Last month, we talked about how babies come out and can look a little slimy, and even though it might seem kind of gross, how immediate skin-to-skin contact can make Baby’s transition to life on the outside of the womb much more gentle, keeping them more calm, stable, and making breastfeeding go better. Now, we are going to take it one step further… delaying the first bath for at least 12 hours.
I know, EWWW! Right? But wait until you read about the benefits.
DISCLAIMER: This is your baby and if you want it to have a bath right away, then by all means, go for it. Most of the time, the nurses won’t be able to do the bath until 2 hours of age, so a little dirty time is better than none. Also, babies born to mothers who are HIV positive, have Hepatitis B or C, MRSA or Choriamnionitis should be bathed shortly after birth to minimize risk of infection to the baby.
Now, onto the good stuff.
When babies are born, they are covered with a thick, creamy whitish substance called vernix. It looks like cream cheese has been smothered all over it. Some babies have more cream cheese than others. If you deliver before your due date, there is more of it, while babies born past their due dates have less because it comes off in the amniotic fluid. Regardless, each baby will be born with some cream cheese on it, somewhere. Vernix helps waterproof the baby’s skin while floating in fluid for nine months, keeps that perfect newborn skin moisturized, contains special cells that fight infection, and helps the baby slip through the birth canal a little easier. If we bathe Baby right after birth, we take almost all of the vernix off. Plus, it’s really sticky stuff; in order to get it all off, we would really have to use some elbow grease, and that isn’t good for baby either.
Another immune protective substance that gets removed with the first bath is germs from Mom. Immediate skin-to-skin time allows the “good germs” on Mom’s skin to be transferred onto baby, and then begins the process of colonizing baby with “good germs”, too.
One of the best benefits of delaying the bath is for babies born bigger or smaller than average, or those born to moms who are diabetic. These babies sometimes have problems initially maintaining their blood sugar levels, and sometimes have to be supplemented with formula to treat blood sugars that have dipped below normal. Initially bathing baby may stress the poor kid (crying, trying to keep warm and separated from Mom). Delaying a bath can give Baby time to establish feeding and allow for their blood sugar levels to be more normal.
How does this all relate to breastfeeding? If we aren’t separating Mom and Baby, we provide more time for skin-to-skin contact, allow parents to get to know Baby and their early feeding cues better, and are able to establish more feeding more often. This leads to an easier time latching and a better milk supply. Everyone wins.
Most ProMedica hospitals delay the first bath. If you aren’t sure if the hospital you are delivering at is doing this, ask on admission. Then request, “Please, don’t bathe my baby!” If you and your baby are separated after delivery, delayed bathing can still occur. Don’t forget to tell your family that the baby hasn’t had a bath yet! Your brother may not want to kiss the forehead of a baby that just came from you know where… Don’t worry, we’ll put a note in the crib to remind everyone.
For more info, check out this link from Cambridge Health Alliance.
Angie Bauman has been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parent Instructor for ProMedica for the past 6 years. She enjoys teaching parents-to-be about labor and birth, and building confidence in a new mom’s ability to parent and feed her baby. She has also been a Labor and Delivery nurse at ProMedica Toledo Hospital for 13 years. Angie is Mom to 10 year old Lukas, 6 year old Noah and 3 year old Adele, who continually share their own wisdom on how parenting should be done. Angie’s blog, Let’s Spill the Milk! publishes on HealthConnect each month.