An email from a new mother: Of long term Contraception and Ayurvedic oil massages.

Sharing an email.

Dear IHM,

I am writing to ask you two favors. First one is far more important than the second.
I am trying to figure out the most suitable long term contraceptive method that would work for me.
I have done my research and think may be an IUD will work for me. But I don’t know anyone who has done this procedure.
If you don’t mind, please ask your readers on problems they have encountered with contraception. I think this might help a lot of people.

Second one is more out of curiosity ..
My native place is Kerala and now I am working in the US. I gave birth to our first child a month ago. My parents and in laws have been behind me asking to apply all those Ayurvedic oils and massage. They want us to oil massage and bathe the baby too. We have said no to both saying we cannot do things to cool the body while it’s winter here..

So my question is- is this oil bathing and massaging common in India or is this only a Kerala speciality? Do other states have their own postpartum care methods?

IHM – feel free to say no to both my requests. As you can see these are not life threatening🙂

Thank you for your time!

54 thoughts on “An email from a new mother: Of long term Contraception and Ayurvedic oil massages.

  1. From my personal experience and limited knowledge:
    #1: I agree that IUD is indeed a suitable long term contraceptive. I can vouch for it’s effectiveness without complications. I personally know many women who have had a similar experience with IUD.

    #2: I am a North Indian and yes oil massage and regular bathing are common practices in my part of the country soon after birth. In fact, we had these done for my daughter (who is 15 months old) too. Though if you are in doubt or have concerns regarding it’s usefulness for your baby I’d recommend seeking advise from the Pediatrician in your area.

    I’d advise go by whatever suits you and your baby best rather than what is traditionally done.

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  2. yes, its traditional to massage the baby’s body using some particular oil in all states…generally i have seen mustard oil begin used for it!!! sesame oil is recommended by ayurveda. it improves the bone density and muscle formations of the baby and all that…its definitely recommended before giving a bath to the baby.
    PS: when you say you can’t do both the things, does that mean you wouldn’t give bath to the baby??? or, you won’t give an oil bathing??? may be you can make it once a week or whenever you are having enough time on your hands, if time is the issue!!!

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      • Hi,
        An oil massage is just like any other massage that you get at the sundry spas all the elite love to visit. The purpose of a massage- whether it is to the head or the body-is to stimulate blood circulation. The veins carrying impure blood from the extremities of the body- ie the limbs -need to travel against gravity to make the blood reach the heart. The movement of blood is aided by valves within the veins which prevent back flow of the blood and the movement of the muscles within which the veins lie. A massage moves the blood within the veins- so ideally in the legs the movement of the hands of the masseuses should be upwards- towards the heart and similarly all over the body. I recommend a good massage to help more effective blood circulation and better oxygenation all over.
        I am a doc. So there!🙂

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  3. Regarding the first question, I can only offer a male perspective.

    The kind of contraception you should use really depends on the sexual choices you make.

    In my early and mid-twenties, I was absolutely paranoid about somehow getting an unwanted baby on my hands (and on the hands of its mother), so I ended up having relationships with women who were, for the most part, similarly career-focused and paranoid. Back then, I’d use a spermicide-laced condom, even as my partner took contraceptive pills. It worked well enough.

    After marriage, things changed somewhat. My wife used an IUD for a long time (~8 years) without any problems. As I understand it, the procedure is ideally quite painless, although it can be a little uncomfortable. She was given painkillers, but never used them. In a long-term monogamous relationship like marriage, where you don’t need that much STD protection, an IUD is probably a good choice. I guess it’s about as close to foolproof as you can get without a full-blown vasectomy, and it is of course completely reversible, which is all to the good.

    As regards the second question, I am a Delhiite, and in my personal experience, there has never been that much emphasis on massaging the baby with oils or anything of the sort. Of course, rustic wisdom holds oil massages in high esteem as a source of both pleasure and better health, but that’s mostly for adults.

    Most states and cultures certainly have their own traditional postpartum care methods (for both the baby and the mother). Some of these make sense, others don’t. When it’s your loved one’s health at stake, it’s best to ‘go modern’, so to speak, and trust doctors more than you trust your relatives.

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    • Thank you for sharing your experience. Its no longer about STD, but avoiding an unplanned pregnancy.

      And about the oil bath for baby, I am trying to figure out if Indians oil massage baby because of the weather in India or because of our genes. Our pediatrician #1 said – baby skin has everything it needs, you must let it be. If you are seeing extremely dry skin, apply olive oil and make sure you wash it off. This is one of the top 20 docs in USA for past 3 years – and he is from Greece.

