I truly wish I would have been aware of reasons to delay baby’s first batch at the hospital when I gave birth to my son several year ago. If I would have known this information or felt empowered to just say ‘no’ or at least wait until I was a little more engaged to move forward with my son’s first bath. After almost 24 hrs in labor, an emergency c-section and being on the verge of emotional and physical exhaustion my son came into the world at 11:11 pm. We spent a couple of hours in recovery because of the c-section and around 2 am were moved into our private room. Our new little family was just getting settled when a nurse came around 3 am to bathe my son.
I clearly couldn’t move as I had just had a c-section; the nurse took my son and proceeded to give him a bath in the sink. The little guy wasn’t happy as it has been a pretty big day for him and I assume he was just as tired as I was, I am sure he just wanted to be close to mommy, eat and rest. I honest thought ‘what the heck is she doing’ but she was the nurse so I assumed it was absolutely necessary that my son get his first bath at 3 am. The more I look back, the more strange it seems but I didn’t even have the thought to speak up or question. Now that I am aware of reasons to delay baby’s first bath in hospital, I would feel empowered to let the nurse know we are going to hold off on that 3 am bath.
There are several benefits of delaying baby’s first bath in the first hours or even days after birth. Medically, there is no reason that a newborn must be bathed in the first hours or days. 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. You should share and discuss your wishes with hospital staff in a respectful manner. (Much of the research on bathing newborns is related to the preterm or low birth weight baby.)
Babies are born with a natural skin protectant
In utero, babies are protected from their watery environment by a special substance called vernix, found on their skin. Vernix may be seen on your just born baby, it looks a bit like a white, waxy cream cheese, and 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 babies born earlier often have a larger amount of vernix present. 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. It’s important to note that the research is on the properties of the vernix but as of now there is no clinical data to prove this connection.
Baby wants to be near mom
A newborn baby wants to be as close to mom and breast as possible. Baby being close to breast can encourage breastfeeding and facilitate a smooth transition to the outside world. Being close to mom provides a sense of comfort to a newborn.
Lowered body temperature
Newborns are still figuring out how to maintain their body temperature and giving them a bath early on may add to this challenge. A mother’s chest is the perfect place for baby to maintain their body temperature as the chest has the ability to heat up or cold down to help baby stay at just the right temperature.
Keep stress hormones low and blood sugar normal
Baby being separated from mother can add an additional layer of stress to a new baby just figuring out life on the outside. When baby is taken to be bathed, he/she may cry, feel uncomfortable and upset causing baby’s body to release stress hormones in response to this new situation. Baby’s heart rate and blood pressure may rise; she may breathe a bit faster and become agitated. With baby working hard to respond to this stressful situation her blood sugar may lower temporarily.
A bath with mom or dad sounds nice
Since a newborn baby feels most secure close to a parent, mom or dad might consider taking the first bath with baby. Mom or dad getting into the bathtub with baby and holding her in your arms is a great way to have baby’s first bath. Baby will feel secure when he/she does not have to be separated from mom or dad.
Handle with gloves
Many hospitals have policies to require for staff to handle all unbathed babies with gloves on their hands to protect from coming into contact with
- Amniotic fluid
- Vernix that remain on baby
As the transmission of hospital-acquired infections is on the rise, some hospitals consider it good practice to have all hospital staff wear gloves when handling a newborn baby, even after a bath has occurred. Studies have shown glove use in very low birth weight babies have fewer infections when staff handles the baby with gloves on, regardless of bath status.
Sources: Loring, C., Gregory, K., Gargan, B., LeBlanc, V., Lundgren, D., Reilly, J., . . . Zaya, C. (2012). Tub bathing improves thermoregulation of the late preterm infant. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs, 41(2), 171-179. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2011.01332.x Medoff Cooper, B., Holditch-Davis, D., Verklan, M. T., Fraser-Askin, D., Lamp, J., Santa-Donato, A., . . . Bingham, D. (2012). Newborn clinical outcomes of the AWHONN late preterm infant research-based practice project. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs, 41(6), 774-785. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01401.x Ng, P. C., Wong, H. L., Lyon, D. J., So, K. W., Liu, F., Lam, R. K., . . . Fok, T. F. (2004). Combined use of alcohol hand rub and gloves reduces the incidence of late onset infection in very low birthweight infants. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed, 89(4), F336-340. doi: 10.1136/adc.2003.031104 Preer, G., Pisegna, J. M., Cook, J. T., Henri, A. M., & Philipp, B. L. (2013). Delaying the Bath and In-Hospital Breastfeeding Rates. Breastfeed Med. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2012.0158 Visscher, M. O., Utturkar, R., Pickens, W. L., LaRuffa, A. A., Robinson, M., Wickett, R. R., . . . Hoath, S. B. (2011). Neonatal skin maturation–vernix caseosa and free amino acids. Pediatr Dermatol, 28(2), 122-132. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1470.2011.01309.x