Bathing a newborn baby is not just a routine bath in India but a ritual that has passed down from generations.
After the umbilical cord has fallen out, a newborn baby is bathed every day after massaging the baby with oil which is most authentic and in its purest form. Indians believe that following these Ayurveda rituals of massaging the baby and then bathing her will build their muscle tone and improve their health.
I can say from experience that these rituals were followed when I was born and I followed the same rituals of massaging and bathing the baby when my son was born.
How to massage the baby with oil?
The traditional aspect of taking care of a baby is the traditional oil massage and bathing the baby in lukewarm water. The baby is usually massaged with extra virgin coconut oil or sesame oil from head to toe. In South India (where I’m from), we use an ayurvedic oil from Kottakkal, which is used to massage the baby. The oil has a yellow tint to it and it is believed that it is very beneficial for the baby’s muscles.
To massage a baby, a malleshwali, or an ayah comes, but in some families the grandmothers do it. The oil massage is important at least for the first 40 days after the baby’s delivery.
The baby is placed on a mat or on the ayah’s legs and the baby’s body is massaged first then the legs. Gentle downward strokes are used for the arms and legs, and circular movements on the stomach and chest area. This massage is also known to improve blood circulation in the baby’s body.
The baby is massaged for about 15 minutes and traditionally it was done in the sun, so that baby receives Vitamin D. The baby’s arms and legs are massaged by crossing them gently.
How is the baby bathed?
The person who bathes the baby sits with their legs outstretched straight, and the baby is placed on the legs, with the head positioned at the ankle. This way, it’s easier to handle a slippery baby, and also promotes skin-to-skin bonding with the baby.
It is believed that bathing a newborn baby in lukewarm water after an oil massage soothes and relaxes the baby. Although many babies tend to cry while bathing them, in the end, they are calm and relaxed, and they end up sleeping for a long time.
While washing the head of the baby, it’s important to do it gently so that water doesn’t enter the baby’s mouth or nose. If you don’t have someone to help you, then don’t worry, you can do it on your own too. Take your time while bathing your newborn; consider it as a bonding experience and cherish the time.
To wash the baby’s back, the baby is placed on her stomach on the legs of the person who’s giving the bath. Make sure to close all doors and windows so that baby doesn’t feel cold.
I can understand that bathing a newborn baby can make you anxious thinking about the slippery baby and how you would handle her if something goes wrong. For this, try asking help from your husband, or your mother or mother-in-law, so that they can hand you something you might have forgotten to take in the bathroom. Believe me, this will happen a lot in the initial days till you get the hang of it.
My mother bathed my son for the first 28 days after which I took over, and to tell you the truth, yes it was scary for me and I was clueless, but taking one day at a time, and taking your own sweet time to massage the baby and bathing her helps to quickly master the art.
So, mama, don’t worry. You’ll be able to give your baby a good, traditional Indian massage and bath in no time.