While you might imagine what your newborn baby will look like in the first moments you see her, the reality is quite different.
Newborn skin is often covered in a white, waxy coating called vernix.
For the best part of the last century, hospital staff would wash or wipe the vernix away from newborns before presenting them to parents for their first meeting.
Wait to Bathe Hospital Policy – Should You Delay Baby's First Bath?
In the early to mid 1900s, there was a big focus on germs and preventing disease, and newborns were sent to nurseries immediately after birth for cleaning up. Bathing a baby soon after birth was based on a belief they were contaminated or dirty.
However, in recent times there has been a shift in attitude towards this practice.
It's now recognised babies should have immediate skin to skin with their mother or father after birth. You can find out more in 7 Huge Benefits Of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth.
And more hospitals are recognising immediate bathing is a completely unnecessary practice with no benefits.
Wait To Bathe Hospital Policy Adopted
Advocate Sherman Hospital in the United States recently introduced a ‘wait to bathe’ policy to improve outcomes for babies born at the hospital.
The move follows months of research carried out by Courtney Buss, a nurse at the hospital, who found delayed bathing improved the health of babies.
The research study, carried out as part of the Advocate Evidence Based Practice Fellowship, found delaying the first bath saw a 50% decrease in the number of babies diagnosed with hypothermia.
The ‘wait to bathe’ trial also cut rates of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) by a third and saw an increase in the number of women breastfeeding.
Babies are born with a layer of vernix, which is a thick white substance, on their skin. The vernix forms in the final trimester and is thought to help protect the baby’s skin from the amniotic fluid in the womb.
Many hospitals remove the vernix as standard practice before handing the baby to mama for skin-to-skin, but this outdated practice is under scrutiny, thanks to Buss’ research study.
What Are The Benefits Of Waiting To Bathe?
Vernix, once thought to be a dirty substance, actually plays an important role in protecting newborn babies. Not only does it help to regulate baby’s temperature which helps the baby conserve energy, it also helps the skin to develop after the birth.
It also plays an important role in breastfeeding by allowing the baby to pick up the mother’s scent which encourages the baby to latch for early breastfeeding. Buss saw breastfeeding rates jump from just over 50% to over 75% of women after the introduction of the ‘wait to bathe’ policy.
Some babies are born with more vernix than others. The vernix is absorbed into the baby’s skin and this process begins in the womb. Premature babies are usually born with more vernix than full-term babies.
Despite the outdated medical practices seen in some hospitals, vernix doesn’t need to be wiped off, it will eventually soak into the baby’s skin.
After the trial, Buss continued to study the rates of hypothermia, hypoglycemia and breastfeeding at the hospital and found that the numbers kept improving.
The ‘wait to bathe’ policy has been introduced as an ongoing policy at the hospital and has even been taken up by six other hospitals that fall under the Advocate Healthcare System.
It can take time to change the culture surrounding birth, and parents will be able to request for their babies to be cleaned immediately, if they wish.
However, nurses and doctors at the hospital will be explaining the benefits of leaving the vernix in place to ensure new parents can make an informed decision. Take a look at 6 Reasons To Delay Your Baby’s First Bath to find out the benefits of delaying your baby’s first wash.