      Pediatrician #2 – When asked about oil – he said “OIL? (accompanied by the expression that says WTF) NO OIL” and this guy is from Egypt.

      This was followed by a lecture by family members on the goodness of oil. Naturally as new parents and sleep deprived adults we were confused🙂

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      • ‘This was followed by a lecture by family members on the goodness of oil. Naturally as new parents and sleep deprived adults we were confused ..’

        Welcome to the world of parenting🙂 But don’t worry with time your husband and you will develop an instinct about what works for *your* child.

        I had my first baby in India and had a massage lady come every day to massage not just the baby but also me – and it was pure bliss. Not sure what would have happened minus it but not a trace of aches and pains was left.
        Baby 2 in the UK and of course no maalishbai there. So my husband/I massaged the baby ourselves for ~1 year. She loved it, as did we.

        HOWEVER a lot of our desi friends did not, and let me tell you their babies (now grown children) are perfectly okay.

        So net net, do it if you can AND if your baby and you like it. If not, don’t kill yourself.

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      • Naturally as new parents and sleep deprived adults we were confused

        Heh, I can understand that. It’s a phase a lot of us go through (We are still going through the sleep-deprived part to some extent🙂 ).

        I asked my wife about oil baths yesterday and she said it is common in her neck of the woods (West Bengal) too.

        Now, since both pediatricians have effectively recommended against it, and since (as you’ve stated in another comment) your baby absolutely dislikes it, I guess you have your answer right there. Best not to do it, and stick with normal warm water baths.

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  4. Based on my personal experience I would say that IUD is safe and generally no side-effects. However if you feel any discomfort/feel feverish/painful after it is fitted, contact the doctor immediately. Regarding giving the baby an oil massage, it is a common practice in our parts to use sesame/til oil as it is beneficial to the baby. Personally, I used J&J baby oil for both my kids. It lulls the baby to sleep better and besides keeps the skin glowing. Massage only when the baby is in a cheerful mood and be gentle.And strictly no oil in nose/ear. If it is too chilly, you can give a sponge bath around afternoon time . Giving a bath to the baby is essential but only when the baby is comfortable and not cranky. You will slowly start understanding the infant’s routine. However if you have any concerns do contact the local pediatrician because inspite of all the age old practices and traditions, it is important to keep the baby happy and healthy. CHeers

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  5. If you dont have one ,you should find a good gynecologist which whom you are comfortable and discuss the various options,their benefits and risks. As for iud, some people have an allergy to certain metals and in that case an iud is not adviseable. As for massage, baby massage is popular around the world and an enjoyable oppurtunity to bond with your baby if you so wish. However non massaged babies turn out perfectly fine as well.

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    • For winter: there actually are baby heaters designed for changing baby diapers to keeep them warm in the winter, so if you decide to massage it and are unsure if your appartment heating is warm enough, you could consider buying one of those either new or second hand. You are going to have to bath your baby in the winter to keep it clean (not cool) anyhow.

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  6. I am really surprized to see the second question in particular. Not giving a massage and/or bath is something I haven’t really heard of (esp. if the umbilical cord is off). In US, the houses are insulated and it is perfectly safe to give baby a massage and bath (keeping in mind the parents are careful). besides there is ample information available online on baby care (best that I have found is http://www.Babycenter.com) that you can use your own discretion. the doctors and nurses are very helpful and yes you can’t undermine the suggestions that parents give. Do as you please, but listen to what they have to say. I have a 15 month old daughter and I am in Northern US (it is cold here!) and have given my daughter a massage and bath every single day (at times even more than once).
    Please be kind to the baby and clean them up- kinds feel better after a bath.

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    • Thank you! We do understand the need to keep our baby clean. We bathe him daily in warm water. We tried oil bath once and the baby did not like it, it took 3 days to get him back to normal.

      Our pediatrician #1 said – baby skin has everything it needs, you must let it be. If you are seeing extremely dry skin, apply olive oil and make sure you wash it off. This is one of the top 20 docs in USA for past 3 years – and he is from Greece.

      Pediatrician #2 – When asked about oil – he said “OIL? (accompanied by the expression that says WTF) NO OIL” and this guy is from Egypt.

