Studies suggest that we may be rushing our newborn baby's first bath. Infants are not born dirty, so there is no reason to hurry them into a bath. In fact, there may be medical benefits to delaying a baby's first bath. The wait time between birth and bath varies among different hospitals. In 2010, researchers at the Boston Medical Center increased the wait time for newborn baths to at least 12 hours after birth from its standard two to four hours. This study found that delaying bathing a newborn was associated with a significant increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates. This may be due to limiting stress following delivery.
The World Health Organization advises delaying the bath for 24 hours. However, a survey of Canadian hospitals found that kind of wait is not the norm. At BC Women’s, the first bath doesn’t happen until at least four hours and usually up to 24 hours postpartum. At Toronto East General Hospital, a healthy full-term baby who has maintained a stable temperature is bathed after eight hours at the earliest. Every hospital contacted said parents’ requests to delay the bath are always honoured.
Neonatal experts have always referred to the time right after birth as the “golden hour,’’ and researchers are now learning that keeping mother and baby together is crucial. It will promote successful breastfeeding and cut rates of infant hypothermia and low blood sugar. The newest strategy to do this is delaying newborn baths for at least eight hours. Keeping newborns warm on their mother's chest is a relatively simple practice in the hours after birth that can have profound health benefits for mothers and babies. The new golden rule as far as the first bath is concerned is, “wait for eight!”
Keep reading to find out all the potential risks that can happen when the hospital bathes the baby too soon.
13 Interference With Maternal-Infant Bonding
Bringing a newborn into the world is scary for both mom and baby. During the first few moments out of utero a baby is going to be scared and crying. These best thing for a baby to do is be held closely to its mother. There are now a number of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin to skin immediately after birth, as well as later. Skin to skin contact immediately after birth promotes bonding as well as allows the baby to be colonized by the same bacteria as the mother. Even babies on oxygen can be cared for skin to skin. This may help reduce their need for oxygen, and it could keep them more stable in other ways as well.
Taking a baby away from the mother soon after birth for the purpose of a bath can disrupt the process of maternal-infant bonding. It can disrupt the safe and secure feeling the baby has when it is with its mother.
12 Temperature Changes
A newborn baby is still trying to figure out how to maintain their own body temperature. Giving a baby a bath too soon can cause hypothermia. Inside the uterus it was about 98.6 degrees, but most babies are born into a room that is about 70 degrees. In the first few hours after birth a baby has to use a lot of energy to keep warm. If a baby gets too cold, he or she can drop their blood sugar or have other complications. Taking a baby away from its mother for a bath may result in the baby working harder to keep their body temperature in the normal range.
It is common for babies to be placed under a heat lamp after their first bath in order to bring their body temperature back up. They will also need to be wrapped in warm towels. It may be hard to get a baby's temperature regulated if the first bath is given too soon.
11 Increase Risk Of Infection
Dr. Dyan Hes of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City has seen many families who believe in delaying their newborn's first bath in order to decrease the risk of infection. “These families believe the immunological properties found in the vernix will boost the infant’s immune system,” she says. “However, children bathed with clean water within the first few hours of life do not get more infections.”
Newer research does indicate that vernix contains immune properties. Therefore, leaving it on your baby’s skin provides a layer of protection while your new baby’s immune system is getting stronger. Amniotic fluid, which bathed the baby before birth, also has the ability to provide some extra resistance against infection. Vernix protects your baby from infection as well, so it makes sense that the longer it remains on the skin, the better for baby. It's important to note that this research is on the properties of the vernix, but as of now, there is no clinical data to prove this connection.
10 Destabilize Blood Sugar
In the first few hours after birth a baby has to adjust to life outside the uterus, including losing the placenta as a source of blood sugar. When a newborn baby is working hard to respond to a stressful situation it may temporarily lower the infant's blood sugar. Being separated from its mother too soon or the fear of a bath can be enough to trigger a drop in blood sugar. When the baby is taken away from the mother to be bathed, she may cry, feel uncomfortable, and be upset.
If the baby's blood sugar is being monitored due to mother's gestational diabetes, or her size at birth, the baby's health care providers may be concerned and suggest introducing formula to bring her blood sugar back up to the normal range. When the blood sugar drops it can make the baby too sleepy to breastfeed, causing the blood sugar to drop even more. It's very rare, but, low blood sugar can possibly cause neurological injury.
9 Increase Stress Hormones
During a baby's first bath there will be crying, fear, and stress. When a baby is taken from its mother in the first few hours of life, the stress is unnecessary. In response to this situation, the infant's body will release stress hormones. The heart rate and blood pressure may go up, they may breathe a little bit faster and the baby can become agitated. We don't want to add any unnecessary frustrations to our little ones. Our job is to make them feel comfortable and confident while they are figuring out this big new world.
Bathing immediately after birth will increase the risk of the baby getting cold and needing to be separated from you longer for warming. The longer mom and baby stay separated the more stress hormones will be released. When the baby remains closest to mom, they are better able to regulate all of their body systems and maintain their blood sugar where it should be.
8 Trouble Breastfeeding
Skin to skin contact, as well as being close to your breasts, can help encourage breastfeeding and support the baby to help them make a smooth transition to life on the outside. If the baby is taken away from its mother too soon it can interfere with the very important first feedings. The Journal of Perinatal Education suggests babies who breastfeed in the first hour of life or even in the first 30 minutes have an easier time learning to latch.
In a report by WHO, researchers found that newborns who experienced skin to skin contact immediately after birth cried less than babies kept in a bassinet next to their mothers. Not only does this reduce infant stress, but the study also confirmed that uninterrupted time together promotes a better breastfeeding experience. A delay in bath time will allow more time for the mother to bond with her baby which will ultimately promote breastfeeding.
