Your baby will be the most beautiful being you have ever seen. The doctor will place him on your chest, and he will be covered in vernix (a mixture of old skin cells, lanugo (hair) and oil- it is what protected him from being all wrinkled from the forty-week bath he just took on the inside!). His hair may be a bit crusty and have some old blood mixed in- not his, yours from delivery! Doesn’t matter though, you’ll look past the mess and see your picture-perfect babe.
Don’t be in a rush to scrub all of that stuff off though. New research suggests that delaying a bath may be beneficial for a multitude of reasons:
Your newborn isn’t dirty!
The vernix he is covered in serves an actual purpose on the outside too! According to research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, vernix removed during early bathing, contains antimicrobial proteins that are active against E. Coli, Group B strep, and other potential pathogens. Washing those off may actually leave your baby more vulnerable.
The timing of the bath is a big deal on postpartum units across Canada. It used to be of the utmost importance for the nurse to give step by step instructions on how to bathe your newborn correctly. This is actually proving to be disruptive to the breastfeeding journey. The benefits of skin to skin far outweigh the need for a bath. Taking a babe away from its mama can cause stress and allows for missed feeding cues, which means fewer feeds, and a mess in the delicate system of building a milk supply.
It’s too cold!
Your baby may look picture-perfect, but a bath too soon after birth can cause what is called cold stress. Immediately after birth, babies are still regulating their temperatures (they are used to a steady temperature on the inside). Skin to skin helps transition your baby to life on the outside and keeps his temperature just right. The World Health Organization suggests not bathing newborns for at least 24 hours. This is a new practice for many hospitals, as the dated policy used to have the nurse coming at 2 hours post-birth for a baby’s first bubble bath.
What does this mean for you?
Check with the hospital you are delivering in. What are their policies on bathing newborns? If you do not want your baby bathed immediately after birth, it is okay to let them know! This may mean you are at home for your baby’s first bath, without the helpful hand of a nurse to guide you.
Wrap your baby in a warm towel and fill an infant tub with warm water. Test it with the inside of your wrist.
It should not feel cold or too hot. Wash your baby’s face with a soft facecloth. Wipe her eyes first, then the rest of her face. This keeps you from introducing anything unwanted into her eyes. Then wash her hair (while she is still wrapped in the towel). You may use a gentle, scent-free soap. Rinse her hair by running a wet warm facecloth over her head. Then gently dry her hair with a warm towel. Once her hair is dry, submerge her in the infant tub, supporting her head and neck.
Gently wash in all of her crevices and under her chin. Warm a towel in the dryer (not too hot!) and wrap your baby in it post-bath. Then put a diaper on her and place her skin to skin. This is a great way to help her warm up post-bath, and often babies are alert and ready to feed.
How often do you need to bathe your babe?
How often do you need to bathe your babe? The short answer is, not often. This changes as your baby grows and plays outside, and gets legitimately dirty. But your new baby is relatively clean. He isn’t crawling on the floor, in the washroom or in mud puddles. Once a week is probably sufficient. Ensure their bum stays clean after diaper changes by using a soft cloth. Use a barrier cream after each change that helps keep their bum dry and protected from wetness. If they have a huge surprise diaper blowout, you may need to throw in an extra soak in-between your weekly bath ritual. Some also increase frequency as their baby grows for their little one’s enjoyment when bath time becomes a time to play and interact.