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  7. No.1. I really hesitate to take anything in form of pills or stick any foreign object into my body for long terms. Nothing wrong with iud and most of my friends have them. I just don’t like any changed in my body . Plus we had twins and pretty much decided that was it . As a fool proof method , we both got fixed, done🙂 I would say condoms are the best .

    No.2. Both my kids we massaged with olive oil nicely before a hot bath. If nothing else they slept for 5 hrs straight. So inspire of free advise from others we always massaged and showered then before bed at night. Even when we briefly lived in Switzerland. I think diff oil has diff cooling effects, so massage as such is very beneficial, I
    D check what oil to use after talking with the dr. Ours was keen on olive oil and so olive oil it was🙂

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  8. Do you mean you’d like to speak with another woman who’s had an IUD?
    I’ve been in women’s health care for 10yrs.
    You need to decide which type of IUD you’d like-
    The ‘copper T’ is as the name implies is copper. Copper tends to decrease sperm motility & viability. It contains no hormones. You will still have a monthly period, the most common side effects are heavier menstrual cramps & increased menstrual bleeding.
    The other type of IUD commonly used in India is a ‘hormonal IUD’ which releases very low levels of a progestin (levonorgestrol) into the uterus. ‘Mirena’ is the brand I’m most familiar with in IUDs of this type (I’m American). The hormonal IUDs work by inhibiting your hormonal cycle- you will have little to no menstrual bleeding while using a hormonal IUD. This is often a good choice for women suffering heavy periods or menorrhagia. Hormonal IUDs also last about 5 yrs.
    Hope this helps!

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  9. 1. As far as a contraceptive method is concerned, an IUD is a good idea, as it is reversible and needs no daily remembering. If possible, read up about the Mirena, which is a new-generation IUD, technically, an IUS (intra uterine system) which is essentially a hormone-releasing IUD as opposed to the older copper releasing ones. A Mirena , once inserted, lasts about 5 years. It’s main advantage is that it lightens monthly periods to a small extent.( Heavy periods are sometimes, but not always , caused by the older IUDs).

    2. As far as taking care of your baby is concerned, it’s really upto you🙂 Do whatever you want as long as the baby is safe. Try not to get pressured by all the ‘instruction manuals’ that new parents are subjected to!

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  10. My wife is a little paranoid about any medications or medical procedures. We used condoms for the first two years and since last eight years have been using just the withdrawal method. I think it works really well and of course does not have any side effects. But the guy has to be sure of his point of no return. One can couple it with avoiding any risk taking during ovulation period to further reduce any chances.

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  11. I freaking love my IUD. At first I had a copper IUD and now I have a hormonal one. Both have worked spectacularly for me. You should choose the hormonal IUD if you have heavy periods, though, because the copper IUD made my periods 2x long and much heavier… thankfully my regular period was only about 2.5-3 days and light, so it did not matter. On the hormonal IUD, most women’s periods become just about 1 day of light spotting within six months of insertion.

    The worst part of IUDs is the day you get it inserted. It’s going to hurt the same way any internal exam hurts (for me this is horrible not because of the pain, which is mild, but because I have a real phobia of internal exams). And the rest of the day you’re going to get menstrual-like cramping. You will probably have some bleeding too. But once you get past the insertion drama you’re set for FIVE YEARS (hormonal) or even TEN YEARS (copper). It’s unbelievably cool.

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  12. For infant massage I personally recommend mild oils like olive oil or Johnsons Baby Oil rather than pungent oils like mustard oil. Massage helps with bone development and growth. Infants don’t have much movement, so massages help. A daily bath is essential for the baby to feel clean and dry.

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  13. I have been reading the comments on IUD with fascination. All the information is really useful and also explains what one woman shared with me in the playground about not really getting a period since the IUD.

    About the massage, I think it’s one of those nice things to do but not necessary. As someone mentioned it can be a bonding device, also destress, sometimes help ease gas (never worked for my colicky kids), possibly improve blood circulation. Frankly, nothing that cannot be achieved through other means, if you find it’s not suiting you. Neither of my babies seemed to enjoy a massage. Plus, I gave birth in winter in Hong Kong where the temperature dips to about 8 degrees and there’s no central heating. There are plug-in heaters but it’s this dry heat that’s hardly nice and you’d have to bring it really close to the baby if taking all their clothes off. But bottom line, neither of my babies enjoyed a massage when we tried it. Besides, my son had a reflux issue and hated being on his back. My daughter still hates being on her back, no idea why.

