A recent study confirmed what many of us mamas already knew: delaying baby’s bath is a good thing.
The study, published in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, concluded that delayed newborn baths (waiting for 12 or more hours after baby is born) increased the exclusive breastfeeding rate for the baby during its newborn hospital stay.
Heather DiCioccio, DNP, RNC-NN is the nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital. She led the study after seeing the number of mothers requesting delayed newborn baths increase.
According to DiCioccio, the mothers were reading on ‘mom blogs’ that waiting to bathe their babies for the first time made it easier for babies to latch since amniotic fluid smells similar to the breast. She decided to verify this belief, but found that there was little research on the actual topic.
For her study, almost 1000 healthy newborn/mother pairs participated. Almost half (448) were bathed shortly after their births and the others (548) had delayed baths. Exclusive breastfeeding rates increased from 59.8% to 68.2% from the group with no delay to the group with delayed baths. The study also found that for the babies who had delayed baths group, they were more likely to have a discharge plan that was geared toward exclusive breastfeeding, or at least included human milk.
DiCioccio said that now, their policy is to delay baths for newborns at least 12 hours, unless the mom refuses to wait. When the mom refuses, they’ll ask to delay the bath for two hours. Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic is working to make delayed newborn bathing a practice at all of its hospitals and DiCioccio hopes this information spurs other hospitals to make it a global practice.
And since we’re on the topic of ‘mom blogs,’ we’d just like to point out that this lovely piece of writing below was written well before this study was performed (September of 2015).
Seems like ‘mom blogs,’ might know a thing or two after, all.
Everyone can agree that there is no better smell than the top of a newborn’s head. Even people who have never had a baby enjoy it. In fact, there are studies that both mothers and women who had never had a baby responded to the newborn smell.
And it makes sense. Newborns are basically little lumps that require a lot of work, and until they start smiling at you, they don’t do much to charm you. Except they smell great.
When my son was born, I couldn’t stop smelling the top of his head. And now I know there’s a good reason for this. It was lighting up all kinds of pleasure centers of my brain and helping me bond with him and recognize him as my own.
I think his smell was particularly potent, because I didn’t bathe him until he was four or five days old. And even then, I was hesitant to wash off whatever amniotic fluid and vernix and vaginal fluids he might have still had on him. He still smelled good, but he no longer smelled like the beautiful day on which he was born.
I had never witnessed a birth until giving birth to my son. The smells were all new. I had never smelled amniotic fluid until my water broke. I had never smelled that particular bouquet. And any one who has witnessed birth knows exactly what I’m talking about. I didn’t want to lose that trigger to that wonderful memory.
My instinct was not to bathe him. I was thinking only of the smells, but it turns out my instincts may have been protecting some other underlying reasons to delay that first bath.
When a baby is born vaginally, he is at last exposed to all the flora that mother’s body has been cultivating. His gut was sterile the entire time he was in the womb, but as soon as he is born, he begins cultivating his own gut flora.
It turns out that leaving the vernix and amniotic fluid on the skin immediately after birth helps the newborn get all the benefits of the bacteria that are present.
But it’s also important not to interrupt the bonding time between mother and newborn. When baths take place in the first couple of hours, they miss precious minutes of baby’s long alert period. And more than that, the bath actually makes the newborn sleepier.
Newborns work hard to regulate their body temperature and the bath, regardless of how warm it is, disrupts that. As a result of the drop in body temperature can also cause them to use stored up glucose, which is what makes them fall asleep right after, which in turn causes them to miss precious moments at the breast. And the benefits of nursing a newborn baby as much as they want are numerous.
Just as there have been studies showing that newborns perhaps shouldn’t get a hat as soon as they have been born, this information on delayed bathing reinforces that nature works pretty great on its own. As a naturally-minded parent, I’m always on the side of fewer interventions.
Expectant parents should think about this precious postpartum period when preparing their birth plans. So much preparation goes into birth preferences, and it is more and more important to spell out all of the newborn preferences and plans. Find out what the protocols are where you’ll deliver, and question anything that isn’t in line with your wishes. It’s great that delayed cord-clamping and an emphasis on immediate skin-to-skin contact are becoming commonplace, but we should push to have other natural postpartum protocols honored.
Delay your newborn’s bath for all of the health benefits. But also because that smell is intoxicating.