The routine has always been that immediately after your beautiful little newborn arrives, the nurse whisks them away to clean them off, bathe them, and wrap them up for you to snuggle for the firs time. Things have changed a bit over the years, and with good reason!
Many of us don’t realize that we have a choice in the hospital when the well-intentioned nurse exclaims ‘time to bathe your baby!’ The nurses will also measure and weigh your baby, give them their first vaccine, vitamin K and do the PKU test during this time. (There are some choices in here, but we will talk about that another time!)
There are quite a few reasons that we now know it’s important to delay this first bath. Studies show that bathing your baby too soon after birth can contribute to health issues. Experts now recommend waiting at least 24 hours before bathing your baby. Here are the reasons why:
- First and foremost, not bathing baby helps them maintain their temperature after you held them skin-to-skin. If you take a baby away from it’s natural thermostat (your chest) and put her in a bath, you risk baby getting hypothermia. Even the World Health Organization recognizes this and recommends delaying bathing for the first 24 hours.
- Reduces risk of low blood sugar. How are these two things related? The stress hormones released when a baby gets a bath can cause her blood sugar to drop. This can make her too sleepy to breastfeed which will lower blood sugar even further. One study found babies who had their first bath delayed until 12 hours after birth had less than a 4% chance of developing neonatal hypoglycemia. Babies whose first baths were not delayed had more than double the risk, with 8.5% suffering from low blood sugar.(Cochran Review).
- Makes for better bonding between mom and baby. Baby has a scent…..mom has a scent. The two each learn to recognize each others’ scent. If you mask that with shampoo, soap or any other thing-bonding becomes more difficult.
- Increases the likelihood of breastfeeding success. We won’t go into how beneficial breastmilk and breastfeeding is for baby. Because, if you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed—that’s your choice and we support that. However, if you want to breastfeed, you want to be successful at it. For various reasons, getting baby to latch on and breastfeed in those early days can be difficult for some moms, and bathing her too soon might contribute to the struggle. Studies show a delayed newborn bath is associated with increased likelihood of breastfeeding initiation rates. A hospital in one study changed its newborn bathing practice – waiting for 12 hours instead of only 2 hours after birth. They found the odds of breastfeeding initiation were 166% greater after this change! A baby removed from skin-to-skin time may feel stressed, and those stress hormones can lower blood sugar (see our previous point)
- Vernix Caseosa is the white cheesy substance that looks like cold cream, that covers baby’s skin when he is born. It’s a protective barrier on the skin which also acts as a waterproof barrier in the womb. Outside the womb, it acts as a moisturizer and can just be rubbed into his skin! Vernix also has antibacterial properties that protect his skin from group B strep, e-coli, and other bacterial and fungal infections. This is vital for baby’s undeveloped immune system and especially while he is still in the hospital with you-the germiest place on the planet!
And, lastly, this isn’t a reason to delay bathing….but why not make that first bath a family ritual that you do at home together in the sink….it’s a great way to begin to develop the love of bath time in those early days.