In No Hurry: The Advantages of Delayed Bathing for Newborns
There was a time, not that long ago, when post-delivery care for a mother and her newborn looked completely different than it does today. Use to be immediately after birth a baby would be examined on a cold metal table, bathed, and then put in an incubator, separated from mom.
Today, parents-to-be arrive at a hospital with a birthing plan, and immediate skin-to-skin contact is encouraged between baby and mother, with that first bath delayed for up to a day.
Delaying a baby’s first bath until 8-24 hours after birth came to the forefront several years ago through the World Health Organization. The WHO’s stance: bathing a baby immediately after birth is more of a cultural phenomenon that really does nothing but create difficulties for the baby. The WHO found that early bathing actually stresses a baby out, which requires them to adapt to their new environment in a harsher manner than delaying the bath.
Lynne Reiner is the Patient Care Manager in the Obstetrics Acute unit at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois and has presented at statewide conferences about the positive outcomes her staff sees. The standard on her unit is now 24 hours. They are contacted by hospitals across the country as some are just starting to implement the protocol.
The biggest plus Reiner sees for delayed bathing based on the stats she sees from her unit backs up what the WHO found - better temperature and glucose control in newborns.
Reiner says keeping glucose levels up also allows a baby more time to learn to breastfeed, which also helps mom be less stressed.
While the majority of babies are able to delay a bath, there are exceptions, such as if there's an infection or safety risk for the baby. There is specific criteria staff follows and pediatricians actively participate in guiding the plan of care.
If you have a visual of the baby lying around all gooey until that bath – don’t. In fact Reiner says unless you peek under the cap keeping the head warm and see matted hair, you might not even notice the vernix babies are born covered in.
Reiner says parents have embraced delayed bathing, especially once they get past that cultural expectation of bathing the baby right away. She says people will now stop her staff if they see a bath happening and ask “is the baby 24 hours old?” She says it’s not just other staff questioning, now it’s grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Reiner also likes what this shift means for the new parents.