Is sambrani or dhoop good for newborns?

A traditional practice popular in many families is that after a bath, a newborn is gradually moved back and forth over aromatic smoke coming from a sambrani or dhoop on a coal that is burnt in a clay pot on the floor. It is said that it not only keeps the insects away from the newborn, but also helps them keep cold and congestion at bay. This is mostly done until six months and after a hair bath. Taking to Instagram, Shalini Santhosh Kumar, founder of Early Foods, a premium organic food company for children and mothers, suggested that the traditional method also helps “fumigate our houses, leaving a beautiful fragrance every day!”

“I recollect my grandmother and even my mother-in-law who used to do this every evening or at least on weekends if they got busy. Winter is coming, and this is a great way, especially if you have newborns to keep cold/congestions away. Inhaling the fumes from these spices can keep you warm and also ease out those colds and congestion,” she said.

In the video, she can be seen adding spices like carom seeds, dill seeds, and turmeric to lit charcoal.

The Indian word for gum benzoin, also known as benzoin, is sambrani, mentioned Himalayan Siddha Akshar, founder, Akshar Yoga Institutions who is also an ayurveda expert. “It is widely used in India and is popular not just for newborn babies but is also used by adults. This balsamic resin is extracted from the bark of genus Styrax. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, it is used to treat arthritis, gout, and muscle discomfort. Additionally having excellent health advantages, the resin’s benzoin oil is employed as a sedative and relaxant. It also contains many herbs with medicinal properties as well desi (Indian) cow byproducts such as powdered cow dung etc.,” he mentioned.

Stressing that the purpose of the tradition of making newborns smell sambrani is to “remove any negativity which may be present near the baby and at same time purify the air around the baby removing any infections”. Dr Paula Goel, consultant pediatrician, adolescent physician and the founder, Fayth Clinic said that burning dhoop or creating any form of smoke is quite harmful even for adults.

“Newborn babies have smaller airways. Burning coal with dhoop emits a mixture of poisonous gases like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and also mercury in the air. Dhuri (dhoop) creates smoke and the particulate matter clogs the airways and causes the airways to constrict. This leads to respiratory distress, increased respiratory rate and rapid heartbeat (tachycardia). The amount of oxygen entering the lungs decreases and the baby may get cyanosis (turn blue). Wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath may occur,” said Dr Goel told Agreed Dr Vrushali Bichkar, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Lullanagar, Pune, and said, “The smoke that babies inhaled can lead to a variety of respiratory ailments along with wheezing. It is better to avoid these things for the well-being of the baby.”

Common cold and cough is natural and will occur in children, however if your child’s respiratory rate is higher than 40/min and your child is visibly distressed (grunting, nose flaring, chest retractions, body colour changes), you must visit your doctor for complete check-up, Dr Goel advised. “If respiratory rate is less than 40/min and child is not visibly distressed, you may put over the counter nasal drops in both nostrils and give a propped up position to the baby to aid respiration.”