Massage for Skin-Sensitive Infants, MASSAGE Magazineby Margaret Keely

Many parents are encouraged to massage their babies to aid blood circulation, immune function and digestion, reduce or prevent gas and colic, and increase alertness. It is also an intimate activity that strengthens the parent-child relationship early on.  At first, some parents may be apprehensive to give their baby a massage, as they are afraid of the frailty of their child against the pressure of their touch. 

My mother enjoyed giving my siblings and I massages when we were babies. I, sadly, have no recollection of this, but I believe it was a great moment for my mom and us to bond while we were at such a tender age. My younger sister became a mother a few years ago and decided to continue the tradition with her daughter. They enrolled in some baby massage classes at the local children’s center and created a routine of a post-bath massage. 

Unfortunately, her daughter developed atopic dermatitis, or skin asthma, before she was a year old and became sensitive to the ingredients in common household and commercial skin products. Rashes would break out on her tender skin and at times she would scratch the itchy areas until she drew blood. We do have a family history of hypersensitive skin and rhinitis, but she was the first person in our lineage to suffer from skin asthma.

To help her before her condition would affect her psychological development, we began limiting or avoiding the usual suspects from her diet, such as peanuts, eggs, shellfish and dairy products. Then we went through her wardrobe to replace her synthetic clothing with cotton outfits, as sweating would trigger her skin asthma. Lastly, we looked into the household and body care products that were being used in her home. Our family has now gone fragrance-free and become advocates of white vinegar for general cleaning to help minimize her allergy attacks. Getting everyone in the family who smokes to quit is another task we are still working on for her benefit.

We have discovered that a great way to alleviate her general discomfort throughout the day was to change the products we used during her massage sessions with her mom. My niece looks forward to this regular mother-daughter activity that lasts from 30 minutes to an hour, and initially, we tried popular hypoallergenic lotions and oils that worked with our seasonal adult allergies but seemed mild enough for children. Most of these, though, were too harsh for her, as they had high concentrations of ingredients that did not soothe her infant skin condition. Eventually, we settled on organic handmade products that contained aloe vera and lavender extracts, and virgin coconut and lemongrass oils. 

These ingredients have helped keep her atopic dermatitis in check without drying her juvenile skin. They have smoothened out the rough patches and minimized the occurrence of lesions on her body, allowing her to really enjoy her daily quality time with her mother. She is nearing preschool age and has become less self-conscious of her appearance as well as the discomfort brought about by the skin asthma. She has become more sociable with other children and more willing to share her many talents with others, one of which is her developing skill in the art of massage.         

Although our children do not suffer from the allergies of our niece, my older sister and I have learned how to give them massages through the guidance of our mother and younger sister. As a mother, the chance to give your a child a massage, with or without oils or lotions, is truly an experience to cherish. You become more attuned to the nuances of your children’s growing bodies and they find security in your nurturing touch. We have also learned to use the products that have helped our niece with her skin asthma.

It is a daily challenge, but through consultation with pediatricians and people we know who suffer from skin asthma, we continue to research extensively and conduct a lot of trial and error with skin products to help our niece cope with her current condition. Maybe she will hopefully outgrow it in the near future or maybe this will be a lifelong condition she will need to deal with. Either way, we have learned through the years that organic products, especially of the handmade, eco-friendly kind, have helped her live a seemingly allergy-free lifestyle to date.

Margaret Keely is a health care writer who has devoted most of her professional life handling nursing courses and uses organic massage products on her children.