Our local hospital is "baby friendly", meaning the birthing ward adheres to certain standards that best promote a breastfeeding relationship between a mother and newborn. I have given birth twice here, and both times felt grateful that the nurses gave me as much time to hold my babies as I would like. I raved to anyone who would listen about how the sponge baths took place right beside my bed about two hours after birth— I mean, that's revolutionary, right? But I just found out, two hours might not be long enough. The benefits of delayed bathing are gaining more prominence in the medical field, with many hospitals recommending against baby getting a bath for the first six to 12 hours after birth. In fact, the World Health Organization is now advising that newborn baths should be delayed a whopping 24 hours after delivery.
Mainstream medicine is catching on, and more and more hospitals are moving toward this standard of care. "Delayed bathing is a good practice for overall infant health," Dr. Lisa Lewis, a Fort Worth-based pediatrician and author of Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World, tells Romper. "It provides compassionate care as the baby leaves the comfortable womb and enters the world."
So what exactly are the benefits to delaying a bath after birth? I'm glad you asked.
1. Maintaining The Vernix
The natural protective coating that a baby has in the womb is known as the vernix — that white, cheesy looking substance covering their cute little bodies after birth. The appearance of the vernix is visually a bit off-putting, but its presence actually serves as a germ barrier against bacteria and helps protect the infant against disease, according to Lewis.
2. Reducing The Baby's Stress
Being held by his mother immediately after birth has a stabilizing effect on a baby's stress levels after the trauma of leaving the womb. "Maintaining the baby in his or her natural state is another benefit of delayed bathing, thus reducing the stress on the new little one right after birth," says Lewis. "If a baby is not bathed early, the infant can easily stay on the breast and get good skin-to-skin contact with the mother, instead of being whisked off to the unfamiliar nursery."
3. Preventing Hypothermia
Patricia Evans, a Certified Nurse Midwife in Fountain Valley, California, points out that inside the womb a baby is relaxing at a comfortable 98.6 degrees, whereas most hospital rooms are kept at about 70. "If the baby gets too cold, the blood sugar drops which then makes it hard for them to regulate their temperature," she tells Romper. "Delaying the bath helps prevent your baby from getting too cold, which can quickly lead to serious problems that you want to avoid."
4. Supporting Breastfeeding
"If you’re planning to breastfeed, immediate skin-to-skin may increase your chances of being successful as your baby is warm and cozy next to you," explains Evans. "Most babies will instinctively find their way to your nipple and begin to suck. Taking the baby away for a bath may delay this process, and produce more challenges in the breastfeeding relationship." If breastfeeding is one of your goals, it definitely helps to get some bonding time in before allowing a separation.
5. Moisturizing Their Skin
"Vernix is a natural skin moisturizer and skin protectant," according to Evans. "If there is a lot, some will come off as the baby is dried off right after birth while skin-to-skin. What is left will absorb into their skin like a nice thick lotion." Newborn skin is notoriously adverse to air outside of the womb, so anything that offers additional moisture is going to be welcome.