It is an old cultural tradition for Indian parents to massage their babies with natural oil. It is also a very beneficial one, if done right.
Benefits of massaging
- Massaging increases the bond between the parent and the baby. The baby is used to being in touch with his mother and likes to be touched.
- Regular massaging results in better weight gain and better height gain for your baby1
- A massage also helps your baby sleep easily after the massage1
- Regular massage also improves blood flow in infants1
- Many studies have also shown that pre-term, low-birth weight infants benefit greatly from massages
How to massage?
- Be gentle and use a light touch. Often, in India, we let maids massage a baby and they exert a lot of pressure on the baby. This will hurt the baby. A massage should be pleasant, not hurtful to the baby.
- As long as you are gentle and use a light touch, then all you need to do is to slowly rub your hands all over the baby's body in a regular motion
- When massaging an infant who's head is not steady yet, keep a close watch on her head and hold it with one hand if needed
- You can also massage an infant's head as long as you are careful around the soft spots on his head. Use a gently stroking motion without using any pressure. Doctors also say that oil should not be used on the his head for the first four months, because of the danger of the oil entering his lungs, through the nose.
- Indian parents sometimes try to shape a baby's nose with some gentle strokes on the bridge of the nose. Indian doctors strongly recommend against this as there is the risk of serious injury.
- If you are using oil, test it on a small area of the skin and watch for a day or two for allergies, before using it all over your baby
- Usually there is no need to use oil every day on the face and head.
What oil should I use?
Traditionally sesame oil (til oil) has been used for baby massages. And guess what, research has shown that it is the most effective. A study done in November 2000, compared sesame oil, mustard oil, a popular herbal oil and a popular baby oil for their beneficial effects when used in baby massages. The improvements in growth, sleep patterns and blood flow of babies, were best with sesame oil. 1
If you are using sesame oil, ensure that you obtain it from a reliable source to ensure high quality.
There are a number of "baby oils" sold in the market. In 2005, the Government of Maharashtra's Food and Drug Administration issued two notes about some of these popular products. They said that one of the most popular ones had >99% liquid paraffin as its content, rather than a natural plant based oil. Parents who wish to understand the content of these products before using them, should read these notes using the links below.
Maharastra FDA Press note #1
Maharastra FDA Press note #2
1. K.N. Agarwal, Ashish Gupta, Ravi Pushkarna, S.K. Bhargava, M.M.A. Faridi and M.K.Prabhu "Effects of massage & use of oil on growth, blood flow & sleep pattern in infants", Indian Journal of Medical Research, 112 December 2000, pp 212-217