This post was last updated on July 21, 2022 by Preethi Sukumaran
Parents frequently write to us at Krya asking if using olive oil for baby massage is a good practice and what Ayurveda feels about this. With our worlds being opened up everyday and many of us being seasoned travelers, we come across many new, exciting plant oils and butters from around the world. All of them come with excellent nutritional benefits, and seem like they would be very good for skin. So how do we decide which oil to use while giving our baby a massage?
To choose the right oil, we must first understand WHY we are asked to give baby a regular abhyanga-snana or oil massage followed by the bath by Ayurveda.
Benefits of a regular baby abhyanga / baby oil massage:
Ayurveda advises that we give baby a regular Abhyanga with special medicated oils and then follow it with an ayurvedic snana that is performed with special Ayurvedic herbs. The Abhyanga is to be done until the child is atleast 1 year of age, or even older.
At each stage of the child’s life, the Abhyanga gives special benefits to the child. In the first 3 months of the child’s life, the Abhyanga helps remove aches and pains from the ordeal of childbirth. It builds additional immunity to the child’s body through the use of special ayurvedic herbs. It also helps the development of the child’s sensory organs and helps create a loving bond between the Mother and the child.
As the child begins to turn, hold its neck in position, crawl, etc, the Abhyanga lends strength and aids the correct development of the child’s musculo-skeletal system. When special Ayurvedic oils that have been processed via Tila Paka method are used, the herbs are able to enter the child’s body through the skin via the massage, positively affecting the health, strength and quality of the developing bones and soft tissue.
When regular ayurvedic baby massage is done, we can see better strength, better musculo-skeletal development, better immunity and health, better sleep, and better digestion and nutrient absorption in babies. This is a huge range of benefits coming from a seemingly simple practice.
BUT: there is a caveat here: these benefits accrue not just by the mere act of massage. These benefits accrue when the right combination of oils and herbs are used along with the act of regular, correct baby abhyanga..
Analysing various plant oils in Ayurveda: which oil is best for baby massage
The Acharyas have analysed in detail, the qualities of each and every plant oil that was found in the Indian sub continent. Every substance in this world, be it living or non living has its own prakriti. This prakriti is a unique combination of the 3 doshas : vata, pitta and kapha and is unique to the being in question. This combination arises as a result of the desha (geography where the being exists), kala (time period where the being was made), Ritu ( season in which they live) and is also influenced (if a living being) by the parents’ prakriti, time of conception, environment in which they live, etc.
So also, every single plant oil / butter has its own prakriti, decided by the above factors. A common oil that is potent, with high nutritive benefits and is available in India is Coconut oil / Narikela Taila.
Pros and Cons of a Coconut oil massage for babies:
Coconut oil is a very versatile, nutritive vegetable oil. Coconut oil contains important medium chain fatty acids like lauric acid, capric acid and Caprylic acid. Together this set of triglycerides has anti microbial and anti bacterial properties that are intelligent. This means they can boost growth of useful microbiota and bring down growth of invasive organisms.
As it is a vegetable oil, it can penetrate skin, unlike Mineral Oil / Light Liquid Paraffin which is a large component of commercially available baby oils. Compared to such synthetic oils, coconut oil is better at regeneration of damaged cells, helps skin heal fast and is nutrient dense.
However, we are not analyzing the benefits of Coconut oil VS a Mineral Oil. We are studying what Ayurveda says about the properties of Coconut oils and then analyzing whether it is a suitable oil for baby massage.
Narikela is considered to be “Snigdha” (oily), “Madhura” (sweet), “Sheetya” (cool) and “Vrishya” (aphrodisiac) as per Ashtanga Hridyam. Madanapala Nighantu describes it as “Brhamanya” (nourishing and weight gaining) but also “Durjara” – difficult to digest. The property of “Durjara” is mentioned for coconut pulp and oil and not for coconut water which is “laghu” (easy to digest).