    Maybe they’re like me. I was never massaged because I kept getting a cold. My mum’s gynae back in the 80s warned her against the traditional massage ladies because some of them tend to be very rough. She suggested my mom do the massage herself but anyway it didnt suit me.

    While many cultures traditionally do a massage, in many parts of the world, people don’t and their children are perfectly fine. Not doing it because you are afraid of winter… not sure how cold/windy it gets in Kerala. I would try it and see if my baby liked it. But frankly, if it’s one more hassle and you have enough to do (as many new moms do),no harm in skipping it really.

    As for bathing the baby, for very young babies, you can skip the everyday bathe and do it every alternate day or so, particularly in winter. We did a lot of sponges initially beccause of the cold. Ive also read its not necessary (and even harmful) to use soap… and babies should be bathed with just water. That said, I mostly did any everyday sponge at least before 1 month and then onwards everyday bath using soap and water. Google “necessary to bathe baby” and you’ll get lots of info, not all of which says bathing everyday is a must, especially for very young babies.

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    • Thank you! Our baby also has a reflux issue and is a side sleeper already🙂 If I understand his protests correctly, he has issues with the smell of oils… as he absolutely has no problem when i massage him with odorless lotion in sitting position🙂

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  14. Babies usually *love* massages! As long as you’re not too rough, and as long as you take care to catch them in the right mood, and make a routine of it. It’s a great bonding practice and relaxes both caregiver and kid. Plus umpteen numbers of studies have shown that loving physical contact is not just good but necessary for babies to grow and thrive…and promotes everything from better sleep and healthier bodies to reducing anxiety and bolstering IQ (!) in the long run.
    Make the room nice and warm, of course, and use common sense on which oils to use, how much pressure to use, and what time to give them a massage, etc. I’d also recommend taking an infant massage class so you don’t do something crazy which causes long-term damage. But it’s mostly fun and a great way to pass an hour in these long winter months!

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  15. I donno about the first part, but I can suggest you the 2nd part. Being the mom of two, I did massages to both my kids. We did them more for my son, b cos it was in India and was easy. For our 2nd one, we did only few months. I can say, there is absolutely no harm. If you think, it’s cold, put a personal heater at a distance and do the massage.If it doesn’t help, may be you can skip them now and do so in summers. It strengthens the muscles. I donno if my son’s body is naturally like that or due to the massages, he’s pretty strong. He walked and ran by his 1st bday. Again, that many kids do without massages too..:) Btw, I live in the US too..I don’t belong to Kerala. I am from AP.

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  16. in the second question, the assumption is that oils are only used to cool the body. But different oils in different seasons are used for heating the body too. to generate heat in the body, use any of these (in increasing intensity order) : almond oil, mustard oil, sesame oil. Sesame oil is really strong i wldnt use it as the first oil on an infant.

    to make sure an oil works for u, pls do massage, then let the baby play in a warm room for abt 15 minutes, to ensure that the body temp is normal (massage raises temperature and its not advisable to take a bath right after) then give a bath. wait for 3-4 days and observe skin carefully. if the child does not display any signs of skin allergy anywhere, the massage oil is ok. this is , of course, in addition to obvious physical signs of pain that you will watch out for when the child is being massaged.

    likewise in summer, you can use “cooling” oils for massage. but thats for later.

    infant massage must be learnt. different cultures do it differently and they all work. but it has to be learnt. even if you get a masseur, pls ask them specifically if they have done infant massage bcs the skull bones are not properly joined, the other bones are also pretty flexible and the child is vulnerable and very flexible at the same time. however, one thumb rule – if the child is not enjoying it, its not right. some indian cultures believe in “strong” massages for the newborn.hence the caution. No matter who is saying it has always worked. if its not working for ur child, you are getting it all wrong.

    about a daily bath..i have always given the child a bath. but my child was raised in north india (and faced north indian winters a month after the birth) . we ensured that the room was temperature controlled. however, infant bath is quite something.. you dont want to attempt it if you are not sure. indian dais do it differently. i relied on a baby bathing chair – life saver.

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    • Thank you! Well the oil my parents want to apply has nalpamara.. which apparently cools the body… I have no idea how much of that is true…
      I totally agree with you on how fragile the head seems… thats another issue..

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  17. IHM,
    Glad to be back after a long break.

    Sorry to be away so long but you know the reason.

    Question 1: Sorry. Not competent to answer this. Hopefully others will respond.

