Mehta Childcare

Massage And Your Baby

This page written by:

Dr. Parang Mehta

Massage is an age old tradition in some parts of the world. It is believed to be good for the baby's health, appetite, sleep, and "strength". Oddly enough, for such an old practice, there is very little solid knowledge available, and a lot of questions.

Does it do any good?

The traditional belief is that massage makes the baby strong, and strengthens the bones. It has been scientifically proved that babies that recieve massage do gain more weight. This is perhaps by the stimulation of an enzyme, Ornithine decarboxylase, which plays an important role in protein synthesis in the body.

Massage has also been shown to speed up the maturation of behaviour and the hormonal system. Babies who receive massage have been found to have increased levels of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.

However, there is no evidence of its claimed beneficial effects on bones or mind.

What oil is best?

There isn't any good answer to this. The benefits of massage are from the physical stimulation of the baby; the oil or other medium is probably not very important.

Some substances are known to cause problems. Ghee and gram flour (besan), for example, are often associated with skin allergies. And no, the ghee so lovingly smeared on your baby doesn't get absorbed by the body to any great extent, and it doesn't contribute to nutrition.

The problem with massage...

... is that there is no formal training for it. Anyone can start massaging a baby. I have seen an untrained worker at a maternity hospital taking up an assignment for daily massage, and then cornering a more experienced coworker for a two minute tutorial on how to do it!

Should you entrust your precious baby to such untrained persons for massage and bath? Experience suggests that it is unneccessary. The vigorous massage and "exercises" done by some over enthusiastic masseurs may do more harm than good.

It's not too difficult to do the massage yourself. A gentle stimulus of the baby's skin for 10-15 minutes is what has been shown to be beneficial, and Mother's touch is far better than any other. The baby should not cry while you're doing the massage, but should seem to enjoy it.

Is massage absolutely necessary?

Not really. The benefits on weight gain and maturation of body function have been experimentally shown on premature and low birth weight babies. A normal, healthy, baby will probably do very well without massage. Indeed, massage is not the tradition in most countries of the world, and the babies seem to thrive without it.

Last Revision: May 24, 2014