Newborn “Wait to Bathe” Policy Takes Off

Any mother who has had her children in a standard hospital will probably recall her baby given their first bath not long after being born. Many of us just accept this bath within two to four hours of birth as standard practice, that our babies need to be cleaned off after birth, but is it really what’s best for the baby, and for the mother? Recent research suggests that this may not be the case.

Why You Might Want to Consider Delaying Your Baby’s First Bath

When a baby is first born, they are coated in a white, waxy substance called the vernix. Delaying bathing until 24 hours after birth leaves the vernix intact and has a number of health benefits for the baby. (1, 2, 3, 6)

1. Antimicrobial

When they’re first born, infants go from the safe, highly controlled environment of their mother’s womb to a world of foreign bacteria and viruses that they never before have been exposed to. But the vernix contains antimicrobial proteins that protect your child from common perinatal risks, such as group B strep bacteria and E.coli. (1, 2, 3)

2. Hypothermia

Newborn babies are not yet efficient at regulating their own body temperatures, and going from the warm environment of the womb to the outside air can be quite a shock to their system. Not only does bathing make temperature regulation more difficult, but keeping the vernix intact helps them stay warm throughout that first 24 hours of life. (1,2, 3)

Studies show that rates of hypothermia in newborns decreased from 29 percent to 14 percent in their month and then again down to 7 percent after the first nine months of life when left unbathed for 24 hours. (1, 2, 3)

3. Promotes Breastfeeding

There are a couple main reasons why delaying bathing and leaving the vernix intact promotes breastfeeding. (1, 2, 3, 6)

  1. Often, the baby is whisked away from the mother only a couple of hours after birth, taking away from crucial skin-on-skin contact time. This skin contact is crucial for mother-baby bonding, and it’s this connection which promotes breastfeeding and makes the process more natural. (1, 2, 3, 6)

  2. According to studies, leaving the vernix intact helps the baby to pick up their mother’s scent more easily, thus promoting breastfeeding. (1, 2, 3, 6)

Breastfeeding rates increased from 51 percent to 71 percent in the first month, and then again up to 78 percent after 9 months when the bath was delayed for at least 12 hours. (1, 2, 3, 6)

Breastfeeding is associated with better nutritional status in infants, protection against common childhood infections and allergies, improved survival and decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death syndrome in the first year of life, as well as physical and emotional benefits of the continued skin-to-skin contact. So it’s important to support that special mom and baby bonding time as much as possible. (6, 7)

4. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia, or extremely low blood sugar, is a risk for newborn babies. (1,2, 3) They can develop hypoglycemia if: (4)

  • There is too much insulin in the blood, which pulls glucose from the blood

  • The baby does not produce enough glucose

  • The baby’s body is using more glucose than is being produced

  • The baby is not able to feed enough to maintain proper glucose levels

Research shows that when the first bath is delayed until 24 hours after birth, rates of hypoglycemia drop from 21 percent to 7 percent in the first month, and then down to 4 percent after 9 months. This is largely thanks to the positive impact the vernix has on promoting breastfeeding. (1, 2, 3, 6)

5. Mother-Baby Bonding

Those first hours after birth are precious, and there is a great deal of mother-baby bonding that occurs during this time. Provided that your baby doesn’t need urgent care, it is best that they stay with their mom for as much and as long as possible. Not only does this aid the bonding experience, which can have mental, physical, and emotional benefits later in life, but staying with their mother also helps with temperature regulation. (1, 2, 3, 5, 6)

What are the experts saying?

vernix, first baby bath, newborn bath, delaying first bath

The World Health Organization has confirmed these findings, stating in their most recently published guidelines for newborn health:

“Bathing should be delayed until after 24 hours of birth. If this is not possible due to cultural reasons, bathing should be delayed for at least 6 hours. Appropriate clothing of the baby for ambient temperature is recommended. This means one to two layers of clothes more than adults, and use of hats/caps. The mother and baby should not be separated and should stay in the same room 24 hours a day.” (5)

Every Mother Has the Power to Make Her Own Choice

The reason behind newborn washing was due to infants previously being seen as “dirty”, and rightfully so. When they are first born, they have blood, amniotic fluid, and meconium (early infant stool), which unsurprisingly seems pretty gross to many new parents. This is easily taken care of, however by giving them a good towel rub. This keeps the vernix intact while getting rid of the other substances.

As we mentioned, whether or not you want your baby bathed right away is every mother’s choice. Many new moms appreciate having their child’s first bath in the hospital as it is a teaching tool, where the nurse shows a new mom how to properly and safely bathe her new baby.

If you are in a hospital that has not yet begun to practice the 24-hour bath delay, you have the power to decline when bath time comes around.

Education on the benefits of waiting for bathing is key for parents and hospitals alike. Share this article with all of the soon-to-be moms in your life to spread the word.

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Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer, a competitive runner, and a staff writer at The Hearty Soul.
Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.

Check out the history, food, and culture site she runs with her twin sister, The Taste Archives , and connect with her on Instagram , Facebook , and on Twitter!
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