The benefits of touch and massage therapy are evidence-based. Some studies suggest that massage is associated with weight gain, better sleep-wake pattern, more neuromotor development, emotional bonding, etc. (1). Research also indicated that massaging with a lubricant, such as an essential oil, is more useful than without one.
In this post, MomJunction tells you if oil massage is safe for babies, which oils you may use, and the measures to take while massaging a baby.
Is Oil Massage Safe For Babies?
Massage therapy is considered to be a safe practice, and there are no significant harmful effects if it is performed appropriately. But if your baby has any underlying health issues, consult a pediatrician before you try oil massages for the baby. The pediatrician can help determine the safe and appropriate way to massage the baby to address their specific needs (2).
Measures To Take While Selecting A Massage Oil
- The wrong selection of massage oil may cause adverse effects such as skin rashes and bacterial colonization (1). Thus, it is wise to consult a pediatrician to select an appropriate oil for your baby.
- The use of thick massage oil in hot and humid weather is not ideal, as the same may clog the pores of the skin, trapping dust and dirt.
- The oil should have moisturizing properties, which will start to work when it is absorbed into the baby’s skin.
- The oil should be non-allergenic and free of chemicals. So, the selection of unprocessed oils can be good, provided you have checked on their safety and efficacy.
- The list of natural plant oils includes both vegetable and essential oils. Essential oils cannot be used on the skin directly and need a carrier oil. Check about this with the doctor before you try combining the essential oil with a carrier oil.
- The oil should have a mild fragrance.
Consider the above points to select a massage oil for your baby, and discuss in detail with your pediatrician, before purchasing one.
In addition to selecting the right kind of oil, you should also learn about how to massage the baby safely. There are no fixed guidelines describing the exact methodology of neonatal massage. However, the improper technique could be detrimental to the baby’s well-being, which makes pediatric consultation a must.
Tips To Keep In Mind While Massaging Your Baby
You may have many thoughts in your mind on how to massage your baby. Here are some tips you can follow while you are all set to give the massage (2).
- Before you try any oil on your baby’s skin, just dab a little on her hand and see if it is compatible with her skin. If your baby’s skin develops any rash, then avoid using that oil.
- Establish a conducive environment before initiation of massage. A room with soft light, warm temperatures, and low noise levels are ideal.
- Massage should be given between the feeds, ideally 45 minutes to one hour after a feed to avoid regurgitation or vomiting of the food.
- It should involve the entire body starting from the head and neck to the trunk and extremities.
- A firm stroke with fingertips should be used during massage therapy. Avoid applying too much pressure.
- Give a massage only when your baby is up for it. The comfort level of the baby is more important.
- Generally, babies sleep after the massage, so keep a check on your baby’s sleep cycle and decide to give a massage accordingly.
[ Read : Top 10 Baby Hair Oils ]
Next, we talk about the various massage oils you can consider using for the baby.
Uses of Massage Oil For Babies
Massage for babies has been in practice for long and is considered important too. Yet, most of the available evidence is methodologically limited, demanding further research in the domain. However, if you want to try massage for a baby after consulting a pediatrician, here is the list of oils you can consider.
For Normal Skin
1. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is suitable for topical use during hot and humid climates. It has a light texture owing to which it gets absorbed into the skin easily during a massage. It contains nutrients, such as vitamin-E and bioactive compounds like polyphenols, which help nourish the skin. The oil also has antibacterial and antifungal properties that aid in treating eczema, rashes, patchy skin, dermatitis, and cradle cap. Two types of coconut oil – copra and virgin coconut oil – can be tried for massaging babies.
2. Sesame Oil
A research study involving 125 healthy full-term infants showed that massage in infancy could improve growth and induce sleep, especially when sesame oil was used (3). Sesame oil has antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antipyretic properties (4). Massage with sesame oil could reduce inflammation and the severity of pain. It may also help protect from the UV radiation of the sun when applied topically (5).
3. Mustard Oil
Mustard oil is commonly used for cooking, but its use as a massage oil is also prevalent in some communities. Some research studies show that the use of mustard oil for massage may improve thermoregulation, skin texture, and skin barrier function (2). Yet, recent evidence suggests that this practice may have detrimental effects, especially for preterm infants or for those whose skin barrier function is sub-optimal (6).
