One of my closest friends returned to India last year, heavily pregnant and hyper about finding the perfect maalish bai. Her family was particular about baby massage; after all they made the infant's bones stronger.
It came as a shock to my friend, her family and the bai (I am told) when the paediatrician asked them to avoid giving oil massage to the baby. My friend’s mother got on the phone with me, using some choice Marathi expletives for the young doctor who seemingly didn’t know the benefits of a maalish. What is wrong with all you young people, she fumed.
Having given oil massages to my own child, I reassured aunty that nothing untoward had happened to my baby back then and that she had quite enjoyed them. I couldn’t, however, confirm if the massages had contributed to her tree climbing bones. Sensing another argument, I reassured aunty that lack of proof was no reason to dump this routine as massages have numerous proven benefits.
The time spent massaging helps babies register their mother’s touch, relish it and calm under it. Massage also helps in regulating blood circulation and exfoliating dead skin. In a study conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, a 47 per cent weight gain per day was observed in premature babies who were massaged. Pre-bedtime massage was also proven more effective than rocking at helping a baby sleep.
Tips for massage:
If it is a pre-bath massage, try to complete the massage outside the bathroom, which can be damp or cold for the baby.
Remember skin is porous. What goes in will come out, if not all of it. So don’t overdo it!
If oil is not washed off properly, it can clog pores and lead to accumulation of dead skin cells.
If your child’s skin is extremely dry, repeated strokes can cause a rash; dabbing the skin with medically approved moisturisers is better.