5 Reasons Why You Should Delay Your Baby’s First Bath
Every TV show and movie where a character gives birth, you see the doctors hold up the brand new baby, covered in icky stuff, and the parents ooo and ahhh. Then the doctors say, “We’ll get him cleaned up for you.” A few seconds later, we see the baby wrapped in a clean blanket placed in the actress’ arms. Routine post-birth procedure, right? Born, ooh, ahh, first bath.
This is one of those things that, unless you are a medical professional, you wouldn’t have a clue about until you’re pregnant. Kind of like why you shouldn’t put a hat on your newborn and the advantages of delayed cord clamping. I certainly had no idea what it was until I started reading about newborn care.
Today, doctors and baby-care professionals alike recommend delaying your baby’s first bath based upon the World Health Organization recommendations for newborn care. Why, you ask? There are many reasons why it’s important to wait to bathe your baby. We’ll go over five specific reasons, but first you need to know about vernix.
What is Vernix?
The waxy coating covering your newborn baby is actually a protective, antibacterial substance called vernix. Composed from fatty-acid chains, vernix is created in utero and interestingly enough is secreted from the baby’s own skin around 20 weeks gestation. Many premature babies don’t have as much (if any) vernix beause it takes time to build up on their skin.
The Big Five
Vernix is a game changer in a lot of ways. Here are five reasons why you should rub that waxy stuff into your baby’s skin instead of washing it off!
1. Controls Body Temperature
The room in which your baby is born is much colder (usually about 73 degrees) than the temperature inside the womb (approx. 98 degrees). Vernix helps the baby to maintain his body temperature without having to use a lot of energy to do so. It creates a waterproof covering around the baby’s skin, keeping heat from escaping as quickly. When a baby is bathed with soap and water, this covering is removed and exposes the baby to the room’s temperature. Think about walking into a strange, cold room after being in a nice, warm, comforting environment for months and months. Talk about a rude awakening!
Summary: Vernix helps the baby’s body maintain heat and energy.
2. Protects from germs
Vernix contains a protective layer of cells, defending your baby against bacteria and viruses he may be exposed to during the birthing process. One property of vernix is that it is antimicrobial (resists the growth of bacteria), making it an extension of your newborn baby’s immune system. One study found that the properties in vernix even defended against GBS (Group B strep) bacteria!
When your baby hasn’t been bathed, all doctors and nurses will handle him with gloved-hands; another barrier between him and germs! These are defenses you want on your side when your baby comes into the world.
Summary: Vernix has properties that fight off bacteria and viruses.
3. Allows Bonding Time
Your brand new baby experiences a lot of shocks when he is first born – he feels unsafe, cold, tired, hungry. By delaying his first bath, you are allowing nature to take its course and meeting these first basic needs: hold me, feed me, love me. The relationship between a mommy and baby is unlike any other on earth, and it starts in the very first moments of a baby’s life. Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate your baby’s body temperature, keep him alert, and make him feel safe so he can explore the new world around him. Talking to your baby brings additional awareness and comfort, as he has heard your voice every day since he was conceived. You are his safe place, and he needs his mama.
When the nurse whisks off your baby to be “cleaned up” just minutes after birth, those precious bonding moments are taken away. The uncertainty and newness of a first bath can be very upsetting to your baby, sending him into a state of distress. These heightened cortisol levels inhibit his brain’s ability to process the new sights, sounds, and sensations he is experiencing. That vernix can seem waxy and strange, but just rub it in to your baby’s skin as you hold him close and tell him everything if going to be okay!
Summary: As soon as they are born, babies need their mamas to create a sense of safety and stability.
4. Encourages breastfeeding success
Those first moments after birth are crucial for mama and baby to start developing a rhythm. Breastfeeding can be difficult for some, and it can be intimidating for new mamas. Starting as soon as possible after birth increases the likelihood of a successful breastfeeding experience. Additionally, the colostrum mamas give out after baby is first born is rich in calories, antibodies, and nutrients. Collectively, these give your baby exactly what he needs after the trauma of birth. For mama, breastfeeding right after birth can help reduce blood loss after labor. Breastfeeding induces“after-birth cramps” that will shrink the uterus post-patum. Even if you are not going to breastfeed long-term, these immediate benefits are undeniable. Disrupting this important mama-baby encounter with a bath can lead to issues with breastfeeding and low weight for your newborn. So keep your little close to you!
Summary: The sooner you can nurse your little one, the better!
5. Balances blood sugar
A first bath minutes after birth can be shocking and disturbing to your baby, causing cortisol (stress hormone) to release. This hormone also increases the release of glucose (energy source). This dump of glucose into the blood stream takes away from your new baby’s storage of energy and induces high blood sugar. In short, your baby will be very upset and begin to scream. As an alternative, saving the first bath to be given at home allows for that special mommy-baby bonding time. Specifically skin-to-skin contact is so important for your baby. This intimate time between you and your new little one helps to balance his blood sugar by maintaining his body temperature and providing emotional stability. After birth, you are all your little one needs!
Summary: Skin-to-skin contact helps to balance blood sugar and emotional levels.
Enjoy the moment
It all happened so fast – one moment I was pushing with all my might, and the next all the pain had stopped and the nurses were thrusting a slippery, little baby onto my chest. It was the most surreal experience, seeing my Genny for the first time. She was bigger than I expected, about 8 and a half pounds. In my bewildered state, I muttered something about her having tiny hairs on her fingers and hands, just like a little person, I thought.
I don’t know how long we lay there, me, Genny, and Ryan, who was sitting with me in the hospital bed. It felt like forever in a moment. Our little family, together for the first time.
I pray you are able to have this time with your newborn as well! It’s true what they say about time flying, making it all the more important to live in the moment. Hold onto your babies because they will grow up! So rub in that vernix, spit-bathe your tiny with a damp cloth, and wait on that special first bath!
How was your baby’s first bath? Were you able to give it yourself at home? Share your experience by commenting below.
Love, Emily XOXO