Guest blog by Sam Hadadi
From that first, precious moment when they’re placed in your arms, most of us have a picture perfect image of parenthood, wanting only what’s best for our new baby.
Yet, all too often, having a newborn isn’t quite as peaceful as many of the adverts would have you believe. And from those hazy, sleepy night feeds to littering rooms with endless bottles and wandering the house like a Zombie, those first weeks can be a blur.
However, here at Lucy Bee, we’ve found one sanctuary for new parents and babies alike - baby massage. In fact, regular readers of our newsletter will know that one of our favourite uses for our coconut oil is baby massage – our lovely Meg has even travelled to Malawi and used it on infants there1.
Although it’s been used for centuries in cultures across far-flung corners of the world, baby massage has grown in popularity over the last few years, with parents enjoying the magical, soothing effects it’s said to have on both baby and parents.
Yet, as with most things baby-related, massage can seem a little overwhelming at first. First of all, there’s the oil: which one do you pick? How do you know it’s safe to use? How do you make sure you’re protecting your baby’s skin? And how do you even set about massaging a delicate, precious newborn anyway?
And with the news that a midwife's favourite, olive oil, may no longer be safe to use on newborn skin (more on that later), here’s our guide to baby massage for parents (and grandparents) and the best oils to use with it.
While we all know the benefits of massage for us adults, very few of us will know about why baby massage is so important. Of course, it isn’t just for newborns, either, and can be performed on older babies and tots, too!
But if you were wondering, then here’s why we love baby massage:
More and more, we’re starting to realise the importance of enjoying skin-to-skin contact with baby, since it’s thought to release oxytocin, your body’s feel-good chemical – and massage is the ideal way to do this! Happily, baby massage can be just as lovely for parents as it is for baby, especially dads who are at work during the day. Studies have also shown that baby massage can help a mother have a positive interaction with her baby, which is why it’s also recommended for mums who are suffering with post-natal depression2.
2. Deeper Sleep
For parents around the globe, sleep is one of the more precious commodities imaginable. Yet the next time you’re ready to order another eye-wateringly expensive sleep gadget, or you’re standing for hours cradling baby to sleep in your arms, you might want to consider baby massage first. Many people believe that regularly massaging baby, may help them to sleep and even settle better. This is because it helps your baby's muscles to relax, while breathing will often become deeper. As we mentioned before, massage also raises levels of feel-good oxytocin, which can help to calm and relax both you and baby.
For some, the reality of those first few weeks of parenthood is tough and incredibly stressful. In fact, millions of mums and dads will be only too familiar with wailing, crying babies, or even infants suffering with painful colic. However, baby massage is thought to help ease crying and fussiness and can even relieve symptoms of that dreaded colic. This is because It makes your baby’s brain produce lots of serotonin, a feel-good chemical and less of the stress hormone, cortisol.
4. Help With Digestion
Before you have kids, bowel movements stay something of a secret – something you thought you’d never, ever discuss. Yet, as with many things, a newborn can change all of that! Especially when you realise that they can suffer with constipation and painful wind, particularly during the first few months. However, massage can stimulate the body to release a digestive hormone, making bowel movements easier and gentler. This, in turn, can help to relieve pain in little ones, and even help with colicky symptoms.
So, now you know why you should use baby massage, how do you set about choosing an oil? After all, you only need to take a peek down any baby aisle in a pharmacy and you’ll be overwhelmed by rainbows of bottles staring back at you, all promising different benefits.
To make your life a little easier, we’ve shortlisted some of the most commonly-used natural oils (we prefer not to use processed ingredients on delicate skin). Here, we talk about why – or why not! – each oil is great to use on baby.
First of all, let’s start with olive oil, which has long been recommended by midwives because of its natural, moisturising effects.
Studies now suggest that olive oil may not be as safe to use on baby’s skin as we once thought. In recent weeks, experts have revealed that we should think twice before massaging our little ones with olive oil because they could have long-term effects on the skin.
Researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that even natural oils, such as olive oil and sunflower oil can damage the protective barrier in a baby’s delicate skin. Ultimately, this can lead to conditions such as childhood eczema, which now affects one in three children3.
It’s thought that a certain fatty acid, known as oleic acid, found in abundance in olive oil (upwards of 55%) can damage the skin’s structure, allowing irritation and water to escape. This is what can then result in eczema, dryness and cracked skin.
However, it’s advisable that you avoid using olive oil if your baby has rashes, sensitive or dry skin, eczema, cuts or allergies.
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
One of our favourite ways to use our Lucy Bee Coconut Oil is baby massage. It's raw and completely unprocessed.
In fact, coconut oil has been used as a massage oil for centuries, especially in those exotic places such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India. Now, as we all start to go nuts for coconuts, many companies are springing up to sell coconut oil-based massage formulas, although you don’t need to do anything fancy – your humble jar of Lucy Bee will do all of the work for you!
