READER RESPONSE to my last column on baby massage was interesting, to say the least! While some wondered what all the fuss was about, others shared accounts of how an oil massage had gone horribly wrong for their babies.
A massage (performed with oil or moisturiser) improves blood circulation, exfoliates dead skin, helps calm an aggrieved baby and reinforces the bond between baby and caregiver. However, the choice of oil, baby’s skin type and local weather conditions are equally important.
Most communities have their own magic oil potion that they think is best for the child. Much of the time, this is based on a community's knowledge and proximity to a particular seed or nut. In India, the oils preferred for baby massages include coconut, mustard and sesame oil. Mustard oil generates heat and is therefore used during winter or in colder places. People living along the coast prefer coconut oil. Sesame seed oil is generally used to cool down the body and therefore more apt in warmer, drier places. Arab communities, on the other hand, are known to use olive oil simply because it is easily available and deeply nourishing for weather-beaten, desert-exposed skin.
What has to be kept in mind is that the oil used should be cold-pressed. While researching for my book, I came across many Bengali families that had done away with mustard oil massages since their babies would react badly to it. On probing further, I found that there were two kinds of mustard oil available in the market—cold-pressed and essential oil. The latter type contains allyl isothiocyanate, a skin and mucous membrane irritant. If mistakenly used, this could cause an adverse reaction on baby skin. It is probably to avoid such incidents that doctors these days caution against overdoing massage or suggest that they be done away with altogether! International norms now recommend that non-scented and non-mineral oils be used for baby massage.