Optimising preterm infant neurodevelopment is a key aim of neonatal research, which could substantially improve long-term outcomes and reduce the socio-economic impact of VPT birth.
This study has the potential to give insights into the mother-baby relationship and any positive effects of infant massage on neurodevelopment.
An early intervention such as massage that is relatively easy to administer and could alter the trajectory of preterm infant brain development, holds potential to improve neurodevelopmental outcomes in this vulnerable population.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry: ACTRN12612000335897. Over the past 50 years, there has been a progressive decrease in preterm infant mortality .
Effects on the infant will be assessed at the electrophysiological, neuroradiological and clinical levels.
Effects on maternal mood, anxiety and mother-infant attachment will also be measured.Although some differences between term infants and preterm infants at term equivalent age are explained by the effect of complications associated with preterm birth, both the experience of a highly stressful ex-utero environment and the lack of the stimulation normally experienced in the womb, exert detrimental effects on the immature brain [6, 9].The challenges imposed by the extra-uterine environment, disrupt the above described development of a “neurotypical” brain.In recent years the focus of improving preterm outcomes has shifted from increasing survival to minimising morbidity and improving neurodevelopmental outcomes [1, 3].Long term neurodevelopmental abnormalities impact up to 50 % of these infants  and include motor disability (including cerebral palsy), reduced cognitive performance and behavioural problems .These connections are fundamental for cortical processing and cognition .Between 29 and 41 weeks, total brain volume is increased nearly 3-fold, cortical gray matter volume is increased 4-fold and cerebellar volume is increased 4-fold .The neuromaturation of the cerebral cortex, initially laid down in cortical layers prior to 20 weeks gestation, is a dynamic process from 30 to 40 weeks gestation.It is during this time, the subplate, a transient population of neurons, guides the development of cortical and thalamocortical connections , maturing from its maximal prominence to almost complete regression.There is however, limited current evidence of improved neurodevelopment or improved attachment, maternal mood or anxiety.The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of infant massage performed by the mother in very preterm (VPT) infants.