Delayed Infant Bathing and Why It’s Good!

It is now standard protocol at many hospitals to wait 8-24 hours to give a baby his or her first bath, or up to 48 hours if delivered by cesarean section. Delayed newborn bathing is consistent with World Health Organization recommendations and is based on medical research.

Seven reasons why doctors recommend waiting up to 48 hours before bathing a newborn:

1. Reduce the Risk of Infection

Babies are born covered in a white substance called Vernix. Vernix contains proteins that prevent common bacterial infections both before birth and at birth.  This is an antibacterial/anti-germ barrier.  Bacteria such as Group B Strep and E. coli are often transmitted to newborns during delivery.  These can cause bloodstream infections, pneumonia and meningitis.  These infections can be fatal. These are not rare infections.  Vernix is nature’s protection against these infections.

2. Stabilized Infant Blood Sugar

Bathing too soon after birth can cause low blood sugar levels.  In the first few hours after birth, a baby has to adjust to life outside of the uterus, including losing the placenta as a source of blood sugar.  Bathing causes crying and stress, and the release of stress hormones can cause a drop in blood sugar levels.  This makes the baby sleepy, less interested in breastfeeding and can cause a further drop in blood sugar levels.

3. Improved Body Temperature Control

Bathing too soon can cause hypothermia.  Vernix, with its thick waxy coating can be a natural insulation for the newborn.  The birthing mother is about 98.6 degrees.  The birth room may be much cooler.  The baby must use a lot of energy to keep warm.

4. Improved Maternal-infant Bonding

Delayed bathing allows newborn babies to snuggle skin-to-skin on their mom’s chest.  This increases the baby’s interest in breastfeeding initiation.  Skin-to-skin improves the newborn’s blood sugar levels, body temperature and allows bonding time.  Delayed bathing also allows uninterrupted emotional bonding between parents and baby.

5. Improved Breastfeeding

Studies show improved breastfeeding success when moms are allowed uninterrupted skin-to-skin with their newborn.  Babies placed on the mom’s bare chest at birth will be warmed, soothed by the mother’s voice and will often find the breast on their own, latch and feed within the first hour.

6. Vernix is a Natural Skin Moisturizer

Vernix protects the baby’s skin while in the amniotic fluid.  Vernix also provides skin protection during the transition from amniotic fluid into the air environment.  Delayed bathing allows this Vernix skin barrier to remain.

7. Parents Enjoy Bathing Their Baby

After recovery time, parents can easily participate in the baby’s first bath.  This can be a teaching opportunity between the nursing staff and the new parents.

Hospital workers should always wear gloves when caring for an infant. This protects the staff and also helps to keep babies safe from the transmission of common viruses and infections from worker’s hands to the baby.

Dianne Pound

CCCE, CLD, CHLD, Hospital Labor Doula Faculty

I have worked at Lexington Medical Center, West Columbia, South Carolina as a hospital based labor doula for 16 years. I sincerely enjoy supporting women during labor and delivery, assisting with breastfeeding and celebrating their birth experience. I also lead Expectant Parent tours of Labor & delivery. I am pleased to offer CAPPA Hospital Labor Doula training and to continue to build the doula program at our hospital. I am married with two children and 4 grandchildren. I enjoy reading, gardening and traveling.

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