Whole-body massage for growth and neurodevelopment in term healthy newborns

The practice of infant massage is common throughout the world. Yet, the effectiveness of this intervention is unclear for the term healthy newborns.

A recent systematic review by Priyadarshi M. et al. assessed the effect of whole-body massage with or without oil and compared it to no massage in term healthy newborns. 

They looked for neonatal mortality, systemic infections, growth, behavior (crying or fussing time, sleep duration), and neurodevelopment associated with child massage. For the study, the investigators searched MEDLINE via PubMed, Cochrane CENTRAL, EMBASE, and CINAHL, and clinical trials databases and reference lists of retrieved articles. They evaluated the risk of bias, extracted data, and synthesized effect estimates using mean difference (MD) and standardized mean difference (SMD). Furthermore, they used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of evidence.

Their study included 31 randomized and quasi-randomized trials consisting of 3860 participants. Most studies indicated that the Infant massage was performed by different care providers starting in the neonatal period and continuing for 1-2 months. Thirteen studies documented using oil with body massage. None of the studies documented neonatal mortality or systemic infections. 

Meta-analyses indicated that whole-body massage might increase infant length after the intervention period (median assessment age six weeks). However, its effect on weight, head circumference, sleep duration, and bilirubin levels remains uncertain. Additionally, its effect on crying/fussing time (at median three months of age), sleep duration (at six months of age), weight, length, and head circumference (at 6-12 months follow-up), and neurodevelopment outcomes, both at the end of the intervention period and follow-up remains uncertain.

This study indicates that Whole-body massage may improve the infant length at the end of the intervention period (median age six weeks, range 1-6 months). However, its effect on other short- or long-term outcomes is uncertain. Further well-designed trials must evaluate these in the future.

Priyadarshi M, Kumar V, Balachander B, Gupta S, Sankar MJ. Effect of whole-body massage on growth and neurodevelopment in term healthy newborns: A systematic review. J Glob Health. 2022 Oct 18;12:12005. Doi: 10.7189/jogh.12.12005. PMID: 36254378; PMCID: PMC9577283.

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