UK HealthCare

UK NICU Nurses Deliver Healing Touch


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 17, 2011) − For infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Kentucky Children's Hospital, the touch their small bodies receive often involves pain that comes with IV sticks, blood draws and other lines.

The dedicated NICU nursing staff wants to change that and recently participated in a certified infant massage course that will enable them to deliver a positive and healing experience for their youngest and sickest patients.

For two days, a group of UK's NICU nurses participated in an interactive course on infant massage, led by Diana Moore, a pioneer and international authority on infant massage. Moore is also the founder of International Loving Touch Foundation Inc., one of the first established training programs of infant massage in the world. 

After morning sessions of lectures and discussion of the emotional and physical healing effects of touch on critically ill infants, the NICU nurses spent the afternoons practicing massage techniques on lifelike baby dolls. Several additional UK nurses with young infants volunteered to practice the techniques on their own babies. Upon completion of the training, the NICU nurses will receive certification in infant massage.

Moore said that infant massage is practiced all over the world and is a growing practice in the United States due to positive research outcomes. There are both physical and emotional benefits to infants and parents alike, and in particular, to premature and critically ill infants. Benefits of infant massage include:

  • Facilitates weight gain in premature newborns
  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Counterbalances pain response
  • Increases stability
  • Promotes more mature motor behavior
  • Improves immune function
  • Improves clinical and developmental scores
  • Helps reduce hospital stay
  • Provides greater parent involvement and satisfaction
  • Promotes better practices for improved family-centered care

"NICU parents are so estranged from their babies and the infant-parent bond is derailed from the beginning," Moore said. "Infant massage is a way to re-establish that bond and help with the transition of the baby back home."

Dr. Nirmala Desai, professor of pediatrics and NICU physician, said in India infant massage is routinely practiced so she was very familiar with the benefits for both mother and the infants.

"I was thrilled to have participated in this training here along with the nurses. We will be able to empower parents to participate in a technique which is mutually benefiting, in the NICU where parents feel so much loss of control. This will help them to do something positive for their baby and feel good about it," Desai said.

Katie Shreve, assistant patient care manager at the Kentucky Children's Hospital NICU, said the idea for an infant massage training initially stemmed from a need for a complimentary treatment for infants experiencing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a withdrawal syndrome in newborns caused by exposure of the infant to narcotic agents.

However, Shreve said that infant massage is beneficial for all infants.

Dr. Lori Shook, professor of pediatrics at the UK College of Medicine and interim medical director of the NICU at Kentucky Children's Hospital, initiated the program after a multi-disciplinary team of NICU staff paid a site visit to a well-known NAS treatment unit at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

"Having our nurses trained in infant massage allows us to provide more holistic care to our patients," Shook said. "Having our nurses certified to teach parents infant massage gives them a way to bond with their baby as well as participate in their care.  It's amazing to watch a baby tense with drug withdrawal just relax and get focused.  Touch is a powerful healing tool."

Rory Baker has been a UK NICU nurse for two years. Although he started his nursing career as a medical-surgical nursing technician, he soon realized that working with premature babies in the NICU is his real calling. On a recent evening in the NICU, Baker was assigned to take care of one baby for the entirety of his 12-hour shift. He spent the first 30 minutes of his shift assessing the baby's vital signs and carefully touching and moving the small arms and legs.

Baker was also one of the infant massage training volunteers and brought his 4-month-old daughter along to practice the massage techniques.

"I feel the infant massage will be an additional tool that we, as nurses, can to give to parents that will help with bonding, comforting, and caring for a medically fragile baby," Baker said.

Joining the UK NICU nurses were nurses from Central Baptist Hospital, Lake Cumberland Hospital, Ephraim McDowell and Vanderbilt University, who also hope to take what they learned to incorporate into their NICU nursing practice.

"I have worked in the UK NICU for 40 years, and I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I have been to be a part of introducing massage therapy to our patient population," said Renee Broaddus, NICU nurse. "It feels like reaching out through our touch from our heart and it enables us to provide our moms and dads with a bridge to make a connection to their hospitalized infants. This is what I went into nursing for!"  

"I really enjoyed the infant massage class and so did my baby, McKenna," said Suzy Ringstaff, class volunteer and UK NICU nurse. "It is a great way to bond with your baby."

There are 120 nurses employed in the NICU. Shreve said that the goal is to train the NICU nurses and those who receive their certification can in turn train the NICU parents. Eventually, the NICU staff will provide infant massage to all babies in the NICU who are medically stable enough to receive it.