Neonatal jaundice, caused by an increase in bilirubin levels, is common in late preterm infants. When bilirubin concentrations rise to the point of requiring treatment to avoid serious complications, phototherapy is often initiated as first line treatment. The use of phototherapy, while necessary, may deter families from holding and interacting with their babies either because of hospital policy, or because its appearance may be distressing. Therefore, researchers continue to investigate interventions to substitute or lessen the duration of phototherapy.
A recent study sought to determine the effects of massage on transcutaneous bilirubin levels in stable late preterm infants, as massage is thought to increase gastric motility, aiding in the excretion of bilirubin. In this randomized controlled trial, 40 preterm infants who were between 34-36 weeks gestation, weighing between 1500-2500g, with a five minute Apgar of 8-10 who were breastfeeding, free from any disease at birth, and not requiring phototherapy were assigned to either the massage group or the control group. Infants in the massage arm of the study received massage on postnatal days 1-4 for 20 minutes twice a day using the Field’s Technique1. Transcutaneous bilirubin levels and number of defecations were recorded. Results demonstrated that infants in the massage group had a significantly higher number of defecations, and lower level of transcutaneous bilirubin levels.
These study findings have important implications for neonatal therapists. Neonatal therapists are often the professionals who are trained in neonatal massage, so requesting therapy referrals for these infants early in their hospital stay may be beneficial. Although the massage in this study was performed by a single researcher, massage techniques could potentially be taught to families to increase bonding and touch, as well as empower families to play a key role in promoting the health of their infants.
Basiri-Moghadam, M., Basiri-Moghadam, K., Kianmehr, M., & Jani, S. (2015) The effect of massage on neonatal jaundice in stable preterm newborn infants: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, 65(6), 602-606.