Baby massage – Research and Tradition

By | November 17, 2009

If you live in India and also learn about best practices from the net/books/doctor, its likely that you have the most conflicting opinions when it comes to baby massage and its tough to find out what to do.

This is a list of my conflicts and current decisions:
  1. Smoke, kajal, powder, etc: Doctors say that the old practice of “dhuri” for the baby is not a good idea. In fact, lady from the free breastfeeding lectures by Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India goes ahead and says bluntly, “Its the woman who has given birth, not the baby. If you have such a strong belief that the warmth of the smoke creats strength, do what you want with the mother, but get the baby out of the room and away from the smoke.” Kajal carries risk of infection, may have traces of lead and can block the tiny tear ducts. Powder can get into a baby’s lungs and as such must not be used anywhere other than the diaper area if you must. No brainer there. I follow these guidelines and let the old women mutter about “today’s people”. That goes for oil in the ear, nose or any orifice.
  2. Straightening legs: Its common practice in India to stretch the baby’s legs out to strengthen them. Fact is that the baby will “unfurl” in three months or so anyway. The fetal position is not something they can switch off at birth, and it brings them security, conserves energy and is actually quite a good thing. I tell the massage woman not to use force, and if the baby cries, then that is the end of whatever she is doing, and she must move to the next thing. It goes against her every idea of doing the best she can for the baby, so I really have to watch like a hawk on this and bluntly tell her that it is enough of something if the baby complains. And mostly he doesn’t.
  3. Oil on the scalp: The fontanelle needs to be oiled to be closed is a common belief. Actually, like a cold lasts for a week or seven days depending on if you take medicine, the fontanelle will close approximately in two years or twenty four months depending on whether you oil it or not 😀 Pressure on the soft part is a bad thing. However, soft touch on the scalp is soothing, so I go by whether the baby seems to like it that day or not.
  4. Exercise: The massage woman gently moves the baby’s limbs to exercise him. This is great and Nisarg loves it most days. When he doesn’t we don’t do it, because if he is jerking in resistance, I imagine it will do more harm than good.
  5. Swaddling: A typical baby massage and bath will be followed by swaddling as sure as the sky is blue. The baby seems to enjoy it and sleeps soundly, so its great. However, this swaddling is typically done very tight, which can cause hip dysplasia in the baby. What I do is ensure that the baby is open and free most of the time, and loosen the swaddling when the woman goes.
  6. Hair removal: The massage woman has talked herself hoarse in one ear with the mother in law in the other – the baby hair on his forehead must be removed, or he will turn into an ugly, hairy grown up. Needless to say, they talk, I listen, and do nothing in that direction. If hair removal were such a great idea, we’d encourage our four year old daughters to get their eyebrows trimmed. Hair removed will grow again, and any changes in appearance are cosmetic till the hair falls out on its own. If it were a permanent solution, there would be no need for permanent hair removal ads for grown ups. We’d all DIY at home.
  7. Oil for baby massage: Okay, this is a big one. Doctors tell you to go with coconut oil. The massage woman will recommend edible oils but use whatever you provide. Fancy friends will insist that olive oil is the thing (a status thing, since olive oil is a “good”, exotic and expensive oil and no “commoners” in India have even heard of olives). Others would recommend Johnsons baby oil. Here’s what I found. Doctors and tradition solidly of the same opinion, and backed by my experience of the baby. Coconut oil wins hands down. Excellent for the skin, inexpensive, no undesirable reactions on the skin…. Olive oil caused rashes on Nisarg – for whatever reason. Johnson’s baby oil is a liquid paraffin based oil. NOT a good idea for massage, though I guess its fine for applying on the skin to keep it from drying. There have been many instances of skin rashes from this oil among people I know, online and people the massage woman knows. I have yet to hear of anyone regretting using coconut oil on a child. I have heard that almond oil is good too. A pediatrician friend said, “Don’t create such a production out of it. Use your mother-in-law’s coconut oil, almond oil, or cooking oil from the kitchen. If something creates a rash, discontinue it.”
So, what are your experiences with advice based on research, tradition and social opinions? How do you manage? What choices do you make?

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