What products should be used for an infant massage?
There is some debate about the best kind of product to allow hands to slide nicely while doing an infant massage. Some argue that if baby is eating and drinking normally, their skin should be hydrated enough that absolutely no lubrication is necessary. Others acknowledge that sometimes a little oil or lotion makes the massage easier. Ultimately, it is up to the one giving the massage and baby’s skin. There are hundreds of products marketed for “baby massage”, but basic is best.
If you want to use a lotion, read the labels carefully and select a product that does not contain mineral oil. Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum and is not a natural product, so it doesn’t soak into the skin, but instead it sits on top of the skin creating a “slick” that appears moisturized, but is really just a bunch of who knows what chemicals sitting on the skin. Not something you want to use on a baby (or anyone really). This is difficult since it is found in a very large majority of skin care products because it is cheap, plentiful, and creates the impression of being damp and moisturized. You can read more about my recommendations for what to look for in lotions here.
Ideally you will want to use a lotion that is completely unscented, especially if baby is very young - under 1-3 months. (More about scents in a minute.) Your best bet for lotions is to read labels carefully, or best yet go to a small local company that creates their own products because they can usually tell you exactly what is in their products and more importantly what isn’t.
If you feel that lotion is too heavy, greasy or just not giving you the right feel, you can use a plain plant-based oil. Again, avoid mineral or baby oil, but you can use just about any other single-note (or one-ingredient) oil such as olive, grape seed, or any fruit oil like apricot seed. I advise staying away from any nut-based oils such as almond, walnut, etc until baby is either over a year old, or any nut allergies have been completely ruled out. Oil can be great if baby has very dry skin, and is wonderful to use on cradle cap. Plus since most plant-based oils are edible, if baby suddenly puts their oily hand in their mouth, no worries about whatever they could be swallowing. You can purchase special “baby massage oils” pretty much anywhere on the internet (again - read the ingredient labels), but for a simple oil, you can likely find a good choice right in your own grocery store.
This one seems a bit odd, but if you want an alternative to lotions and oils, I recommend using corn starch. It has a powdery texture that provides a nice smooth glide without getting greasy or oily, and it doesn’t create a mess (unless you use too much, but even that cleans up easy). I don’t recommend baby powder because the particles are very small and can be easily inhaled, plus commercial baby powders often contain lots of preservatives, artificial scents, anti-caking agents, and other nasty things - so much so that health organizations have started to issue warnings about some baby powders. With corn starch, the particles are larger so there is less chance of inhaling them, and it is a single-note product; no additives. I do recommend that corn starch not be used in three instances: #1 - if baby as an allergy or intolerance to corn products, #2 - in or around the diaper area because yeast loves corn starch and you don’t want baby getting any yeast infections or yeast-based diaper rashes, and #3 - if baby is on an antibiotic for the same reasons as #2.
Unscented products are best for baby simply because they contain fewer ingredients and therefore have less of a chance to cause any irritation or distraction. That being said, many products marketed for babies do contain scents to do different things such as help them sleep, help with congestion, etc, and they are not all bad. If you want to use a scented product on your baby, make sure the scent in the lotion or oil is coming from Pure Essential Oils, and not artificial fragrances. Essential oils are made directly from plants, and not artificially created so you get the benefits of plants not chemicals. I have an article that speaks more about essential oils here. There is some debate in the massage communities about even essential oils for babies. Some claim absolutely no essential oils on children under 1 year of age, some state that certain oils are ok in certain applications or for certain ages. There is a lot of information to unpack about essential oils and babies, so I will have a whole separate article about that in the future.
Whatever product is used to massage a baby, the simple suggestion is; a basic or one-note product, with a very short and pronounceable ingredient list that works the best for both baby and the one giving the massage. Experimentation to find the right product may need to happen, but that just means baby gets more massages!