Infant Massage: Nurturing in the NICU – Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit

Infant Massage at the Women & Infants Hospital –  Providence RI

by Linda Storm, Executive Director Infant Massage USA

For one weekend every month since September 2010 I’ve been going to Boston to attend an Infant Parent Mental Health Certification Program (IPMHP) developed by Ed Tronick at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  This month I decided to go a day early so I could go visit Rose Bigsby at the Women & Infants Hospital which is a teaching hospital of The Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Rose has implemented a wonderful infant massage program at the Hospital and has been involved in several research projects with premature infants.

When I arrived, we sat down over a cup of tea so Rose could tell me about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She explained a few details about some of the babies and families she was working with and a general plan that she had for the visit.  She explained that as an Occupational Therapist, she does her assessment of the babies and prefers to help the parents work with the babies through massage rather than do the “typical therapy.”  She explained that parents are with their babies everyday.  She may only seem them once a week.



The Mission of the NICU:  Provide Excellent Care in A Family Centered – Developmental Setting

Our tour began by meeting one of the nurses working on 1 of the 2 NICU floors of the hospital.  Through the conversation, it was evident that the staff all had the same vision, family-centered, developmental care.  Their mission – To give excellent care.

While touring the NICU, Rose explained details of how their beautiful new facility had been designed. Every detail of the space had been thought through to take into consideration the needs of the babies, the families and staff.  The families had their individual rooms where they were welcome 24/7.  Parents brought in items to make the space feel more like home to include pictures, blankets, and baby clothes.

As Rose made her rounds she received updates about each of the babies and scheduled with the nurses when she would return to work with the parents.  I was thrilled to see how the infant care was clustered and that infant massage concepts were a normal part of the daily activities and the dialogue between the staff and families.

Many benefits result from helping parents use Infant Massage with their babies in the NICU.

When we came to one nursing station, a very young baby was having a difficult moment. The nurse quickly responded to comfort and calm the baby with nurturing containment holds.  Within a few minutes of containment, the baby was at peace and so was the nurse.

In another room we stopped to chat with a mom who was nussling her little one in kangaroo style under her fluffy red bathrobe.  The baby looked so blissful, the mother was all smiles and the nurse was thrilled to help.

The highlight of the tour was to watch Rose teach a family to nurture their baby with massage.  The baby was very stable and had progressed to the point where Rose was able to skillfully do her therapy assessment and explained to the parent what she noticed.  Rather than do the “therapy” to the child, I was able to see how Rose was able to achieve the desired results through teaching the parents.

In preparation, Rose glided around the room to assemble the necessary materials, while explaining to the parents what was going to happen.  She then helped the parents decide which one of them would do the massage and then helped the parent settle into a comfortable position. She did all of this while keeping everyone calm and at ease. She explained to the parents the importance for them to relax and then guided them through a relaxation/breathing exercise.   The hospital approved oil was at hand so she could explain the importance of oil and what kind to use.

The parents were so responsive to their baby’s cues.  Daddy was calm and talked to his daughter as mommy stood close by.  As they watched for cues the baby responded by stretching out her leg for a gentle stroke.  The joy on both dad and mom’s face was priceless.  The session came to an end when the baby signaled it was time to eat.  The mother was excited to try to put the baby to breast.

A nurse who quietly entered the room to observe as the session was coming to an end commented how calming it was to watch the dad with his baby.

It gave me a wonderful opportunity to share that oxytocin (an important hormone released especially through touch) is catching.  You don’t have to be the one touching or being touched for it to be released.  Just watching the nurturing activity of infant massage releases it.  We were all more relaxed and happy.

It was wonderful to see that Infant Massage can bring such joy to families even in the challenging situations of the NICU.