    Question 2: I too am in the same boat! Not as a parent but as a newly promoted Grandparent.
    My daughter presented my first grandchild just three weeks ago and I am now here in USA along with my wife helping my daughter and son-in-law cope up.

    This oil massage for new born infants is not just a Kerala custom.
    I think it is common all over India.
    My daughter was born in the seventies in Mumbai and I remember we had a Maharashtrian “Bai” or Ayah come in regularly for anointing her from head to toe with oil and massaging her before giving her a warm water bath. I don’t know if she enjoyed it or not and there is no point in asking her now!

    Nine years later, my mom, as a proud grandmother used to do the same for my newborn son.

    And now here in USA, where the weather just does not permit this, I am wondering if this is necessary. My daughter who has been living here for 12 years will listen to her paediatrician and not to us. It is too early now The baby is just three weeks old and my daughter is not considering any oil massage for the baby as yet but she is shortly due to attend a class on care of the new born baby where she will receive detailed instructions on baby care and I suppose oil massages will be dealt with too.

    For now, I suppose, when in America we should perhaps do as Americans do?
    I will be reading the responses from others with interest.

    Regards
    GV
    Camp: Fremont, California

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  18. I live in Nepal & my Nepali nanny insisted we massage my sons with oil.
    I’ve found the practice to be quite beneficial for preventing the extremely dry/itchy/inflamed skin due to the cold dry air blowing down from the high Himalayas here.
    Massage does seem to have a calming effect on infants also, I can tell the difference not only in temperament but the relaxed muscle tone in my sons when they’ve had their massage. I’ve not seen as many infants suffering skin ailments such as ‘cradle cap’ nor any of the itchy eczema-like rashes in Nepal or India as I have in the US.
    I don’t know much about the ‘heating & cooling’ nor Ayurvedic properties of oils.
    We were taught in our dermatology course in medical school to choose oils that complimented the natural ‘acid mantle’ of human skin (pH of between 4.5 to 6.2) and a similar molecular size/density as human skin’s natural oil.
    Sesame, almond, coconut, olive, jojoba, argan, apricot kernel, grapeseed, avocado, and emu oil are all within the natural acid pH & correct molecular size to mimic the natural oil in human skin.
    Emu oil stinks like chicken fat & is ‘non-veg’ so I don’t use it.
    Sesame oil & almond oil are excellent, although many people are seriously allergic to sesame or nuts- so beware the signs of a ‘true allergy’= hives, rash, itching, wheezing and or shortness of breath.
    Beware of many of the ‘cheap’ oils that are often used as diluents in some commercial products. Mineral oil, cocoa butter & shea butter are alkaline & may actually aggravate dry skin & cause comedones with prolonged use. Some commercial products have other ingredients in to balance or acidify this alkaline pH, some don’t.

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  19. Regarding your 1st question, I’ve tried IUD but it didn’t work out for me. I used to have constant bleeding and it made me prone to infections. The gynaec said that my body was rejecting the foreign object. I tried a 2nd time with the same outcome. The pills always made me feel bloated and I used to be nauseated all the time. So we’ve stuck to condoms (nearly 7 years) and it has worked so far. I know of at least 3 cases where there was a pregnancy in spite of the IUD. So, all in all what I want to say is, each one has a different body type, what works for one may not work for the other. And it may take some trial and error to discover what works for you. In the extreme case of an unexpected pregnancy, you better be prepared for that too. I definitely wouldn’t advice the safe period or withdrawal methods advised by some. Very high risk and not at all safe, especially if you have periods like mine, that chose to come of its own accord without following the usual 28 day rule!
    As to the 2nd question, there’s been plenty of advice already. I’m from Kerala too and I know the kind of drill you’re talking about. A lot of stinking yucky kozhambu and thailam. May be good for the mother, though I used to dislike it, my body probably benefited. No creaky joints and back pains.
    My eldest was very happy with the massage, bathing and pampering. The 2nd one used to protest like a lioness from start to end. People probably thought we were abusing the child, so I stuck to the bathing regimen only. Even though it was still noisy at least it got over sooner. The 3rd one was so so. My kid brother had been allergic and the oil used to wreck havoc on his skin, so my mother never did any massaging for him. He’s 28 now and nothing seems wrong for lack of an oil massage 😀 So, here again, choose whats best for your baby. There is no general rule I guess.
    Phew! That was looooooooooong!

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  20. Pingback: “…and every month if my periods get delayed I am given a weird look and it clearly shows that she is afraid i might get pregnant again.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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