As Coconut oil is Snigdha, Madhura and Brhamaniya, it can certainly nourish and repair skin and is nutritive in its nature on topical application. However, as it is Sheetya (cool) in its nature and also Brhamanya, it will be heavy and cooling both when consumed internally and when applied on skin.
To be able to penetrate skin and scalp effectively, the acharyas tell us that “teekshna” and “ushna” quality which is there in Pitta tending oils is required. Given that coconut oil has neither, it will not be as effective as some other oils in penetration. Also, due to oil’s cold and cooling nature, it can cause mucous build up, clogging, colds – this is of particular concern in infants who are already pre-disposed to these issues.
Pros and Cons of a Sesame oil massage for babies:
Sesame Oil / Tila taila is a natural choice in Ayurveda. The Acharyas tell us that if we are in doubt as to which oil to use in a formulation, we should automatically use Tila tailam.
Tila taila is said to be “teekshna” (sharp and penetrative), “ushna” (hot) , “vyayavi” (spreads quickly), “sookshma” (subtle), and does not aggravate kapha. It is a kirmi nashak (destroys worms). When used in Abhyanga it is considered skin healing, keshya (hair health promoting) and is also “Dhrishti prasadaka” (enhances clarity of vision).
Tila has a dual property which is very interesting according to Ayurveda: depending upon how it is processed it can BOTH nourish and also bring about Weight loss. The Acharyas call Tila an oushadhi taila – medicinal oil as it is capable of curing almost any disease when processed with the right herbs.
The last point is to be particularly noted by us. The Acharyas in their wisdom tell us that even such a beneficial oil like Tila, should be processed with correct medicinal herbs to enhance its ability to heal the body.
Here we have seen examples of 2 hoary and renowned oils in Ayurveda. We have seen that they both have potent nutrient benefits ,both when consumed and when applied externally. BUT, Ayurveda tells us that to balance some of their not so desired qualities and to enhance their healing qualities we have to process them further with herbs.
We can already begin to comprehend the Ayurvedic point of view on whether olive oil for baby massage is a good idea.
So is olive oil for baby massage a recommended Ayurvedic practice?
So we come to Olive oil. Even though we have grown up with wonderful oils like Coconut, Sesame, Peanut, Cow’s ghee, etc, we are tempted by all the reports and research that are sent our way about the benefits of new oils like Olive Oils.
Olive oil is a traditional Mediterranean vegetable oil obtained by processing green and black olives. Its cultivation dates to 8000 BC in this region. It was used by the Minoan civilisation for religious ceremonies. The Spartans and the Greeks used it as a skin application while doing gymnastics and wrestling.
Interestingly, Aristotle mentions that it is a good birth control aid, when processed along with cedar oil or frankincense.
As Olive oil was not part of the culture of the Indian sub continent, we have to try and analyse it ourselves as per Ayurvedic principles. We also have to take some hints from its historic usage and see what people who used it for a long time did with it.
Acharya Vagbhatta reminds us that that the property of the Taila we extract is derived from the property of the fruit / seed from which we extract the Taila.
So we can analyse by the source and its taste that Olive oil is Amla and Teekshna (sharp / acidic taste) and Ushna (slightly warm) and also appears to have slight Kashaya rasa (astringent taste). As research tells us that it is good to lower cholesterol and heart blockages, we can also conclude that it is “sookshma” (minute) and has a scraping / fat reducing property (lekhaniya).
Current research on topical application indicates that olive oil is a good cleansing oil when applied in skin. It is capable of breaking down fat based makeup, and is therefore a good non toxic cleanser instead of a make up wipe. This again would indicate that it has “Lekhaniya” or fat scraping property.
Going by the above properties, while Olive oil, by virtue of being Teekshna and Ushna can definitely penetrate the skin. But because it is not Madhura in rasa, and is in fact, probably “Lekhaniya” (fat scraping), it does not give us the nutritive and weight gaining principle we seek when it comes to baby massage oil.
