An integrative review of clinician-administered comforting touch interventions and acute stress responses of preterm infants

Published:September 19, 2022DOI:


      • Comforting touch helps decrease preterm infant stress responses.
      • Comforting touch could be an adjunct for pain relief during painful procedures.
      • Comforting touch is insufficient pain management for highly intrusive procedures.



      Preterm infants experience numerous stressors in the neonatal intensive care unit. Non-pharmacological interventions, including maternal comforting touch, reduce stress responses of preterm infants; however, the effects of clinician-administered comforting touch are unclear. The purpose of this integrative review was to synthesize findings from clinical trials to determine the effect of clinician-administered comforting touch on preterm infants' acute stress responses.

      Eligibility criteria

      Eligible clinical trials were published in English between 2001 and October 2021 and reported effects of clinician-administered comforting touch on acute stress responses in preterm infants.


      Thirty clinical trials were included.


      Researchers tested the effect of comforting static touch, massage, massage with kinesthetic stimulation, sensorial saturation, and Yakson. There was significant heterogeneity in study design, comparison condition, and context of intervention delivery. Results varied; some studies demonstrated efficacy of comforting touch in reducing acute stress responses and others showed no effect. Generally, comforting touch provided during stressful procedures was associated with lower stress responses compared to standard care and was an effective adjunct to other stress management strategies. However, comforting touch alone was insufficient for managing pain, especially during skin-breaking procedures.


      While comforting touch may be a useful part of stress management plans for preterm infants, additional research is needed to determine when comforting touch is appropriate and effective.


      Comforting touch is beneficial to preterm infants and should be provided for stress management. For highly intrusive or painful procedures, comforting touch can be provided as part of a comprehensive stress management plan.


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