Should You Delay Bathing Your Newborn?

Delayed bathing newborn
Should You Delay Bathing Your Newborn?

A bath is a relaxing activity that you can do with your kid. Who does not like filling the tub with bubbles and rubber toys? A good bath removes everyday dirt and grime from your child. It is also a great time to teach them how to care for their body.


But hold your bath towels and rubber duckies! While baths for older babies and toddlers are fine, newborns are not ready to get into the tub. In fact, delaying that bath might be more beneficial for your newborn.


Bathing After Birth: The Old Hospital Standard

Back in the day, hospitals used to take the baby upon birth for newborn care, including bathing. After taking care of the infant and mother separately, the baby was brought back to the mother in a swaddle. This was the standard practice before.


However, the practice did not consider the impact on mothers and babies. It was only around the 1990s when the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) started to study the connection between birth practices and breastfeeding. 


Later, experts began studying the effects of skin-to-skin contact among mothers and infants. In 2012, the WHO stated that bathing should be delayed until 24 hours (or at least 6 hours for cultural reasons). Mother and child should also not be separated within that 24 hours.


Why Should Parents Delay Bathing Their Newborn?

Delaying your baby’s first bath has its advantages. Besides being able to breastfeed your infant immediately once they are outside the womb, waiting for their first bath can protect your baby and keep them healthy.


Skin-on-skin contact between a mom and a newborn increases breastfeeding success. Taking a newborn away to be bathed puts the infant in a fight-or-flight state, causing them to release catecholamine, a type of stress hormone. Breastfeeding also promotes mother-child bonding, which can have lasting positive effects on both the mother and child.


What is the Vernix Caseosa?

When your child is newly delivered, they are covered in amniotic fluid. Besides that, your child is also covered in a white, cheese-like substance called vernix caseosa. But why is this coating so important?


The vernix caseosa is a protective substance that keeps your baby from getting chapped and wrinkled inside the womb. Besides keeping your baby hydrated, this substance protects them inside the womb. 


The vernix caseosa is why your baby’s skin is smooth and soft. It has moisturizing properties that can keep your baby’s skin supple. Plus, this coating has micro-bacterial properties that can keep your baby disease-free once they are outside the womb.


After birth, your baby cannot regulate their own temperature right away. The vernix caseosa can help naturally stabilize your baby’s body temperature.


When is the Safest Time To Wash My Newborn?

We have established that bathing your newborn later is physically and psychologically beneficial. But when is it safe to start washing your baby?


As mentioned above, WHO recommends waiting after 24 hours before your baby can hit the tub. For some cultures, the waiting time should be at least 6 hours before bathing.


Some mothers wait for a few days before bathing their newborns. While it is up to the mother’s choice on when to clean their babies, you can clean them up once 24 to 48 hours have passed.


While at the hospital, you may request the nurse to use a soft cloth to remove traces of blood and amniotic fluid from your baby. (But make sure the vernix caseosa stays!)


How to Wash a Newborn

Once you and your baby are home, you can start bathing them every other day. At first, you do not want to submerge your baby in the water. Instead, wait until their umbilical cord has come off and healed. This should take around 1 to 2 weeks.


While waiting for the umbilical cord to come off, you can clean your infant with a sponge bath. A sponge bath is a gentler way to clean your baby.


To give your baby a sponge bath, all you need is a flat surface to work on, a basin of water, a soft sponge or cloth, and a clean towel. Start by cleaning your baby’s face. Next, clean the rest of their body. Finally, finish up with the diaper area.


Avoid getting water into their eyes and mouth, and never use harsh soap on their skin. To keep your baby warm, wrap them in a dry towel and expose only the parts you need to clean.


Once your infant is older and more prepared, you can directly introduce them to water. The bath does not need to be long, and you only need a bit of soap for this operation. 


Use a sink or an infant tub to avoid unwanted slipping and injuries. Use warm (not hot and definitely not cold) water. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends aiming for no more than 120F (or 48C.) Anything higher can burn your child’s sensitive skin.


Be extra gentle when cleaning your child for the first time in the tub. Do not forget to clean different nooks and crannies, such as behind their ears, the creases in their necks, arms, legs, and around their genital areas.


But above all, allow your child to have fun in the tub. If they seem to enjoy splashing around in the water, let them have a bit of fun. Do not forget to dry them immediately and give them fresh new clothes. Congratulations, you just gave your baby their first bath!



Can you clean a baby without removing the vernix caseosa?

You can clean any blood or fluid off your baby without touching the vernix caseosa. Ask your nurse to use a soft cloth and gently clean your newborn.


Are there instances when bathing immediately benefits the mother and baby?

In some cases, a baby must be cleaned immediately after birth. These include babies born from mothers with HIV or hepatitis, babies afflicted with chorioamnionitis, or if the baby has come in contact with meconium (stool).


How often should I bathe my newborn?

Newborns do not need a bath every day since too much bathing can dry and crack their skin. Bathing them 3 times a week is an ample amount.

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