The Benefits of Delayed Bathing for Newborns
Including Thomas, my little one, I’ve helped hundreds of babies bathe. I started in nursing school, then working in labour and delivery, and then working with new parents in the Dominican. One of the things I learned when I was pregnant was the benefits of delayed bathing. I had experience with parents choosing to delay a baby’s bath but had never dug into why. Well, now it’s something that I recommend to everyone I work with. Here’s why.
Every culture approaches bathing differently. In some cultures, babies are bathed almost immediately, but there are huge benefits to delaying a bath.
Babies are not born dirty. They are covered in vernix, which is a thick cottage-cheesy-like substance that protects their skin and keeps them healthy. This vernix helps both inside and outside the womb by:
Coating the internal digestive system with a prebiotic layer to protect against infections (this happens in the womb as they swallow amniotic fluid).
Creating a protective barrier on the skin when born to reduce infections.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is very susceptible in newborns. Leaving this protective barrier helps to prevent the introduction of bacteria when babies are handled by anyone other than their parents. Also, gloves should be worn by anyone handling the baby outside of the immediate family until the baby has been bathed. The mother’s microbiome (ie: bacteria from her body that boosts the baby’s immunity) are present on the baby’s skin after a vaginal delivery. Hospital staff should be wearing gloves to avoid any cross-contamination from other infants.
Regulating a baby’s temperature and combating cold stress, which basically just means that the baby’s temperature drops.
It can cause many issues for a newborn. It’s something that happens very easily to newborns. Newborns have very thin skin with very little capacity to retain heat. Babies lose heat quickly while wet. That’s why they are dried off immediately after birth. The vernix helps to hold in some of the heat that their skin cannot.
Stabilizing baby’s blood sugar levels.
This one is fascinating and I could go into huge detail here, but to simplify it all, cold stress, separation from mom, early bathing, and other stressors can increase a hormone in their body called Cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone in the body and an increase in crying or stressors can cause the baby’s blood sugar levels to drop. When this happens, it can make the baby drowsy which causes issues with feeding and just perpetuates the issue with decreasing blood sugar.
Increasing the success of breastfeeding.
When babies are born without intervention or issues, their first instincts are to breastfeed. Studies have found that uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact in the early hours has accounted for greater chances of breastfeeding past the 6-week mark.
By introducing a bath to the baby during this time, you are separating mom and baby. You’re also reducing bonding, increasing stress, decreasing blood sugar supplies, and increasing the chances of needing formula.
Pro-tip: the smell of the vernix on the baby helps mom to increase her milk supply while smelling it – newborn baby smell really is intoxicating for a reason!
Even if your belief system tells you that babies need to be bathed immediately, the benefits of waiting a minimum of 6 hours are tremendous. If at all possible, avoid bathing your baby for 24 hours or more.
A common question people ask me is, “How long is too long?” – there isn’t a wrong answer here and many people wait upwards of a week.