Once you’ve had a baby you will be amazed at the amount of free advice you will get. People you have never met in your life and who you never even knew existed in your family tree will invite themselves for delivering a session on how you modern mothers know nothing and how they raised perfectly well and healthy babies with all the massaging, pulling, oiling and feeding. They may be well meaning, but not all the baby care norms which have been practiced over the years are entirely safe or good for baby.
Here is a list of some unsafe practices which we were personally told about and which we heard from our other new parent friends. We also discussed these with our pediatrician to understand the science behind it and if we would be doing the right thing to follow any of them.
- Maalish (Massage) – India is a land of maalish. 🙂 Everyone right from newborns (don’t really have much say in this) to post partum moms to uncles, aunties and pehelwaan’s (body builders) love getting maalish. The magic of oil rubbed on one’s body is held in so much virtue. We even have special maalishwaalis or japa maids who go from home to home to provide this service for a handsome fee. While oil massages can have its virtue for babies, what I found highly scary was the way the massage lady would bend, twist and fold babyT’s hands and legs and toss him around with a flick of her arms. I was horrified and scared. How was I trusting this lady with a delicate baby who even I was afraid to hold properly? Needless to say she was quickly given a warning on Do’s and Dont’s. Some of these massage ladies also indulge in unsafe practices like pouring oil into a babies eyes, ears and nose and privates too.
Apart from being dangerous, these are really not needed for development of any sense organs. In fact it could lead to infections which will be even more hard on that little babies body and immune system to fight.
What you can do instead: chuck the maid and do the massage yourself. Babies can sense the mother or father’s touch or even for that matter a close relative like grandma. My brother (babies maama) also massaged babyT on one occasion. Babies love it and the experience is so much more soothing, enriching for them and needless to say builds bonds with the new baby.
- Kajal (Kohl) application in to the eyes – This is an age old practice. In the older days kajal was made at home under a ghee lamp. Down the line commercial kajal was being used. While this practice still continues today, it is really not required to apply it to a baby’s eyes. Contrary to what is believed it does not lead to the eyes becoming more beautiful or vision becoming perfect. Babies vision develops as per the normal development cycle. Shape of eyes etc. is genetic and external application cannot change that. You may somewhere be risking infection again from the quality of the kajal itself or by transfer of germs from your hands when you apply it. Hence best avoided.
- Giving baby honey – there is a cultural custom to let baby lick a tiny bit of honey. This happens around the time baby is 21 days old in some communities. Firstly it is sad to note that most commercial honey is not pure and is just a mass of sugar in some liquid form.
Secondly honey is known to cause botulism in infants and babies less than a year old are at maximum risk from it. This can cause life threatening complications for babies and so best avoided.
Remember: Only breastmilk or formula to enter a baby’s stomach till he is 6 months of age and even after you start solids, try and avoid honey till baby is one or older.
- Shaping of the nose – How many of you have been told that baby’s nose needs to be massage daily and constantly so that it becomes straight and sharp and pointed? Again shape of anything on the body is purely genetic and cannot be altered by rubbing or massaging. Most babies are born with flat noses and there is a reason for this. It helps them with the birth process (vaginal birth) and it helps them breastfeed without the nose getting in the way. The shape of the nose does alter as the baby grows but it is a natural process and nothing that the massaging will do.
What you need to do instead: kiss those cute button noses all you want right now. Soon they will grow up and cringe when mommy tries to kiss their nosies. 🙂
- Swaddling baby too tight – swaddling itself is becoming a practice which many doctors are recommending not to follow. However as a new mom it has helped me immensely in many ways – for starters I don’t think I would have been able to hold babyT well if he wasn’t swaddled. I was forever scared that I will break this tiny, delicate beings limb or drop him if he wiggled in my arms as I held him. It also meant he slept better and I in turn slept when he slept. 🙂
While swaddling can be of help, I have also seen during my visits to the neonatal ward immediately after babyT was born, some other babies who were swaddled so tight that they literally looked like a stiff cocoon with only their eyes and mouth showing. They couldn’t even wave their tiny finger in there I am sure. This is a big no and puts baby at a risk of hip dysplasia. Babies legs were meant to lay in a spread apart wide position, almost frog like. This is natural and with time babies grow out of it.
What you can do instead: Do swaddle babies if you would like to, until they start rolling over, but do it in a loose wrap fashion. For slightly older babies (read 2 months+) you can wrap them with their arms outside. This soothes their startle reflex but still keeps them safe and happy. Most importantly let their legs be loose and in a frog leg shape. This is only the most natural position for them.
This is just a tiny list. I am sure you would have also heard of many practices for caring for baby. What were some of them and what did you do? Did you check with your paed or did you follow age old wisdom?