In India, the land of the Vedas, it is not uncommon to witness a mother firmly, lovingly and vigorously massaging her very slippery baby. This, in fact, was one of the most memorable moments for me on my first trip to India many years ago. I was en-route home, heading to the airport in Mumbai in an open-air autorickshaw when I witnessed this enchanting scene. Sitting on a wooden box, a beautiful and very serene-looking woman was holding her tiny baby with one hand while massaging her with the other.
It seemed that time slowed down as I watched her pouring copious amounts of what looked like sesame oil over her baby, working it in with confident vigor. The infant was being held by the ankle, hanging upside down while the mother massaged the oil in long strokes from head to toe. These were no delicate moves as one might expect when handling a small slippery baby, one who looked totally blissed out as far as I could see.
Now I’ve been an ‘oiler’ for over 18 years thanks to my Ayurvedic practices. I personally include abhyanga in my self-care practice at least twice a week. This is a ritual of oiling the body using long massage strokes up and down the limbs and torso and around the joints and breasts to bring strength and flexibility to bones and muscles, and radiant health to the skin. For me, this is all that, plus a feeling of deep nurturing and self-love. I usually use a blend of half coconut and half sesame oil with various essential oils depending on the season. For the Fall I use Vetiver, orange, and geranium or my favourite neroli.
I recall with a bit of nostalgia the soft scent of a famous brand of ‘baby oil’ which many of my friends and I experienced not only as babies but also as a suntanning oil in our teens. I shudder when I think of how unhealthy that was, all for the sake of a good suntan and also how mothers everywhere were convinced it was good for their babies. This well-known baby oil is made of mineral oil and synthetic fragrances. Mineral oil is something completely foreign to the human body. It is a synthetic by-product of petroleum from crude oil and can actually be harmful to our health. It coats the skin without allowing
breathability and normal sweating which is one of the primary vehicles for releasing toxins in the body.
A safe and healthy oil for babies is nutritive, 100% pure, and comes from nature rather than synthetic chemicals and fragrances. The same carrier oil I use for my abhyanga routine before my morning shower is the perfect oil for babies, kids, and wise adults. Sesame oil is rich in bioavailable nutrients for nourishing baby’s skin and strengthening their growing bones and nervous system. If you want to add soothing aromatherapy oils, calendula is antibacterial and reduces the risk of rashes. Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties, relaxes the nervous system and promotes restful sleep. Both are very gentle and safe on young skin diluted in a carrier oil for massage. Ten drops total of essential oil to 4 oz carrier oil is a good ratio. The general safety rule for essential oils for baby is to add them at three months. Massage with simply sesame oil, however, can begin after baby’s first month.
Ayurvedic wisdom recommends daily massage for babies and children to encourage strong immunity, intelligence, cheerful attitudes, and love. Also enhances circulation, boosts confidence and encourages good digestion. The art of touch promotes bonding between caregiver and child.
The same as creating a daily, weekly or bi-weekly oiling practice to transform your own skin and attitude, you can set up a special massage routine for your baby, toddler, or young child. A comfortable area free of draughts on a secure surface, perhaps a blanket and towel on the floor, and a peaceful atmosphere with gentle lighting and soft music will add to the experience for both you and your child. Be firm and gentle, babies and children respond well to confident handling. Pour a generous amount of oil on your hands and rub together to warm up the oil before touching baby’s skin.
Begin on the head in a circular clockwise motion. Baby will love this gentle scalp stimulation. Once you’ve moved all the way down the body to the little toes you can turn baby over on your knee or on their stomach and repeat on the back. Use long strokes on limbs and torso and circular strokes on head, chest, and bottom. A good time for an oil massage is before bath and a nap to ensure sweet dreams for you both.
Trust your intuition and your comfort level, knowing that this oily ritual will create a nourishing loving routine and a lifetime of good health for both you and baby.