Baby massage: Is it really important?

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Does a newborn really need a firm hand on his body? Find out the dos and don'ts of a baby massage

baby massage

Baby massage, if performed with force, could even dislocate the infant’s delicate bones

Even before her daughter could deliver, Radha Arenja (name changed) had finalised on a maalishwali bai who would massage the newborn after every bath. But within two months of this ritual, the baby developed rashes on his body and the massages had to be discontinued.

“I had chosen the best aaya, well-known for her baby massaging skills. I don’t know what caused those rashes. Veer’s skin is now better as my daughter immediately asked the aaya to stop massaging him. But how will his bones become strong without the maalish?” asks the petrified 63-year-old retired school teacher.

Giving a newborn a massage is considered an inseparable part of baby care and is an age-old tradition in our country. It is strongly believed that the ritual of an oil massage followed by a hot bath is a must to develop the infant’s bones and also speed up his development. However, experts suggest otherwise.

“Even without a massage, a baby can achieve his milestones and develop healthy bones. A lot of babies in the western countries do not get massaged by an aaya, but they develop normally,” says Dr Rahul Varma, child specialist, Maya Clinic, Delhi.

Dr Sagrika Popli Sood, senior consultant physiotherapist and child specialist at Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre, Delhi, has similar views. “Scientifically, massaging a baby is not essential. In fact, when excess pressure is applied on a newborn’s soft skin and bones, it can cause mild fractures or even dislocation,” she says.

Massage midwives or maalishwali bais are hired by parents as they are considered experts in the art of massaging and bathing the newborn. A lot of these women claim to have learnt the art from their own mothers and grandmothers. But most of the times, the massage techniques used by these midwives usually involve the use of a lot of force on the baby which is not advisable.

Mumbai-based Sumi Vaid (name changed), mother to six-month-old Jiaan, shares her experience. “I thought that babies must always be massaged by a midwife. My little baby would scream his lungs out during bath time and would turn red. The midwife told me that it’s just the heat and it will go away. As a new mum, I didn’t know better.” Vaid consulted her paediatrician who told her that against the original belief of being firm while massaging a newborn, only optimal pressure is require and good for the baby. “Since then, I take time out to do it myself,” she adds.

Many may argue that baby oil massages have tons of advantages and soothing a baby into restful sleep is just one of them. While this may be true, what matters is that a massage should be done correctly. Know what you must consider if you choose to get your baby massaged.

Dos and don’ts of baby massage 

Be gentle

A massage should be done with soft hands to make it a soothing experience for the baby. Applying too much pressure by rubbing will only increase the risk of injuries and infections. “Even if there is a small infection on one area of the body, forceful rubbing will easily spread the infection over a baby’s delicate skin,” informs Dr Popli.

Maintain hygiene 

Many of the massage midwives visit several homes and can easily carry infection-causing germs in the folds of their palms or legs. If their infected skin comes in contact with a baby’s, chances of the infection spreading are high. If you have a midwife dealing with your baby, do insist that she cleans up thoroughly before she handles him.

Fancy oils are not required

An infant’s skin does not need dense or combination oils. Light oils for a baby’s skin are safe to use. “The oil must also be at room temperature and not hot,” adds Dr Popli.

Using oil in ears must be avoided

Pouring drops of oil into the nostrils, ears or navel of the baby is not a hygienic practice at all and must be avoided. “Putting oil in an infant’s ears can disturb the equilibrium and the balance of the body and is not advised,” states Dr Varma.

Knowing when to stop

Babies can be massaged gently as long as they do not show any side effects. “If a baby displays signs of a redness, rash or infection during the course of a massage, discontinue immediately,” says Dr Varma. Many doctors also discourage massaging a newborn until he is three months old.

A massage for us is synonymous with relaxation and de-stressing and it should be the same for a baby as well. Blindly following certain traditions at the risk of harming your child may not be the best thing to do. So whether you choose to get your baby massaged by a midwife or bond with your baby as you do it yourself, let the hands be tender and the touch loving.

Do you have any questions regarding baby massage?  Please share in the Comment box below.

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Written by

Preeti Athri