Massage Therapy May Benefit Newborns

Research has indicated that newborns, especially preterm infants, may benefit from massage therapy.

Position Statement

It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that newborns (especially pre-term infants) may benefit from massage therapy.

Background Information

Research has shown that neonatal handling affects the neurochemical brain development of certain regions in the brain that regulate the response to stress. The benefits of massage therapy for pre-term infants have been well documented in several studies; some of the cited research involves small sample sizes. Taken together, however, the total research cited is supportive.

These benefits include the following:

  • Massage is a cost-effective therapy for pre-term infants.           
  • Pre-term infants gained more weight with just five days of massage.
  • Massage therapy by mothers in the perinatal period serves as a strong time cue, enhancing coordination of the developing circadian system with environmental cues.
  • Over the 6-week period, the massage therapy infants gained more weight, showed greater improvement on emotionality, sociability, and soothability temperament dimensions and had greater decreases in urinary stress catecholamines/hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine, cortisol).
  • Infants receiving massage showed fewer sleep delay behaviors and had a shorter latency to sleep onset by the end of the study.
  • Massage may have a stress reducing effect on pre-term infants in the NICU.
  • Reduction of illness and diarrheal episodes in orphaned children in Ecuador.
  • Improve quality of sleep and reduce sleep-disordered breathing in low birth weight babies.


Dieter, J.N.I., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., & Emory, E.K. (In Review). Preterm infants gain more weight following five days of massage therapy. Acta Pediatrica.    

Ferber, S.G., Laudon, M., Kuint, J., Weller, A., & Zisapel, N. (2002). Massage therapy by mothers enhances the adjustment of circadian rhythms to the nocturnal period in full-term infants. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23, 410-415.        

Field, T., Grizzle, N., Scafidi, F., Abrams, S., & Richardson, S. (1996). Massage therapy for infants of depressed mothers. Infant Behavior and Development 19, 109-114.

Field,T. & Hernandez-Reif, M. (2001). Sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 168, 95-104.  

Scafidi, F. and Field, T. (1996). Massage therapy improves behavior in neonates born to HIV-positive mothers. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 21, 889-897.       

Scafidi, F. A., Field, T., & Schanberg, S. M. (1993). Factors that predict which preterm infants benefit most from massage therapy. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 14, 176-180.    

Hernandez-Reif M. Diego M Field T Preterm infants show reduced stress behaviors and activity after 5 days of massage therapy. Infant Behav Dev. 2007 Dec; 30(4):557-61. Epub 2007 Jun 4.   

Jump VK, Fargo JD, Akers JF. Impact of massage therapy on health outcomes among orphaned infants in Ecuador: results of a randomized clinical trial. Fam Community Health. 2006 Oct-Dec; 29(4):314-9.       

Kelmanson IA, Adulas EI. Massage therapy and sleep behavior in infants born with low birth weight. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006 Aug; 12(3):200-5. Epub 2006 Feb 7.

Disclaimer: Position statements of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) are approved by the AMTA House of Delegates and reflect the views and opinions of the association, based on current research. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to scope of practice, medical diagnosis or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company or specific massage therapy technique, modality or approach.

Originally proposed by Retta Flagg & Ann Blair Kennedy

Approved September 2008