Remember those times when newborn babies were immediately whisked away for a bath soon after being born? It did seem like the right thing to do because babies were covered with blood, amniotic fluids, and what not! And once the hospital nurse handed over the freshly-cleaned baby wrapped in a soft blanket, it seemed all the more worth it. However, of late, an increasing number of new moms have been insisting that their newborn not be bathed at least for the first 12 hours after birth. They believe, after some researching online, that it promotes breastfeeding. And now, even science suggests it could be true after all!
What Science Says About Delaying Your Newborn’s First Bath
A study was recently carried out at the Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Ohio to check if a delay of a minimum 12 hours in bathing the newborn had any effect on the rate of exclusive in-hospital breastfeeding plans. Almost 1000 mother-newborn healthy pairs were made part of the study with as many as 448 babies bathed soon after birth and 548 babies were given a delayed bath. As it turned out, the results showed that post-intervention breastfeeding rates were 68.2 percent, which had increased from the earlier rate of 59.8 percent. The study also found that babies who got a delayed bath were discharged with a feeding plan which at least included human milk. The results of this study have also been published in the Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing (1).
So, how exactly did this delay in bathing promote breastfeeding to such a degree? The answer, according to Heather DiCioccio, is that there are many factors that contribute to it with just this small tweak in newborn care. Heather, a development specialist of nursing professionals (DNP, RNC-MNN) at the hospital’s Mother/Baby Care unit, headed the study after she was constantly flooded by such requests by new moms who wanted their newborn’s bath to be delayed.
Heather points out that when the skin-to-skin happens immediately after delivery, it is possible that babies get familiar with the smell of amniotic fluid and body temperature, which is generally warm. She says that since amniotic fluid smells quite similar to breasts, it helped the newborns to latch on to the breasts. Also, when the bath is delayed, by that time the baby’s temperature would have stabilized. However, the body temperature of babies who were given a bath immediately turned out to be slightly colder and they showed no familiarity to the smell of breasts. And the whole exercise of going through the bath also seemed to tire out the little ones easily. Thus, they showed eagerness to sleep rather than latch on to the breasts (2).
Breastfeeding is quite important since breast milk is a healthy and natural way to provide nutrition and improve the immunity of the newborn soon after birth. Even WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding at least for the first six months of the infant’s life (3). Thereafter, the baby can be provided complementary food supplements along with continued breastfeeding. This is why hospitals and health care providers try and encourage breastfeeding within the first hour after birth itself. Therefore, it becomes all the more critical to ensure that the baby latches on to the mother’s breast as soon as possible following birth. Now, with the findings of this new study proving to be beneficial in this scenario, Heather’s hospital has already adopted this practice of delaying the newborn’s bath for at least 12 hours. In such cases where the mother is not ready to wait for so long, the hospital staff then requests for at least 2 hours before bathing the baby.
Are you too in the family way and keen on breastfeeding your little one? Then discuss the option of delaying your newborn’s bath for at least 12 hours with your doctor. And, after a thorough discussion about the benefits and complications (if any), if you and your doctor agree to it, then go for it! All the best!