Delayed Baths For Newborns: The Benefits According To Studies

April 21, 2019

Delaying Newborn's first bath is another stellar attempt to educate you guys and continue the "get this off my chest" series of posts. I know, I'm not your typical Labor nurse. But that's why you guys love me! Be sure to follow me, Labor Nurse Mama, on Instagram for pregnancy and birth education!

Updates to note:

  • Delay your infant's bath until you are home from the hospital. (or longer if you want!)
  • Ask the nurses not vigorously to rub the baby after birth unless needed for resuscitation. This ensures less vernix is removed.

Also, this post may contain some affiliate links (which means if you purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more)! Click here for our full disclosure. Thank you!

Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6. I have labored thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes. I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey!

Delaying Newborn's First Bath: How it was

The scene was pretty standard when I started my labor and delivery nurse career. Mom delivered her baby, we held the baby up for her to see, and then the assigned baby nurse would whisk the baby to the warmer to start a series of standard care items.

There was little to no skin-to-skin contact!

Dry them off, stick a hat on, measure, weigh, and then administer the medications, all while mom watches from the bed. If you were lucky, we would drop your arm rail, and you could attempt to view while the neonatal nurses got their stuff done.

All this was done before the placenta came out!

Finally, Back to mom, all swaddled up and within the hour, a bath at the bedside (or in the nursery) and newborns' skin all clean.

Skin-to-skin time? What's that?

The scene has changed. Praise God! Because back then, you were considered a rebel or a pain in the arse if you asked for something other than routine care. I mean, God forbid you asked for delayed cord clamping. Holy hell! Oh wait, you want to HOLD YOUR BABY immediately? What are you, some kind of odd-ball??

Girl, When I had my kids, I got so much FLACK! I had a birth plan and was probably spitefully mentioned at the nurse's station as a needy patient.

Lord have mercy, thank God things have changed. Those rebel mamas knew a little something, something after all. It's a beautiful thing maternal-infant bonding and all these things we did back then ultimately interrupted the mother-baby bonding and the natural process of birth!

In 1998, I had a friend who insisted on delaying her baby's bath at a hospital in Chattanooga, TN. She also declined the Vitamin K and Hep B vaccination. Guess what? They called social services on her and harassed her family for months because of her outlandish ideas about birth.

Baby's are Not Dirty: What is Vernix?

What is that white stuff all over the baby? It's called vernix, and it's like the most precious moisturizer known to man. While in the womb, the vernix protects the baby's skin as a waterproof barrier. We would wipe that cheezy white substance off in the day within a few minutes when I first started my career in labor and delivery, and obstetrics.

Studies have proven that vernix is a rock-solid barrier against common bacterial infections and exposure to other infections. (including COVID-19)

This study concluded with:

The presence of all of these antimicrobial polypeptides in vernix suggests that they are important for surface defense and may have an active biologic role against microbial invasion at birth.

What does Vernix do for your baby?

  1. It covers the baby's skin inside the womb as a waterproof barrier. But underneath that barrier, it promotes healthy skin growth.
  2. It protects the baby from the friction of moving through the birth canal. Like a slip and slide. (insert weird emoji)
  3. Vernix acts as an antimicrobial barrier as the baby moves through the vaginal tract, which, to be fair, is not precisely sterile.
  4. After birth, vernix regulates the baby's temperature.
  5. It acts as a natural moisturizer for a baby's skin after birth.
  6. Vernix is a natural anti-infection and antioxidant.
  7. This magical white substance also promotes wound healing.
  8. Can be compared to the ingredients in a commercial skin cleanser. (HOLY SMOKES)
Check out our Marjorie Labor Gown over in the Shop!

So why am I recommending Delaying Newborn Bathing?

Delayed Newborn Bathing Benefits

Delaying Newborns' first bath is one of the critical components of protection that you can advocate for your child at birth.

(I have already covered immediate skin to skin, breastfeeding and delayed cord clamping, which also protects the baby from the start. If you haven't read up on those aspects of birth, read them now!)

1 / Reduces the Risks of Infection/Exposure

Let's face it; most of our babies are born in a hospital. Think sick people. So to leave the vernix on our little ones and let it protect them from bacteria and fungi. Studies show that vernix has over 41 proteins in it. 29% of those have antimicrobial components, and 39% lend to immunity.

2 / Improves Body Temperature Control

A baby cannot regulate its body temperature (thermoregulation). The newborn baby loses its body heat four times faster than adults. Staying warm is critical to a newborn's well-being. Hence, we also promote immediate skin-to-skin and eventually swaddling with a hat (after the golden hour, please and thank you!).

Did you know that immediate skin-to-skin reduces thermoregulation issues by 42%? WHAT???????

3 / Stabilizes Newborn Blood Sugar Control

Low blood sugar in a newborn is a downright scary situation. It can quickly turn fatal. Guess what increases the risk of a baby's blood sugar dropping? Stress (Like crying) which releases cortisol (stress hormone), causes blood sugar to drop. Guess what makes them cry more? A bath.

Hello, guess what makes a baby less stressed? Being on top of their mom and being warm and not crying.

A study states that babies bathed before 12 hours of birth doubled their chance of improper blood sugar control.

4 / Improved Breastfeeding success

Girl, if all the reasons I have listed so far are not enough, then perk up. Delaying Baby's first bath protects them from a whole bunch of evils and increases the chance of successful breastfeeding. It's known that when skin-to-skin happens during the immediate postpartum period, the baby smells the amniotic fluid on the breasts. The same is said for the vernix. It smells like amniotic fluid and familiarizes the baby with the breasts, and boom a good latch. It is thus promoting breastfeeding success.

Listen to this fact, A study done in 2010, showed that delaying a baby's first bath increased the success of breastfeeding by 166%!

HOLY SMOKES!

A hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, recently completed a study to check if delaying newborn bathing a minimum of 12 hours affected the success of an exclusively breastfeeding plan.

The conclusion of the study:

Delaying the newborn bath was associated with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates and use of human milk as a part of the discharge feeding plan.

So, Yes, they found that delaying newborn bathing by a minimum of 12 hours increases your odds of starting successfully with breastfeeding. They then changed hospital policy to postpone the bath at least 12 hours but preferably more like 24 hours.

Breastfeeding after a cesarean section: Six tips

6 Breastfeeding Tips for First-Time Moms

Conclusion

The evidence for delayed newborn bathing is overwhelming. Don't ignore it. You are your little one's first advocate. If your birthplace is not on board, print out the studies I have referenced and fight for change.

As always, education brings power! Stay educated don't let someone else tell you it's policy!

Share how you plan to or have stood up for your rights during birth! (or how you wish you had)

Delayed Baths For Newborns: The Benefits According To Studies
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