Agarwal K, Gupta A, Pushkarna R Effects of massage and use of oil on growth, blood flow and sleep pattern in infants. Indian J Med. 2000; 112:212-7

Ahmed A, Saha SK, Chowdhury MA Acceptability of massage with skin barrier-enhancing emollients in young neonates in Bangladesh. J Health Popul Nutr. 2007; 25:(2)236-40

Bedwell C, Lavender T Newborn skin care—a review of evidence and practice. Eur J Obstet Gynecol. 2012; 7:18-21

Bennett C, Underdown A, Barlow J Massage for promoting mental and physical health in typically developing infants under the age of six months. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013; 4

2015. (accessed 3 February)

Clarke C, Gibb C, Hart J, Davidson A Infant massage: developing an evidence base for health visiting practice. Clin Eff Nurs. 2002; 6:121-8

Cooke A, Cork M, Danby S, Lavender T Use of oil for baby skincare: a survey of UK maternity and neonatal units. Br J Midwifery. 2011; 19:(6)354-62

2013. (accessed 3 February 2015)

Danby SG, Al Enezi T, Sultan A Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013; 30:(1)42-50

Darmstadt GL, Mao-Qiang M, Chi E Impact of topical oils on the skin barrier: possible implications for neonatal health in developing countries. Acta Paediatr. 2002; 91:(5)546-54

Darmstadt GL, Saha SK Traditional practice of oil massage of neonates in Bangladesh. J Health Popul Nutr. 2002; 20:(2)184-8

Darmstadt GL, Saha SK, Ahmed AS, Chowdhury MA, Law PA, Ahmed S, Alam MA, Black RE, Santosham M Effect of topical treatment with skin barrier-enhancing emollients on nosocomial infections in preterm infants in Bangladesh: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2005; 365:1039-45

Darmstadt GL, Saha SK, Ahmed AS Effect of skin barrier therapy on neonatal mortality rates in preterm infants in Bangladesh: a randomized, controlled, clinical trial. Pediatrics. 2008; 121:(3)522-9

Ferber SG, Kuint J, Weller A, Feldman R, Dollberg S, Arbel E, Kohelet D Massage therapy by mothers and trained professionals enhances weight gain in preterm infants. Early Hum Dev. 2002; 67:(1–2)37-45

Fernandez A, Patkar S, Chawla C, Taskar T, Prabhu SV Oil application in preterm babies—a source of warmth and nutrition. Indian Pediatr. 1987; 24:(12)1111-6

Field T Massage therapy. Med Clin North Am. 2002; 86:(1)163-71

Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M Massage therapy research. Dev Rev. 2007; 27:75-89

Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M Preterm infant massage therapy research: a review. Infant Behav Dev. 2010; 33:(2)115-24

Fujita M, Endoh Y, Saimon N, Yamaguchi S Effect of massaging babies on mothers: Pilot study on the changes in mood states and salivary cortisol level. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006; 12:(3)181-5

Gürol A, Polat S The effects of baby massage on attachment between mother and their infants. Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2012; 6:(1)35-41

Harlow HF The nature of love. Am Psychol. 1958; 13:673-85

Isaksson M, Bruze M Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from olive oil in a masseur. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999; 41:(2 Pt 2)312-15

Ishikawa C, Shiga T Massage changes babies' body, brain and behavior. Kansei Eng Int J. 2012; 11:(3)109-14

Kanti V, Grande C, Stroux A Influence of sunflower seed oil on the skin barrier function of preterm infants: a randomized controlled trial. Dermatology. 2014; 229:(3)230-9

Kränke B, Komericki P, Aberer W Olive oil—contact sensitizer or irritant?. Contact Dermat. 1997; 36:(1)5-10

Kulkarni A, Kaushik JS, Gupta P, Sharma H, Agrawal RK Massage and touch therapy in neonates: the current evidence. Indian Pediatr. 2010; 47:(9)771-6

Lahat S, Mimouni FB, Ashbel G, Dollberg S Energy expenditure in growing preterm infants receiving massage therapy. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007; 26:(4)356-9

Lampl M, Johnson ML Infant growth in length follows prolonged sleep and increased naps. Sleep. 2011; 34:(5)641-50

Lavender T, Bedwell C, Tsekiri-O'Brien E, Hart A, Turner M, Cork M A qualitative study exploring women's and health professionals' views of newborn bathing practices. Evid Based Midwifery. 2009; 7:(4)112-21

Lewis-Jones S Dry skin in childhood and the misery of eczema and its treatments. In: Loden M, Maibach H Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2012

Malmkvist Padoan S, Pettersson A, Svensson A Olive oil as a cause of contact allergy in patients with venous eczema, and occupationally. Contact Dermat. 1990; 23:(2)73-6