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil is recommended for neonatal massage as it is known to improve skin hydration. Yet, olive oil contains around 55-85% of oleic acid and is considered to have the potential to disrupt the skin barrier, leading to dryness. Increased risk for atopic dermatitis has also been reported with the use of olive oil (7). So, if your baby has sensitive skin, talk to a pediatrician or dermatologist before using olive oil for massaging them.
5. Almond Oil
Almond oil has emollient and sclerosant properties, which have been used to improve complexion and skin tone. The topical application of almond oil has also been shown to prevent the structural damage caused by UV irradiation. However, previous research on plant oils have demonstrated that almond oils applied topically, mostly remain at the surface of the skin (1).
For Sensitive Skin
If your baby’s skin is sensitive and prone to eczema or dryness, do not use vegetable oils like olive oil or high-oleic sunflower seed oil. Oils containing oleic acid make your little one’s skin more tender and drier. Instead, look for vegetable Oils containing linoleic acids. However, it is wise to consult a pediatrician before you select the oil for a baby’s massage.
Below is a list of oils that contain high amounts of linoleic acids and are considered to be suitable for sensitive skin.
6. Sunflower Oil
A research study has claimed that the topical application of sunflower seed oil provides protection against nosocomial infections in preterm very low birth weight infants (2). On the contrary, another study led by The University of Manchester claimed that sunflower oil used on a healthy newborn baby is likely to damage the skin barrier exposing it to water loss and infections (8). So, talk to your pediatrician to determine whether this is good for your baby.
7. Chamomile oil
Chamomile oil is an essential oil used widely for aromatherapy, as it is known to provide therapeutic benefits. The FDA has regarded chamomile as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Though, it is possible that some reports of allergic reactions may be due to contamination of chamomile by “dog chamomile,” a highly allergenic plant of similar appearance (9). A research study conducted on infants showed that the topical application of chamomile oil had the potential to alleviate the infantile colic symptoms.
8. Tea tree Oil
This is an essential oil tested positive for its antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity in vitro on topical application (10). So it is used for babies in a few communities, although recent research presented at ENDO 2018 (the Endocrine Society meet) that essential oils possess a diverse amount of chemicals and should be used with caution because some of these chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors (11).
9. Calendula Oil
Calendula oil can be safely used after bath as it is known to have a soothing effect on the skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties that might be effective in treating diaper rashes, inflammatory skin lesions, and other skin issues (12).
10. Castor Oil
The use of castor oil for baby massage is largely anecdotal. As the consistency of the oil is thick, it is generally used as pre-bath massage oil. If you are using it, be careful not to apply the oil around the eyes and mouth. Castor oil is also used for hair growth in babies. However, it is wise to use castor oil for babies after a pediatric consultation.
Massage is a great technique that helps you bond with the baby. The type or technique of massage you choose could also determine the benefits that your baby derives from oil massages. Always check with your doctor before selecting an oil for massaging your baby – for it must be suitable for them and have no detrimental effects.
Which oil have you used for your baby’s massage? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
2. Anjali Kulkarni et al.; Massage and Touch Therapy in Neonates: The Current Evidence; Indian Academy of Pediatrics (2019)
3. Agarwal KN et al.; Effects of massage & use of oil on growth, blood flow & sleep pattern in infants.; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2000)
4. Marzieh Beigom Bigdeli Shamloo et al.; The Effects of Topical Sesame (Sesamum indicum) Oil on Pain Severity and Amount of Received Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in Patients With Upper or Lower Extremities Trauma; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2015)
5. Tzu-Kai Lin et al.; Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2018)
6. Luke C. Mullany et al.; Traditional Massage of Newborns in Nepal: Implications for Trials of Improved Practice; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2005)
7. Maria Livia Ognean and Mihai Ognean; The Best Vegetable Oil For Preterm Infant Massage; Research Gate (2017)
8. Olive and sunflower oil on baby skin weakens natural defences; The University of Manchester
9. Janmejai K Srivastava et al.; Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2010)
10. Babar Ali et al.; Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review; Science Direct (2015)
11. Chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil appear to be hormone disruptors; Endocrine Society (2018)
12. Assessment report on Calendula officinalis L., flos; European Medicines Society (2018)