Preparing to give birth is a big deal, right?
You want to make sure you know your options for giving birth but have you thought about what choices you have after birth?
You’re probably so focused on just getting through the labor and meeting your little one, that you haven’t given it much thought.
You’ll be trying to soak up every last detail of your child’s birth while being flat out exhausted. It’s unlikely you’ll notice the buzz of your nurse or midwife as they try to get all their post-birth tasks done.
One of those jobs will be to give your baby their first baby.
But, what appears to be a simple offer, can change postpartum outcomes for you and your baby.
What? A Bath?
I’ve created this guide on delayed bathing for newborns to help you make the best decision for you and your family.
If you’re not quite at the stage of writing your birth plan yet, then pin this page so you can come back to it later, when you’re ready.
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10 Benefits of Delaying Your Baby’s First Bath
1. Reduced infection
Did you know that your skin is the body’s biggest defence barrier against disease and infection? Newborns skin are epically vulnerable to our world as their immune system is so immature. Combine this with the fact that their skin is extremely delicate and you’re creating the perfect storm.
You’ve probably noticed new babies are often covered in a white substance. This is what we call vernix; it’s pretty much nature’s protective barrier for your baby. When you wash your baby, you’re taking away that protection, when you should try to leave it on as long as possible.
Also, any baby wash will be made up of chemicals make up can disturb the natural balance of your baby’s skin. This can and make your baby more susceptible to skin infection or irritation.
And yes I’m talking about the ‘natural’ baby washes too.
2. Prevent dry skin
We’ve already discussed how amazing vernix is at preventing infection, but it’s also an amazing moisturizer for your baby’s skin. Once you feel it, you’ll realize it’s very similar to a thick skin moisturizer, except without the dollar dollar price tag.
Babies are often born with dry skin, especially when they are overdue. If you hold on the baby bath, you can simply moisturize the vernix into your baby’s skin to prevent their skin drying out. Your baby’s skin will be so peachy and soft you’ll just want to gobble them up!
Also, this total isn’t scientific and just a nurse-midwife observation, but I find that if you delay your baby’s first bath, they will hold on to that new baby smell for much longer. So if you’re a baby smell addict like me, you can thank me later.
3. Less Crying
So this vernix stuff seems to be getting all the credit for awesome baby things. But bathing your baby too soon will also remove amniotic fluid which has benefits too. This liquid, which is pretty much made up of your baby’s pee, has provided a cushion for your baby in the womb. However, it’s also packed full of proteins and cells that are vital to mom and baby.
In fact, studies have shown that when a baby smells moms amniotic fluid, it provides amazing comfort for the baby and reduces the amount they cry.
Trust me, if you find anything that soothes your baby’s transition in the world then utilize it. Plus if you and your baby have had a tough labor, a calm and settled baby makes the transition to motherhood much easier.
4. Improves breastfeeding
From what we’ve already discussed, you’ll know that it’s beneficial for your baby to keep those natural bodily fluids in place as long as possible. If you intend to breastfeed, you are nearly 10% more likely to succeed if you delay your baby’s first bath.
A big reason for that will be due to how responsive your baby is to these smells. They will help your baby to instinctively react to their surroundings and display reflexes such as rooting and suckling which will kick-start your breastfeeding journey.
5. Improve bonding
Have you heard of the golden hour after birth? This is the most magical time in a mom and babies life when you can connect through skin to skin, feeding your baby and explore each other through your senses.
This time is really about taking it all in for mom and baby, so you start to stimulate all those vital hormones in the brain that are the foundation for loving and warm relationships. This time should be spent cradled in the comfort of moms (or dads) arms and not being subjected to an unnecessary bath by a health professional.
In fact, the longer to can continue skin to skin care within the first 24hours without the disruption of a bath can provide a lot of benefits for your baby.
Related: Best Baby Wash for Newborns
6. Stabilizes blood sugar
Your baby has to make huge changes in their body to adjust to life outside your body. One of the major impacts is that they have to survive without a constant source of food from the placenta. Because of this, your baby’s blood sugars can drop quickly in some situations.
Your baby has already used up a lot of energy from birth, but bathing them can be cause them to cry and use up more energy. A loss of energy results in sleepy babies who are reluctant to feed, which makes the problem worse.
Once you combine this loss of energy with disrupted skin to skin and washing away reflex stimulating fluids, it’s no wonder your baby might not want to feed.
That then means going down a slippery road of painful baby blood sugar assessment; longer hospital stays, supplementation and disruptions to your breastfeeding journey. It seems dramatic, but a simple task like bathing your baby too soon can result in this cascade of intervention. Simply holding off on the bath for a few hours at least can prevent this, or at least it won’t contribute.
7. Regulate temperature
Inside your womb, your baby is very warm at around 34F (1C) warmer than your body temperature. Helping them to maintain their temperature when born is easy with lots of skin to skin.
If fact, keeping your baby warm is important for newborns as they lose a lot of heat from their large head, especially when it’s wet. Plus your baby can’t shiver, tell you that they are cold or move to a warm place. They will simply start to use up vital fat stores.
