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Coconut oil massage improves weight gain and height in infants

 baby massage

photo credit: myreado2

Irrefutably, the power of touch is immensely soothing for an infant.  After having spent many months immersed in a warm, fluid environment, the outside world can feel extremely barren, cold,  and unpredictable.  Infant massage has been shown to alter hormone levels in babies and reduce anxiety and stress while promoting relaxation.  Physiological effects of massage include mobilizing fluids, washing out metabolic  waste products (i.e. lactic acid) that build up in muscles, and promoting blood flow.  Muscles, after being massaged, have decreased spasm. The tactile stimulation can activate nerve fibers carrying touch sensation and the sensory input from those fibers can decrease pain signals to the brain via the Gate Theory of pain. Thus, reducing the perception of pain.

In many cultures, massage with tropical oils is routine.  The tropical oil massage provides multiple benefits.   Oil based substances improve skin barrier function and protect the skin.  Massage has been shown to improve thermoregulation.  A compelling study from India looked at the effects of massage with  coconut oil, mineral oil, and placebo (powder).  Coconut oil massage caused greater weight and height gain rates compared to placebo in preterm and term infants. 

The weight gain is thought to be due to transcutaneous (through the skin) absorption .  Coconut oil is a saturated fat  rich in  medium chain triglycerides.   Because of the more thin, vascular skin of preterm babies, the oil is readily absorbed.  In fact, studies have shown change in fatty acid profiles following massage in infants.  The absorbed oil is bio-available to fill nutritional needs.  This may cause the resultant improved weight gain with coconut oil massage.

The long- term effect of the absorbed coconut oil is not known.  However, coconut oil is a saturated fat made of medium chain fatty acids.  Its metabolism is different that that of animal based saturated fats.   Medium chain fatty acids do not undergo degradation and re-esterification in the body and are used directly to produce energy.  Undoubtedly, further research is needed to elucidate the health profile of coconut oil.  However, it can be used to promote weight gain via massage for infants.

Please note,  through out Southeast Asia, coconut oil is thought to promote hair growth; although  there is no  scientific or clinical evidence to support this claim.


1. Ceylon Medical Journal

2. Indian Pediatrics

3. Indian Pediatrics

4. The Cochrane Library

5. DeLisa, JA,  Gans BM.  Rehabilitation Medicine Principles and Practices. 3rd edition.  Philadelphia: Lippencott Williams &Wilkins, 1998; 538-540.


  Save the Babies wrote @ February 25th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

In the second picture it looks like your are karate chopping the baby. I think this practice may be considered child abuse.

  neelam wrote @ March 6th, 2009 at 8:11 am

That is considered the wrong way to massage a baby (please read the text).

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