The effect of multimodal stimulation and cutaneous application of vegetable oils on neonatal development in preterm infants: a randomized controlled trial


Laurence Vaivre-Douret, National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) Unit 669, Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital, Department of Child Psychiatry, 149 rue de Sèvres, Paris 75015, France


Background  Preterm newborns admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are deprived of sensory stimulation. Tactile/kinaesthetic stimulation results in weight gain. Studies involving the cutaneous application of vegetable oils have shown improvement in somatic growth and on skin barrier function.

Objective  To assess the neurodevelopmental and biological benefits of the simultaneous use of multimodal stimulation (SMS) and the cutaneous application of vegetable oils.

Setting  Tertiary referral centre serving the Poitou-Charentes region of France.

Methods  Randomized controlled trial of 49 low-risk preterm infants, born at 31- to 34-week gestation. Each infant was randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups, Sensori-Tonico-Motor (STM) touch for 10 days with either: sweet almond oil, ISIO4 blended oil, or placebo – normal saline, or to a control group who did not receive any intervention. The primary outcome was weight gain. Secondary outcomes were linear growth, neurological maturation, psychomotor development and number of days of admission. Analysis was by intention-to-treat.

Results  The group who received STM with ISIO4 oil demonstrated enhanced weight gain (+57%, 95% CI 37–76) compared with controls (P = 0.030). All STM groups showed shorter admission times (mean reduction 15 days, 95% CI 23–50 days hospitalised, P = 0.005), and an increase in body length (P = 0.030).

Both groups of oil massaged babies (almond and ISIO4) showed an increased neurological score (P = 0.001) compared to controls. The infants receiving ISIO4 oil had an associated increase in psychomotor scores (P = 0.028), time spent in quiet wakefulness (P = 0.036), improved orientation (P = 0.036), and enhanced development of the oculomotor (P = 0.012) and sensorimotor (P = 0.003) systems. An additional benefit seen was improved moisturization (P = 0.001), and quicker recovery of dermatological conditions. No adverse dermatological events were observed.

Conclusions  The combination of STM and cutaneous application of oils to healthy preterm babies resulted in enhanced weight gain and neurological development, and a shorter stay in hospital.