Before I had my first baby I didn't really think about the specifics of her first birth. A couple of hours after my daughter was born the nurse came in and asked if I wanted to bathe her, and I figured it must be something new moms did and went with the flow. I later learned that there are quite a few misconceptions about a baby's first bath that can confuse new parents, and medical professionals have a variety of opinions about the best way to clean your baby after birth that can make that initial dip more complicated than previously thought.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for the first few weeks your baby shouldn't actually have a bath in the traditional sense. Instead, you should clean them with a washcloth, baby soap, and water. You should not submerge them in water until their umbilical stump falls off. While some hospitals bathe newborns soon after delivery, this practice has been shown to increase risk of hypothermia and breathing issues. As Joanne McManus Kuller, RN, MS writes in the journal Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews, new recommendations involve waiting until a newborn has stable vital signs or even replacing a bath with a quick wipe down and letting parents bathe baby after they get home from the hospital. And as Today's Parent reports, researchers at Boston Medical Center found that delaying your baby's bath by 12 hours can improve breastfeeding rates. Other research published in the journal Nursing for Women's Health showed that having new parents give their baby a bath several hours after birth was better for keeping babies warm, cozy, and safe.
Regardless of where and when your baby gets clean for the first time, here's what experts want you to know when it comes to common misconceptions and how you can side-step them:
You Have To Do It Right Away
While some hospitals give babies baths soon after they are born, others are changing their policies to delay first baths until after a baby has time to snuggle with mom for a few hours (or even skipping them altogether). Recent studies have shown that post-birth baths are unnecessary and, in some cases, even harmful. One study conducted by researchers at Boston Medical Center showed that babies who didn't get bathed right away might have an easier time breastfeeding. Another study published in the journal Nursing for Women's Health showed that delaying your baby's first bath can decrease their risk of hypothermia or your baby getting too cold.
You Should Submerge Them In Water
According to the AAP, it's not necessary to submerge your baby in water for their first bath. Until their umbilical stump falls off — which should happen in a week or two — you should avoid getting their bellies completely wet. In the meantime, a sponge bath with lukewarm water is totally sufficient. The same site notes that you should always be prepared, have everything close at hand when you are bathing your baby, and never leave them unattended in the bath tub or a high place like a counter or changing table.
It's Necessary To Do It At The Hospital
According to McManus Kuller, it might not even be necessary to bathe babies in the traditional sense when they are still in the hospital. A quick wipe down with a towel to leave as much vernix — the substance that coats a newborn's skin — as possible might be a better way to keep your baby warm and comfy. As an added bonus, the vernix can keep their skin moist and even fight some bacteria.
You Should Use Baby Lotion
According to Mayo Clinic, most babies don't need lotion after bathing. If you do choose a lotion, they note that it's important to pick one without added fragrances. And if you notice that your baby's skin seems dry all of the time, it might actually be a sign that you are bathing them too often.
You Should Wear Gloves
Children's Hospital of St. Louis reports that most hospital policies require healthcare workers handling newborns to wear gloves to protect both the babies and themselves from infections during their first bath. Unless your baby has health issues, parents don't generally need to abide by the same rules, which makes sense when you consider that you'll be taking them home in a couple of days.
You Need To Be Rough Or They Won't Get Clean
According to What to Expect, you should be gentle when bathing your newborn and when bathing some areas — like their umbilical stump and their genitals — you should take extra special care. If you have an uncircumcised baby, you should never retract their foreskin to clean their penis. And if your baby has a vulva, you should always remember to wipe from front to back.