn’t felt that initial overpowering rush of love I felt with her sister. Eventually I came to see that love doesn’t come only in one shape or size, and that the slow, gentle love I felt for her was equally valid. For Lolo and I, baby massage was one way of allowing that love to grow.

Some Benefits of Baby Massage For You

I hadn’t read about Professor’s Field’s studies until after I’d written most of this article, but what she discovered is the same as I experienced. Mothers who massage their premature baby are have fewer symptoms of depression, lowered stress levels and gain higher self-esteem. When a mother massages her baby the hormone oxytocin, which is a calming hormone, is released in both mother and baby.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)