Bathing a baby too soon will lower their temperature from undressing, and loss of heat through evaporation. Just think of how you when you’re exposed to the room temperature when getting out of the bath or shower. That’s why you don’t want your baby to get a bath too soon.
8. Decreased weight loss
Now that we’ve discussed the regulation of blood sugars and maintaining your baby’s temperature, we can talk about weight loss. It’s normal for your baby to lose around 10% of their birth weight in the first few days, but any more than this can be an issue.
Baby’s that have uncontrolled blood sugars disrupted breastfeeding or are unable to control their temperature are at higher risk of losing more weight. Again this may result in you needing to supplement or try adopt some exhausting pump schedule to up your milk supply to help your baby.
This may happen regardless of when your baby has their first bath. However, an early bath certainly causes interruption to baby’s instinctive feeding behaviors and can have a huge ripple effect on their development in those first critical days.
9. Less stressful for You
You may be lucky and have a baby who loves a bath, but otherwise, the first bath can be really stressful for you and your baby.
It can be really difficult to watch your little baby screaming their head off if the bath is stressing them out. You’ll want to comfort them as much as possible but probably won’t be able to until the bath is over.
Even worse ? Some hospitals need to bath your baby in a different room, this separation can be quite distressing for you both.
The experience may also depend on your nurse’s attitude to bathing your baby. Nurses are well aware that baths cause baby’s temperatures to drop, so they are super-efficient at handling the bath, but they may be hurried with your baby to get things done swiftly.
If you prefer to have the bathing experience when you are all as relaxed as possible and can take your time, then hold off until you are both relaxed.
10. Improved postpartum healing
Delaying your baby’s first bath can allow you to have lots of skin to skin at the most vital time. This close contact helps you release the hormone oxytocin. This is what causes the awesome bonding we discussed above.
Natural oxytocin release also helps improve your milk supply, boost your mood, reduces your postpartum bleeding and return you uterus to its pre-pregnancy size. All of these can contribute to a quick postpartum recovery for you.
5 reasons you don’t want to delay baby’s first bath
This guide is here to inform you about delayed baby bathing, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel pressured into holding off on your baby’s bath. Let’s look at some reasons you may not want to delay your baby’s first bath.
1. Body Fluids
We’ve discussed the benefits of body fluid for your baby, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to cope with them especially if it weirds you out. It’s ok if you want your baby cleaned down a bit before you hold them.
I find that if the body fluids are an issue for you, then its best to as your nurse to clean baby up as soon as possible so you can hold your sweet little baby without feeling grossed out.
Even if you are super keen on delaying your baby’s first bath, there may be some unexpected material such as meconium (baby’s first poo) that may make you change your mind.
2. Faith reasons
Your religion may have birth ceremonies after birth with including a ritual wash. Washing your baby of bodily fluids may be required as part of your faith.
It’s best to put your plans for baby bathing into your birth plan, so your health professionals are aware of any special circumstances for your family.
3. You want a demo
Bathing a baby can be really scary because tiny babies are wriggly and even harder to control when wet. Bathing a baby as a new parent can be petrifying.
If you have a short hospital stay, it’s only natural to have your nurse show you their technique before you go home. They may even give you their favorite tips for making the process easier. You can check out my method to bathing newborns here.
4. Pressure from family
Even if you are your partner are ok with holding off on the bath, a lot of new parents feel pressured to have their baby nice and clean for their first visitors.
I totally understand that you might want to show off your baby’s full head of silky hair and not have it caked in blood from your delivery.
In this case, instead of a full bath, your baby may benefit from a simple wipe down to remove the majority of the offending materials, and then it’s a win-win.
Family tradition can play a big part in what you do after birth. You may have a family tradition of taking a photo of the nurse bathing your baby. Just remember you can still get this photo even if you delay the bath. However, it may be more important if you intend to have a short hospital stay.
Related: Best Baby Tub for Newborns
3 Reasons Your Nurse doesn’t want to delay your baby’s first bath
Delayed baby bathing is becoming more common in the hospital. However, some continue with the practice of bathing your baby soon after delivery. These are some reasons your nurse may not want to delay giving your baby a bath.
1. Risk of disease
The reason most hospitals started bathing babies was a universal precaution against disease for your baby. If you delay bathing your baby, and it may be hospital policy for your nurse to wear gloves while handling your baby until they have a bath.
2. They like bathing babies
Most nurses love bathing babies because it feels great to be able to teach new parents baby care skills. Plus I have to admit that once all the gunk is gone from their hair and it all fuzzes up, it is pretty darn cute.
3. Work pressures
It’s likely that your nurse may have other families they are caring for at the same time as you. This means there time is limited, and unfortunately, it may be more convenient to give a bath after birth than later.
Don’t be annoyed if you ask your nurse to bathe your baby later and she’s caught up doing something else.
Your nurse may need to prioritize their workload, and a baby bath will probably be pushed down the list of things to do when they are busy.
How long to delay baby’s first bath
Most hospitals are recognizing the benefits of delayed baby bathing and will wait at least 12 hours before bathing your baby. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend waiting at least 24-48 hours until your first bath your baby.
Ultimately the choice is up to you, just remember to weight up the pros and cons to make a decision that is right for you and your family and let your caregivers know what you want.