When should a newborn baby receive its first bath?
The answer to this questioned depends on your source of postnatal care. Midwives teach mothers to rub the white vernix into their newborn baby’s skin rather than wash it off.
Vernix developers during the third trimester. The full name is vernix caseosa which translates to varnish (vernix) cheesy nature (
Benefits of Vernix
According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, vernix plays in an important role in the development of skin in utero, as well as adaptions after birth. 2
In utero, vernix that is in the amniotic fluid swelled by the fetus aids the developing gut. Additionally, it protects the skin from absorbing too much amniotic fluid or the reverse of loss of fluids by acting as a hydrophobic barrier.
During birth, vernix protects the baby from bacteria in the birth canal. This antibacterial biofilm can also provide protection against the baby’s meconium.
After birth, vernix may help with the newborn baby’s body temperature regulation in the transition from womb to outside the mother’s body. Leaving vernix on the baby’s skin does result in more hydrated neonatal skin.
The Connection Between Breastfeeding and Baby’s First Bath
If you give birth in the hospital, your child may receive their first bath as soon as its body temperature stabilizes. 3https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=care-of-the-baby-in-the-delivery-room-90-P028714 This can happen an hour or two after birth.
The practice of bathing so soon after birth has come into question largely because of the benefits of leaving residual vernix on newborn skin. New research has found another benefit.
According to a study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, delaying a newborn’s bath for 12 hours improved breastfeeding exclusivity.
The research team looked at 996 pairs of healthy mothers and their infants. They compared the number of moms and babies who exclusively breastfed before and after the bath delay practice was put into effect.
The results showed the rates of exclusive breastfeeding rose from 59.8 percent to 68.2 percent after implementing the delayed bath practice. Newborns who had their baths delayed were also more likely to go home with a plan for continued exclusive breastfeeding. This affect was stronger in women who had a vaginal birth versus a C-section.“Delaying a Newborn’s First Bath in the Hospital Increases Breastfeeding Success”, Cleveland Clinic
Researchers are not exactly sure why delaying a baby’s first bath has an effect on breastfeeding
- Improved skin-to-skin time
- The similarity between the smell of breastmilk/breast and amniotic fluid
- Regulating temperature so baby is warm enough to have the energy to breastfeed
This research is affecting practice at Cleveland Clinic and will hopefully spread to other hospitals.
It’s always heartening when medical science reinforces common midwifery practices. Both mother and child benefit. If you plan to have a hospital birth, be sure to request delayed newborn bathing.