Massage for Premies Improves Heart Rate Variability

There used to be a time when prematures babies were left in the incubator and had minimal human contact. Along came Harry Harlow who really changed the way we look at touch and its importance to the development of a baby.

Massage also has positive effects in premature babies, specifically it improves their heart rate variability.

Journal of Perinatology (2013) 33, 59–64; doi:10.1038/jp.2012.47; published online 26 April 2012

The effect of massage on heart rate variability in preterm infants


To test the hypothesis that massage would improve autonomic nervous system (ANS) function as measured by heart rate variability (HRV) in preterm infants.

Study Design:

Medically stable, 29- to 32-week preterm infants (17 massage, 20 control) were enrolled in a masked, randomized longitudinal study. Licensed massage therapists provided the massage or control condition twice a day for 4 weeks. Weekly HRV, a measure of ANS development and function, was analyzed using SPSS generalized estimating equations.


Infant characteristics were similar between groups. HRV improved in massaged infants but not in the control infants (P<0.05). Massaged males had a greater improvement in HRV than females (P<0.05). HRV in massaged infants was on a trajectory comparable to term-born infants by study completion.


Massage-improved HRV in a homogeneous sample of hospitalized, medically stable, preterm male infants and may improve infant response to exogenous stressors. We speculate that massage improves ANS function in these infants.


2 thoughts on “Massage for Premies Improves Heart Rate Variability

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