As the Acharyas remind us, the very purpose of Baby massage is to nourish the baby, promote healthy weight and muscle grain and aid bone growth. For this a Madhura and Brahamaneeya property is desired which is present in both sesame and Coconut oil, but which is not present in Olive oil.
Hence, by analyzing through Ayurvedic principles, We can conclude that olive oil for baby massage is not a very good idea. It certainly has some skin nutritive properties. But these may be more suitable for cleansing and toning functions and not suitable for nourishment and nutritive purpose.
If we must proceed with olive oil for baby massage, we have to alter the undesirable properties of the oil slightly by processing it with the correct set of herbs to ensure it becomes suitable for baby massage. Specifically, we have to taper down its teekshna, ushna and lekhaniya properties and make it sweeter and more brahmaneeya in nature by using the right herbs.
Herb processing to alter the properties of base oils: Important Ayurvedic concept
Herb processing is an important aspect of making an Ayurvedic oil. Even though we have many varieties of very good quality plant and animal origin fats and butters in India, we never use the base oils / butters directly for skin / hair application.
Instead, we process these base oils in a properly thought-through ayurvedic mixture of herbs. This herb processing is done for 2 reasons:
- To reduce the undesirable properties of the base oil – for example, if we are using coconut oil we may want to cut down on its “Sheetya” guna slightly and also increase its ability to penetrate and act in a more minute fashion
- To enhance the Oushadhi guna (medicinal qualities) of the Oil and make its action more targeted
Krya’s herb processed traditional ayurvedic baby massage oils :a better alternative to olive oil for baby massage
The Krya baby massage oils are made using a combination of organic ,cold pressed Sesame oil and smaller quantities of organic, cold pressed Coconut Oils. We then use herbs suggested by the acharyas in the Varnya set (complexion improving, texture improving and skin health enhancing), Jeevaniya (health and immunity boosting), Brhamaneeya set (nourishing, improves weight gain and muscle development) and Twachya set (improves overall skin health) and Mangalya oushadhi (improve cheerfulness, and immunity, lends a positive aura).
Parents who use our baby massage oils attest to their health-improving, immune boosting and sleep quality enhancing benefits. There is also an excellent improvement in overall skin health, even in the case of babies with otherwise sensitive skin. Krya has 3 baby oils to choose from:
- Krya Pushti Baby Massage oil improves health, immunity and vitality – formulated for babies with normal skin. Also recommended for premature babies and adopted babies to aid good muscle development and healthy growth
- Krya Palmarosa and Rose baby oil: For babies with dry skin – improves and nourishes skin
- Krya Lemongrass and Neem flower baby oil – for babies with Itchy, sensitive skin – helps heal skin sensitivity
We hope you were able to understand why, such ayurvedically processed, herb-enhanced oils are a better choice when compared to modern and trending oils like organic olive oil, etc. We also hope you understand our point of view on olive oil for baby massage and why we prefer you choose something else.
Please ensure that after oil massage, you do not bathe your baby with a synthetic baby soap. Instead please use a traditional baby ubtan for boy or girl or a gentle Ayurvedic baby bath powder. This ensures that the oil is well removed and the srotas of skin are properly cleansed without destroying the baby’s natural microbiome. This also ensures that beneficial and healing herbs are applied on the baby’s skin to help promote mangalya (auspiciousness) , and build ojas and vitality.
To sum up: Should you use olive oil for baby massage?
Being an active parent today can present us with a nightmarish set of large choices. We want to do what is best for our baby and also play an active role in choosing good quality, health and well being enhancing products for our baby.
In this rush, we come across many emerging pieces of information on new age ingredients. We might be tempted to reject the old fashioned choices in favour of these new products. We hope this post showed you our reasoning behind rejecting the concept of using olive oil for baby massage. We also hope our post helped you understand why we say so and also give you a framework to analyse other such choices in the future for your baby.
If you would like help choosing the correct Krya baby products for yourself or to gift to a new mother, please write to us or call us –(0)-75500-89090