Mathai S, Fernandez A, Mondkar J, Kanbur W Effects of tactile-kinesthetic stimulation in preterms: a controlled trial. Indian Pediatr. 2001; 38:1091-8

McClure VLondon: Souvenir Press; 2001

Mendes EW, Procianoy RS Massage therapy reduces hospital stay and occurrence of late onset sepsis in very preterm neonates. J Perinatol. 2008; 28:(12)815-20

Mitzel-Wilkinson A Massage therapy as nursing practice. Holist Nurs Pract. 2000; 14:(2)48-56

Mullany LC, Darmstadt GL, Khatry SK, Tielsch JM Traditional massage of newborns in Nepal: implications for trials of improved practice. J Trop Pediatr. 2005; 51:(2)82-6

Nikolovski J, Stamatas GN, Kollias N, Wiegand BC Barrier function and water-holding and transport properties of infant stratum corneum are different from adult and continue to develop through the first year of life. J Invest Dermatol. 2008; 128:(7)1728-36

London: NMC; 2015

Onozawa K, Glover V, Adams D, Modi N, Kumar RC Infant massage improves mother-infant interaction for mothers with postnatal depression. J Affect Disord. 2001; 63:(1–3)201-7

Porter SJ The use of massage for neonates requiring special care. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 1996; 2:(4)93-6

Ruffin PT A history of massage in nurse training school curricula (1860–1945). J Holist Nurs. 2011; 29:(1)61-7

Saijo S, Tagami H Dry skin of newborn infants: functional analysis of the stratum corneum. Pediatr Dermatol. 1991; 8:(2)155-9

Sankaranarayanan K, Mondkar JA, Chauhan MM, Mascarenhas BM, Mainkar AR, Salvi RY Oil massage in neonates: an open randomized controlled study of coconut versus mineral oil. Indian Pediatr. 2005; 42:(9)877-84

Scafidi F, Field T, Schanberg SN, Bauer CR, Tucci K Massage stimulates growth in preterm infants: a replication. Infant Behav Dev. 1990; 13:167-188

Solanki K, Matnani M, Kale M Transcutaneous absorption of topically massaged oil in neonates. Indian Pediatr. 2005; 42:(10)998-1005

Stamatas GN, Nikolovski J, Luedtke MA, Kollias N, Wiegand BC Infant skin microstructure assessed in vivo differs from adult skin in organization and at the cellular level. Pediatr Dermatol. 2010; 27:(2)125-31

Underdown A, Norwood R, Barlow J A realist evaluation of the processes and outcomes of infant massage programs. Infant Ment Health J. 2013; 34:(6)483-95

Walker L, Downe S, Gomez L A survey of soap and skin care product provision for well term neonates. Br J Midwifery. 2005; 13:(12)768-73

Wong GA, King CM Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from olive oil in pizza making. Contact Dermat. 2004; 50:(2)102-3

Infant massage: The practice and evidence-base to support it

02 March 2015
Volume 23 · Issue 3


Parents across the globe have been massaging their babies for centuries. The popularity of infant massage in Western countries is a relatively recent phenomenon; the trend has probably developed due to the perceived health benefits. In some Eastern cultures, the practice of infant massage is passed on from one generation to the next. In Western cultures, it is more likely that new parents will attend a local baby massage class with an instructor. Whichever form the practice takes, it is important to know that there is no potential for harm to the baby. This article will consider the perceived benefits of infant massage, how to massage, the role of the health professional and whether we should be concerned about what products, if any, should be used for infant massage.

The practice of infant massage is not a new phenomenon. It is a part of nature—at birth, mammals massage their newborns by licking and grooming them to encourage their body systems to normalise (Ishikawa and Shiga, 2012). In humans, midwives ‘massage’ newborns through drying to stimulate a response to take their first breath.

Early records of massage practice and research are diverse. It has been documented as early as 2760BC in China (Mitzel-Wilkinson, 2000). In Asia, infant massage is a long-established mothering tradition, passed down from generation to generation (Porter, 1996). Influenced by Florence Nightingale, massage training was provided by nurses and physicians for many health-related conditions during the 1880s and into the 1900s (Ruffin, 2011).

In a series of experiments with monkeys, Harlow (1958) found tactile stimulation in mother–infant interaction improved confidence and secure emotional behaviour. In the 1930s, research studies suggested that massage therapy could increase blood circulation and reduce muscle atrophy (Field et al, 2007).

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting British Journal of Midwifery and reading some of our peer-reviewed resources for midwives. To read more, please register today. You’ll enjoy the following great benefits:

What's included

  • Limited access to our clinical or professional articles

  • New content and clinical newsletter updates each month