Several hospitals across different territories have a standard practice of an early baby bath. In fact, most urge the parents to participate in the process. Skilled midwives and nurses cooing and cajoling the newborn, and seizing some time off with the baby before he goes back to mom, is a familiar sight. These nurses are masters, and most times they show off how swiftly and artfully they handle your tiny human in the bath tub; even before he can latch on to you or have his first skin-to-skin contact with mom. However, many other hospitals provide ample time for rooming-in first before following the bathing regimen.
What you need to know is that a newborn has a coating called the vernix caseosa, a waxy coating on the skin that works as a natural cleanser and moisturizer, and it defends the baby from infections. Early bathing can erode the vernix, which contains antimicrobial proteins that are active against E.coli, group B strep, and other common perinatal pathogens. The finding has been published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Michael Farmer, head of the Department of Family Practice and postpartum medical director at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, opines that there is no urgency to bathe a newborn; instead, the focus must be on allowing rooming-in first. Initiating breastfeeding this time and allowing skin-to-skin is more important than bathing an infant, even if goes against all sense. “Babies are not born dirty,” he says. In fact, he suggests giving a good towel rub to remove the blood, meconium, and amniotic fluid while delaying the bath. Parents must feel free to request to delay newborn bathing which could otherwise impede mother-baby bonding.
The question, however, is how early is too early for the first bath after birth? Apparently, in Canada, it varies among hospitals, although some might also be rushing it. As per the research at Boston Medical Center in 2010, the wait time for newborn bath has increased from the standard two to four-hour lapse to a 12-hour wait. The delay has allowed for a significant increase in breastfeeding rates. Now babies have trouble balancing their body temperatures. So the warmth of mother’s arms while nursing helps in achieving the homeostasis. Therefore, there is less stress after delivery, and breastfeeding rates go up.
And how about an authoritative waiting guidelines? The World Health Organization has advised delaying the bath for a whole 24-hour period, although a wait this long was not the norm as obtained through a survey of Canadian hospitals. The first bath at BC Women’s doesn’t happen until at least four hours after birth and up to 24 hours postpartum. Toronto East General Hospital has reported a healthy full-term baby who maintained a stable temperature despite bathing him after eight hours and that was keeping him as early as possible. In all the events, the parents’ request to delay the bath were taken into consideration.
So, it could be feasible to postpone a bath. It offers parents, especially first-time moms an opportunity to learn how to bathe a baby. Most mothers become anxious while holding a baby, lest he slips out off from the hands. Under the nurses’ purview, it could be a useful experience for the new mother. If not for hygiene, it can become a learning experience.
If we could conclude that bathing could wait even for a week, there are few hygiene tips to remember. Make sure that you wash your baby’s head, hair and face to help her maintain the body temperature. Also, clean the corners of the eyes directing from inside to outside using a clean, sterile damp cloth and then wash the face.
So, if you don’t have the heart to let your baby be given a bath so early on, discuss with the doctors and let them know your concerns. They should be more than happy to delay the process.