Whether you deliver vaginally or via a Cesarean section, the minutes following birth can be a WHIRLWIND of emotions, from excitement to nervousness to awe. And as baby is placed into your arms, the last thing on your mind is when their first bath is going to be.
Delaying your baby’s first bath is actually crucial for their short- and long-term health!
From Womb to World
When your baby is still within your womb, they are provided with all of the nutrients, protection, and warmth they could possibly need. So, their entrance into the world can be quite a shock! However, the human body is AMAZING and doesn’t leave your baby high and dry – there are several features of the liquid and gel-like substances that your baby is covered in post-birth. For example, babies are born with a natural skin moisturizer, the vernix caseosa. Babies are surrounded by fluid for 37 plus weeks, and the vernix protects your baby’s skin from cracking when exposed to dry air. In fact, too many baths during your baby's first week of life may lead to dry skin, so your baby may only need one bath! Dr. Jen and Dr. Kyle bathed their son for the first time when he was 7 days old! In addition, this white, cheese-like substance is responsible for the antimicrobial protection of your baby’s skin. Where adults have had years to cultivate their skin’s natural flora and develop immunity to common pathogens, your baby has only had a matter of minutes. By leaving the vernix on the baby for as long as possible, your baby’s immune system is given the best shot at fighting off potential pathogens and continuing to grow and thrive!
Who would’ve thought that baths and breastfeeding were interconnected? Recent studies have found correlations between the delay of the first bath and the ease and du
ration of breastfeeding newborns, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting 24 hours after birth before bathing baby when possible and safe. Babies are used to the smell and taste of their amniotic fluid, and this scent helps guide them to their mother’s nipples. Researcher Heather DiCioccio found a correlation with delayed bathing and increased exclusive breastfeeding (without bottle) during the mother’s stay in the hospital. When the vernix is removed from the baby, they can become distressed when their road map to nutrients has suddenly been removed. In addition to improved breastfeeding, earlier onset breastfeeding can help ease newborn stress. While babies transition from swallowing amniotic fluid to breathing in air, it is best to have them breastfeed quickly to preserve the muscle memory of sucking and swallowing.
A Cozy Coat
The vernix caseosa also serves to help regulate a baby’s body temperature as they enter the world. Inside the womb, babies experience a well-regulated 98.6-degree environment. Within the first hours of birth, however, they are placed within several room-temperature 70-degree rooms – a whole 20-degree difference from what they are used to! One study from the Journal of Obstetric Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing found that “delayed bathing was associated with decreased incidence of hypothermia and hypoglycemia in healthy newborns.” In addition, the sudden change in temperature of the bathwater can have a stressful effect on your baby, leading to a flood or cortisol and other stress hormones. Since stress sends your baby into fight or flight instead of rest and digest, their blood sugar can dramatically drop as well, leading them to stress out even more. Leaving the vernix on the baby’s skin for as long as possible allows your baby to better regulate their internal temperature and blood sugar, keeping them warm, cozy, and happy until they reach your loving arms.
The time directly after your baby's birth can leave everyone feeling good - mom and baby included. Immediately spending time together helps establish your mother-baby connection through skin-to-skin contact. This intimate contact allows your baby to hear your heartbeat - how they've recognized you for the past 9 months! Also, one study found that mothers who practiced skin-to-skin contact with their newborn immediately after birth saw breastfeeding occur in half of the time when compared to babies who underwent routine care (2.5 minutes vs 5.4 minutes). The same study also found that hypothermia only occurred in 2% of babies with skin-to-skin, whereas routine care led to 42% of the babies experiencing some form of hyperthermia. Lastly - and most importantly - delaying baby’s first bath allows you and your loved ones to spend the most amount of time with your baby possible! After all your hard work, you deserve to enjoy the first moments of your new family.
Delaying your baby's first bath will set them up for success as they move forward in life, from breastfeeding to better temperature regulation to even a stronger immune system. When possible, discuss delayed bathing with your midwife or doula and include this in your birthing plan. That way, you can enjoy your baby just the way they are - vernix and all - when they are welcomed into the world.