Don’t Wash That Baby! Why Many Believe Newborn Baths Should Be Postponed

Posted June 8th, 2013 in birth, Birth Doula in Fresno, Fresno birth, Fresno Birth Doula, Newborns by Kathryn DiPalma


Newborn baths are essentially standard operating procedure in a hospital delivery. Yet, there’s many significant reasons to postpone that newborn bath. It might seem gross to many Americans. You may be thinking about the white coating, called vernix, and how that should be cleaned off.

Essentially, a newborn is bathed in a hospital, which is the home of the strongest and most drug-resistant microorganisms. This bath washes the natural protective coating from the newborn’s skin. This protective barrier is rich with natural flora, emollients, proteins, and antimicrobials… but we wash it off. In washing it off, we leave the newborn’s skin open to colonization from the hospital’s microorganisms. We allow the skin to dry out, and we in turn, apply manufactured, less adequate moisturizers to compensate. We also, no matter how well we attempt to dry a wet baby off, leave the skin damp at a time when temperature regulation is vital. To compensate, we bundle and cap the baby. This compensation eliminates important skin-to-skin contact that is important in proper flora building and crucial olfactory (scent) bonding.

As if these medical reasons weren’t enough of a case for delaying that first bath, an article in the Lancet suggested that interrupting the initial bonding process with a wash down can cause significant damage to successful breastfeeding. When a baby is placed on a mother directly, after about a twenty minute acclimation period, the infants in their study began to make crawling movements towards the breast. This was followed promptly by the rooting reflex. Before long, most of these infants were breastfeeding. Remarkably (or not so remarkably, perhaps) more infants in the group that were allowed this bonding period demonstrated correct “suckling technique” than than in the group that was separated from their mothers. (24 out of 38 in the contact group, as opposed to only seven out of 34 in the separation group.)

Tell me, is vernix really SO gross looking, that we are willing to wash away something so amazing and interrupt such a crucial period of bonding ?

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