It’s been over twenty years since studies first started showing that bathing a baby right away had no benefits. Back in 2013, the World Health Organization recommended that baths be delayed by a minimum of six hours, with a preference of waiting at least 24 hours after delivery.
There are many studies showing the benefits of a delayed first bath, including more stable temperature, less chance of low blood sugar, higher rates of breastfeeding, and increased bonding.
Vernix, the sticky white substance covering a newborn’s skin, has many benefits at well. From moisturizing that new, sensitive baby skin to creating a protective barrier against viruses, vernix is well-studied and proven to be beneficial.
So if all this is true…why did my son have a bath within the first hour of his life? In a separate room as me or my husband? In 2015? At a certified “baby friendly” hospital?
Honestly I have no idea. I didn’t know anything different at the time. They said they needed to do all the usual checks, whisked him away, and handed him back to me washed, swaddled, and sleeping.
My experience is not unique. While many hospitals are embracing evidence-based practices that promote healthy parent-child bonding and breastfeeding, some seem to be stuck in the old, familiar ways of doing things. Birth, checks, bath, swaddle…then back to mom. And now try to breastfeed! Go! With a baby who is working hard just to get his temperature back up and has gone to sleep because he’s cold and exhausted!
Unfortunately, this scenario is still seen as the norm by many hospitals. The good news is, it’s not your job to change the hospital’s policies. You can simply choose to do it differently. A simple, “No thank you, we don’t want the baby bathed yet.” should do the trick. If you are genuinely worried about being bullied into an early bath, or any other procedures you don’t want, I would suggest that it may be time to find a different birth space.
Whether it’s your position in labor or when your baby receives his first bath, you should feel safe, supported, and respected during your birth experience.
And for the record, my daughter, who was born at home, didn’t get an immersive bath until she was about five weeks old. A gentle wipe-down with a warm cloth did the trick until then.
Babies aren’t born dirty. Immediately bathing them was not something that really became a norm until birth moved from happening primarily at home to happening primarily in hospitals. It has been proven to be unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Bathing is a great thing to ask about at your next prenatal appointment! If your hospital’s policy is to bathe right away, make sure that your birth team knows your wishes. Tell your partner and your doula to help make sure your wishes are honored.
What was your experience with baby’s first bath? If you have had different experiences like I have, did you notice a difference in the way bonding and breastfeeding occurred in the first hours after birth?