7 Loss Of Natural Skin Moisturizer
Babies are born with a natural skin protectant. In utero, babies are protected by a special substance called vernix, found on their skin. You will probably notice some vernix on your just-born baby. It looks like a white, waxy cream cheese. Some babies seem to have a lot and others not so much. Babies tend to lose the vernix the longer the mother is pregnant, so those babies born at 42 weeks might not have a lot of it visible anymore, though usually there is still some hidden in the folds of their skin and under their arms. Babies born earlier often have a larger amount.
Vernix is the best moisturizer ever, it's totally natural and it helps to keep your baby's skin soft and supple. Without this protection, a baby’s skin would chap or wrinkle in the womb. The vernix protects our babies in the womb for nine months and it has the potential to continue protecting the baby after they are born. However, that means delaying the first bath.
6 They Don’t Get Clean
“Babies are not born dirty,” says Michael Farmer, head of the Department of Family Practice and postpartum medical director at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre. “At BC Women’s, there is no urgent need to get the newborn baby bathed, and this can be delayed at the parent's’ request. Mother-baby bonding time is very important, and the caregivers would not want to interfere with skin-to-skin time and establishing breastfeeding. Bathing a newborn can certainly wait.” A good towel rub is all that’s needed to remove any amniotic fluid, blood and meconium, he adds.
It’s standard practice for nurses to bathe babies in hospital, and parents are usually encouraged to participate. However, the purpose of the hospital bath is not necessarily to get the baby clean, but to create a learning environment for the parents. “The first bath in hospital is now much more of a teaching and learning experience for the new parents,” says Farmer. “It is not done for hygiene, but it is certainly helpful for parents to learn how to bathe their newborns.”
5 Parents Don't Participate
After mom has had time to recover, parents can more easily participate in baby’s first bath and it becomes a teaching opportunity between nursing and parents rather than the nurse taking the baby alone. Mom can use whatever special baby bath products she chooses and watch the baby coo and smile - or scream - during the first bath.
A baby feels most secure when they are close to a parent, so you might want to consider taking the first bath with your baby. Getting in the tub with your baby and holding them in your arms is a much more intimate way to have that first bath. The baby will feel secure and loved when they do not have to be separated from mom in the first days. The water will feel more soothing while being held, happily splashing and giving little kicks. Remember, little babies are very slippery when wet, so you will need someone to hold the baby while you get in and out of the tub. It will create special memories to take that first bath with your baby, rather than having staff do it, shortly after birth, when mom is still recovering herself and not really able to engage in the process.
4 Lack Of Massage
There are many reasons that the vernix should not be cleaned off right away. For example, vernix acts as a protective barrier, while in the uterus, from liquids, but it also acts as a skin cleanser, moisturizer, safe and natural antimicrobial, temperature regulator, and antioxidant for the newborn after delivery. In the hospital there are many drug-resistant microorganisms are found. Washing away the natural protective coating from the newborn’s skin seems like the opposite of what should be normal protocol. The newborn bath washes away this rich with natural flora, proteins, and antimicrobial natural protective barrier.
Instead of a bath, try massaging this naturally moisturizing coating, the vernix, into the newborn’s skin, and let the baby absorb it. If it is washed away it will allow the newborn’s skin to dry out, and then to compensate manufactured moisturizers are applied. Experts believe rubbing this natural body cream into a newborns skin instead of washing it off is the best move we can make.
3 Unstable Mood
After almost 24 hours in labor, an emergency c-section and being on the verge of emotional and physical exhaustion, Maria Walker’s son came into the world at 11:11 pm. They spent a couple of hours in recovery because of the c-section and around 2 am they were moved into a private room. The new little family was just getting settled in when a nurse came around 3 am to bathe the baby. The new mom did not question the nurses actions, but it did make her feel uneasy when she heard screeching sounds coming from her baby.
Walker could not move as she had just had a c-section. The nurse took the baby to the sink and proceeded to give him a bath. The little guy wasn’t happy as it has been a pretty big day for him and he just wanted to be close to mommy, eat and rest. Even after his bath he had trouble calming down. Getting a bath so soon after delivery brought on stress, fear and confusion.
2 Weakens Immune System
Washing away the vernix too soon is not helping the baby. Research indicates vernix has immune properties and leaving on baby’s skin provides a layer of protection while your new baby’s immune system is getting stronger. Medically, there is no reason that a newborn must be bathed in the first hours or days, so it will not harm the baby to wait. Waiting will only give the baby a chance at being stronger and healthier. You, as the parent, should learn about the appropriate time to bathe your baby and can make a choice to do so when you and your baby are ready.
The vernix hydrates the skin and helps protect the baby from infection by microbes like E. coli, Group B Strep, and yeast. A 2004 study published in ACOG’s Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that, “The antimicrobial property of vernix may also act to facilitate colonization of normal flora following birth and to block colonization of unwanted microbes or pathogens. For example, psoriasin which is identified in vernix, directly kills E. Coli…”
1 The Gloves Come Off
In many hospitals, it is a set policy for staff to handle all unbathed babies with gloves on their hands. This is in place to protect the staff from coming into contact with any amniotic fluid, blood, or vernix that remain on the newborn. Thinking of the baby rather than the staff, and considering that the transmission of hospital-acquired infections is on the rise, some consider it good practice to have all hospital staff wear gloves when handling a newborn baby. Regardless of if a bath has already occurred.
Some studies show glove use in very low birth weight babies have fewer infections when staff handles the baby with gloves on, despite the bath status. Sharing your wishes with hospital staff can be done respectfully and your wishes can be honored. If you want the staff to wear gloves at all times be sure to speak up and express your concerns.
Sources: Today's Parent, Very Well, ChildrensMD,