Most of us know when babies are born they are usually covered in a white cheesy looking goo.
It used to be standard hospital procedure to wash babies immediately after birth but today most hospitals recommend waiting at least 8-24 hours before giving your baby’s first bath.
It can be tempting to want to give your baby a wash to get to that delicious newborn skin underneath the birth goo but there are a number of good reasons why you might consider waiting a few days.
Your Baby’s First Bath #1: Vernix
Around halfway through pregnancy your baby starts to develop a white, waxy coating on his skin, called vernix. This coating is made of skin cells and protein, and is multi purpose. In utero, it acts as a waterproof barrier to protect your baby’s skin while soaking in amniotic fluid for months. Vernix is a natural skin moisturiser which helps protect your baby’s skin from drying out when exposed to air after birth.
Vernix also smells divine – you know that newborn baby smell you want to bottle? Instead of washing it off, rub the vernix in like a skin and let your baby get the benefits of this amazing stuff. If you want to remove any blood or meconium smears, you can give your baby a quick wipe with a warm flannel in those areas and save a full bath for later.
Your Baby’s First Bath #2: Reduces Risk Of Infection
Vernix is made up of skin cells your baby made early in his development, as well as proteins which prevent common bacterial infections. Your baby is born with this natural antibacterial cream on their skin to protect against germs.
Babies are more likely to be exposed to bacterica such as Staphylocci, Clostridium difficile and E. coli in hospitals. These bacteria can cause complications such as pneumonia, meningitis, staph infections, and infections of the digestive system. These infections are not rare and can cause death in newborns.
Keeping your baby near you, thinking carefully about which newborn procedures to have, and avoiding baths can protect against these bacteria.
Your Baby’s First Bath #3: Improves Mother-Baby Bonding
Your baby has just spent nine months snug inside your womb, listening to your heartbeat and learning the sound of your voice. After birth, newborns rely on their senses to feel safe – being held skin to skin with mama provides that first sense of security which allows further developmental behaviour to begin.
The first moments when parents met their baby after birth are incredibly precious and don’t belong to care providers unless there is a medical emergency. There are many benefits to keeping babies with their mothers. Bathing can wait until baby and parents are ready.
Your Baby’s First Bath #4: Improved Early Breastfeeding
Babies and mothers who have immediate skin to skin after birth uninterrupted by procedures or separation are more likely to enjoy successful breastfeeding. In the 20-30 minutes following birth, if left skin to skin on mama’s stomach or chest, babies will begin to ‘crawl’ to the breast and search for the nipple unassisted.
This instinctive self-latching within the first hour of birth helps your baby to remember how to suck and swallow, which he’s been doing for months inside your uterus. Promoting exclusive breastfeeding helps protects babies from illness and reduce mortality rates.
Being separated after birth for a bath can interrupt this process and make breastfeeding more difficult for both mother and baby.
Your Baby’s First Bath #5: Helps Temperature Regulation
While your baby is cocooned inside your uterus, she is warm and toasty. In most cases she is born into a room that is almost half the temperature she’s used to. Newborns can’t adjust their body temperature very well and don’t have the same fat insulation as adults do, even though they spend the last part of pregnancy building up fat stores.
Bathing a newborn can cause her to become cold and need to use up more energy and oxygen to try and keep her temperature stable.
Your Baby’s First Bath #6: Keeps Blood Sugar Stable
When babies are bathed soon after birth they can end up with low blood sugar. The first few hours following birth are a big adjustment for your baby. He has to learn to breathe air, keep warm, and conserve his energy, as the placenta is no longer providing nourishment on tap.
Newborns are stressed by being separated from their mothers and cry to signal their distress. Bathing causes further stress and crying – this promotes the release of stress hormones which then trigger blood sugar levels to drop.
Babies who have low blood sugar are sleepy and don’t feed well, causing further problems with blood sugar regulation. This can lead to further separation and stress as your baby may need tests and special care. Bathing can wait until your baby is feeding well and is not likely to be stressed by the experience.
Bathing your baby for the first time is a special experience and it can be disappointing or upsetting if your baby is washed before you have a chance to do it yourself. Make sure your care providers know your preferences and support you to bath your baby when you are ready.