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Infants born prematurely lose the protection of the uterus at a time of fetal development when the brain is growing and organizing exponentially. Environmental factors such as stress in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may play a role in altered brain maturation and neurobehavioral outcomes. Strategies aimed at reducing stress and promoting infant well-being are essential to improve neurologic and behavioral outcomes. Infant massage is a developmentally supported strategy aimed at promoting relaxation. However, despite the well-documented benefits of infant massage, infants born very preterm (<=30 weeks' gestation) are often excluded from these studies, leaving neonatal clinicians and families without guidance in how to provide a stress-reducing supplemental touch. Much of the touch in the NICU is a procedural touch, and infants born very preterm often miss out on comforting touch stimulation. A systematic review of the literature is presented with an aim to explore the research that examines the various comforting touch therapies used on hospitalized NICU infants born very preterm within the first few days of postnatal life. The purpose of this review was to identify appropriate stress-reducing comforting touch techniques for physiologically fragile very preterm infants in order to inform and provide guidance to neonatal clinicians and families.
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