So, why use it? And is it better than olive oil?
Well, although coconut oil contains oleic acid, the same fatty acid found in olive oil which means it can make skin more permeable, it’s relatively low in oleic acid (around 5-6% in coconut oil compared to 55% plus in olive oil). Instead, coconut oil is mainly made up of lauric acid (around 48%), as well as caprylic acid (9%) and linoleic acid(1-2%). It’s these same acids which makes coconut oil both antibacterial and antifungal, which make it a great choice for that soft, kissable skin.
As well as this, coconut oil has some wonderfully nourishing properties and works well on cradle cap.
Some recommend only using an oil high in linoleic acid if your baby suffers with eczema, so in this instance, coconut oil may not be your preferred choice.
Want to give it a go? Simply warm some Lucy Bee between the palms of your hands (even easier if you’re giving it a whirl in the summer months, when our oil is liquid!) and start massaging! It couldn’t be easier…
Sweet almond oil is also popular for baby massage, since it’s easily absorbed by the skin. If you’re using a completely natural almond oil, both you and baby will also benefit from high levels of skin-loving vitamin E, and even a touch of vitamin D, which can help to keep skin healthy.
Grape Seed Oil
Grape seed oil is another commonly-used oil for massage. As a little warning, though, you can buy culinary and cosmetic grades of grapeseed oil. If using this, we recommend buying the food version if you’re using it for massage – it will generally be purer and full of skin-loving linoleic acid. Plus, if baby sucks on their fingers afterwards, it won’t matter!
Happily, grape seed oil is also packed with vitamin E to soften the skin, while it’s also been shown in studies to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing, antioxidant, and even anti-histamine properties, meaning it’s ideal for sensitive little limbs.
Castor oil has been used for centuries and has even been found lurking in ancient tombs uncovered in Egypt. The miraculous medicinal properties of the plant were even mentioned in the works of Herodotus, a historian from ancient Greece, and it’s another handy oil to have to hand for baby massage.
Impressively, castor oil can relieve dry skin, treat certain skin conditions (it’s antifungal and antibacterial and is even thought to remove warts and blemishes!), moisturise, boost hair growth, relieve sore muscles, and can treat areas of inflammation, such as nappy rash. It’s all down to an amazing fatty acid known as Ricinoleic acid, which some swear can ease symptoms of the dreaded colic.
So, now you have your base oil, can you add anything to it? Well, opinion is pretty split when it comes to using essential oils during baby massage. Some experts believe that they’re safe to use from two months, although the only ones recommended for use are Roman Chamomile, Neroli, Lavender, Mandarin or Rose – you should avoid all others wherever you can, and always consult an aromatherapist first.
However, we’d always advise to err on the side of caution and to give essential oils a miss if you’re worried about that precious, baby-soft skin. If in doubt, avoid all scents on baby skin and go as pure as possible!
For parents across the globe, baby massage can be one of the most treasured experiences you share with your baby. Anyone who’s seen a gurgling, bubbling baby beam with joy at your touch will know just how rewarding it can be! Yet most of us won’t have a clue about where to start, especially when their little limbs seem extra delicate and fragile!
If you’re feeling a little bit unsure about how to start baby massage, then here are our top tips on what to do. However, please bear in mind that many doctors and health visitors do advise that your baby has their six-week health check first to make sure there are no underlying problems with their hips.
If you’re worried about how your baby’s skin will react, test your oil first! A day or so before you start massage, smooth a little dab of oil onto your baby’s hand to make sure it doesn’t react. If a rash or any redness develops, then avoid that oil at all costs.
2. Create a Relaxing Environment
Think about how you’d like your ideal massage and set about creating a relaxing atmosphere for baby. Would you really want to be massaged on a cold, hard floor under glaring lights while butt naked and fighting sleep? Nope, us neither!
Start at a time of the day when your baby is calm (we’d recommend after bath-time, just before their bedtime routine), happy and not hungry or fussy. Make sure it’s warm, and play relaxing music or lullabies to keep baby calm and soothed. Then, place them on a towel and sit in front of them, allowing for eye contact at all times – remember, it’s a bonding experience!
3. Getting Started
Before you begin massaging your little one, give them a cue so that they know what to expect. Warm the oil between your hands (no one likes cold hands or cold oils!) then start in small strokes at the top of their head, running over their shoulders and down the arms. Rub the palms of their hands in gentle circles, then stroke their fingers. Repeat with the legs and toes, talking to your baby as you go.
To help with digestion and to ease colic, rub the tummy gently in a clockwise motion using slow, gentle strokes. However, remember to stop if baby gets upset, or falls asleep!
If you’re still not sure, it may be worth checking out any classes on baby massage which may be running nearby – there are lots, and booking is normally advisable!
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.