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Neonates Need You!!!

In 2012 the Urban Child Institute article "Enhancing Development Through the Sense of Touch," they discussed the importance of a baby's first experience with their surrounding environment as an import one and that touch plays a vital role in the successful development of the child socially, emotionally and intellectually.

The Vitality of Touch

The Urban Child Institute believes that similar to other sensory deprivation, the lack of touch during the early years slows growth in infants. Although research emphasizes the great benefits of touch for premature babies, the presence of such contact has also been shown to benefit all children. In fact, infants who experience more physical contact with caregivers demonstrate increased mental development in the first six months of life compared to young children who receive limited physical interaction.1 Furthermore, this improved cognitive development has been shown to last even after eight years, illustrating the importance of positive interactions. Infants who receive above-average levels of affection from their mothers are shown to be less likely to be hostile, anxious, or emotionally distressed as adults.2 The lack of such interaction, however, proves to be just as powerful.

Understanding the Challenges with Neonates in the Hospital

For a healthy preemie two major factors can determine length of stay, the category the preemie is placed in and low birth weight.

Length of stay in the NICU and chances of complications depend on the category of preemie he/she is. In general, the earlier your baby is born, the longer and more complicated the stay in the NICU. The general categories include:

  • Extreme(ly) preterm: Less than 28 weeks gestation.

  • Very preterm. Babies born from 28 to 31 weeks gestation.

  • Moderate preterm. Babies born from 32 to 33 weeks gestation.

  • Late preterm. Babies born from 34 to 36 weeks gestation.

  • Early term. Babies born from 37 to 39 weeks gestation.

Premature babies aren’t only categorized by gestational age. A preterm baby’s health and treatment in the NICU also has a lot to do with size at birth — usually the smaller the baby, the greater the chances for a longer hospital stay and possibility for complications:

  • Low birth weight are those babies born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

  • Very low birth weight are those babies born weighing less than 3 pounds, 5 ounces.

  • Extremely low birth weight are those babies born weighing less than 2 pounds, 3 ounces.

  • Micro preemies are the smallest and youngest babies, born weighing less than 1 pound, 12 ounces (800 grams) or before 26 weeks gestation.

The experience of a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit can be a challenging one if the child has complications. Most babies Heart Touch volunteers work can have multiple health issues increasing the baby’s length of stay.

Our Goal in Working Neonates, Parents and Our Partnered Hospitals

  • Increase Physical Comfort

  • Increasing Birth Weight and Decrease Length of Stay in the Hospital

  • Promoting Secure Attachments

Increase Physical Comfort

Massage and comfort touch has been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep for a baby in the NICU.

Reduce Stress

Tiffany Fields 2016 research study, "Effects of Gentle Touch and Field Massage on Urine Cortisol Level in Premature Infants" showed that massage therapy techniques reduce the stress hormone levels of preterm infants. The results of this study, confirmed the importance and safety of massage for preterm infants. Using these techniques can result in reducing stress hormone levels and reduces their negative effects on preterm infants. (1)

Improved sleep

Sleep is a vital part of the healing process, especially for neonates in the NICU. In a study by Kelmanson, et al.(2), infants less than 36 weeks of gestation (birth weight<2.5kg) subjected to massage till 8 months of age, had improved quality of sleep with less awakening during sleep. These infants were more active during the day. It also hastened the onset of sleep(3).

Increasing Birth Weight and Decrease Length of Stay in the Hospital

Providing training to the mothers regarding how to care for premature infants can be a useful and effective method in the process of weight gain of premature and low-birth newborns, it also may shorten the duration of infants’ hospitalization.1 One study found that showing mothers how to provide a simple touch/routine increased birth weight and shortened the length of stay in the hospital. In addition, the readiness of mothers/caregivers to take care of their infants at discharge is a critical issue and learning a simple touch technique can help empower these parents in how to care for their premature infant. Heart Touch volunteers often educate parents on how to safely provide comfort touch to their child. (4)

In 2007, Heart Touch volunteers were part of a study at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles that provided comfort touch to the babies in the hospital along with gentle touch instruction to the caregivers and surveys taken a month after discharge showed statistically high caregiver satisfaction in parents feeling closer to their child through massage. (4)

Promoting Secure Attachments

Skin-to-skin contact lets children know that they’re safe and protected, building trust between child and parent. Through the physical contact with adults, strong attachments can be created, thus providing a stable foundation for future relationships. Oxytocin, known as the “bonding” hormone, is released during times of close physical contact. Physical contact can also lower cortisol levels for both mothers and children, thereby leading to improved immune system functioning. (5) By continually providing nurturing touch, parents can help facilitate enhanced social, emotional, and physical development of their child.

Our Team

Heart Touch volunteers on the Children’s Program Team have provided compassionate and healing touch to these fragile babies at our partnered Children’s Hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area for over 10 years.

Joyce Bryan, one of our lead Pediatric Massage instructors and lead volunteer at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, says “parents and caregivers are an integral part of a child's care team. As Heart Touch volunteers, we recognize this and attempt to engage them during our visit whenever possible. We talk about "resting hands" and emphasize gentle, connected comfort touch. Sometimes we can demonstrate age and condition-appropriate massage techniques. Though we are not permitted to work on anyone other than the patient; when parents/caregivers show interest, we do take the opportunity to teach by demonstrating on them and/or showing them how to use these techniques on their child. In my experience, when parents/caregivers participate in this process, it gives them a sense of purpose--something comforting they can do for their child. And those with whom I have shared our techniques have all been most appreciative.”

Come and Join Our Team, We Need You

Heart Touch is looking for dedicated volunteers to work with this most fragile of populations. Please join us at our next Pediatric Massage training. We do have full and partial scholarship to cover the cost of the training.

*Please note that this training requires that you have completed the Heart Touch Method training.

If you would like to register for our next set of trainings to become a Heart Touch Pediatric Massage Volunteer, please visit Heart Touch Method Training and Massage for Pediatric Patients.

For mare information contact


The Urban Child Institute (

What to Expect (

1. Malihe A., et al. Effects of Gentle Human Touch and Field Massage on Urine Cortisol Level in Premature Infants. J Caring Sci. 2016 Sep; 5(3): 187–194

2. Kelmanson IA, Adulas EI. Massage therapy and sleep behaviour in infants born with low birth weight. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2006; 12: 200-205.

3. Field T, Grizzle N, Scafidi F, Abrams S, Richardson S. Massage therapy for infants of depressed mothers. Infant Behav Dev 1996; 19: 109-114.

4. Livingston, K., et al. Touch and Massage for Medically Fragile Infants. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Dec; 6(4): 473–482.

5. Field, Tiffany. “Touch for Socioemotional and Physical Well-Being: A Review” Developmental Review. Volume: 30, Issue: 4, Publisher: Elsevier Inc., Pages: 367-383. 2011.

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