When Dominik was born, we were fortunate enough to have immediate skin to skin bonding time. He was latched and breastfed minutes after birth as well. But there was one thing that we waited to do, and that was to give him a bath. In fact, he remained completely unbathed for a whole week and still had that heavenly newborn baby smell.
For most hospitals, a post-birth bath is just part of the routine, especially for babies born via caesarean section. Typically, soaps made by Johnson & Johnson are also used before handing a swaddled and squeaky clean baby back to mom. Luckily, especially in recent years, hospitals are usually great about delaying a bath according to parents wishes. But here’s the thing, baby’s are not born dirty. In fact, there are very important health reasons to skip the bath.
Babies are born with a white, waxy coating on their skin called vernix. In utero, it acts as a barrier between the amniotic fluid and the baby’s skin. Over time, they shed this coating, which is why many term and late term babies do not have much. This coating serves a purpose in several ways. Vernix…
- Moisturizes baby’s skin. Newborns are going from a completely wet environment to a completely dry one, it can take skin some time to adjust.
- Regulates body temperature. Vernix helps to hold in heat. One of the first jobs for a newborn’s body is to figure out how to regulate body temperature outside of a consistently warm environment. If babies are bathed right after birth, it impacts and messes with their bodies ability to regulate their temperature.
- Acts as a barrier against germs. Babies are so vulnerable to germs and microbes after birth, and in a very germy place like a hospital, it is vital to keep them protected.
Bathing after birth doesn’t just affect the presence of vernix, it can affect how successful breastfeeding is as well. Babies who are given immediate skin to skin contact are more likely to have a good start to a breastfeeding relationship. This makes sense because if babies are stressed trying to regulate body temperature and deal with new sensations like a bath, their focus is not going to be on latching. In addition to this, when a newborn is stressed, their blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing go up which affects their blood sugar. And if blood sugar is low, the introduction of formula is encouraged. Birth is stressful enough on mom and baby without the first experience of a bath.
A little rub down with a towel after birth is really all babies need to remove meconium, blood, and excess vernix. How long you delay a bath, if you decide to, is up to you. We waited a week because that was when his diapers began to get pretty messy. Even then, it was only a wipe down with a wet washcloth. He didn’t get a real bath until nearly 4 weeks later. And when we did, we never used soap. Baby’s skin is very delicate and water is enough to wash a newborn. Co-bathing, taking a bath with your baby, is a great way to introduce it because it keeps stress levels low and can be a nice way to have some skin to skin bonding time.