Is your pregnancy coming to an end? Are you already looking forward to baby’s first bath? Or are you worried the hospital staff may do it too soon?
In the past, and sometimes even nowadays, it’s common practice to rush the bath, as if your baby popped out drenched in bacteria. Some even bathe your newborn right after the delivery.
A live demonstration on how to bathe your newborn may be greatly appreciated if you’re a first-time parent. But it’s not always in your presence, and not always best for baby. Here are some reasons you might be better off delaying baby’s first bath.
Benefits Of Vernix Caseosa
Not all babies are born with the same amount of residual vernix caseosa. The longer the pregnancy lasts, the less vernix is likely to be on the newborn baby. Therefore, overdue babies may be born with some remains in the skin creases or none at all.
Preterm babies, on the other hand, will probably be born with a generous coating of this matter.
The vernix is made up of approximately 10 percent protein, 9 percent lipid, and 81 percent water. Some experts describe it as a “pasta and cheese” structure. This cheesy substance serves several different purposes for your newborn baby.
Research indicates that it contains immune properties. So, letting it separate naturally might actually help to protect your baby in the first few hours of life.
1. Natural Protectant
In utero, the vernix, when swallowed by the fetus through the amniotic fluid, promotes a healthy gut balance. The proteins within it consist of more than 20 percent amino acids. The developing gut cells, such as the intestinal epithelium and lymphocytes, require these elements.
Inside your womb, the vernix keeps your baby’s skin protected from the amniotic fluid. It prevents damage, while preserving the levels of moisture required for the skin.
Then, during delivery, it acts as an antimicrobial shield against any bacteria in the mother’s genital tract. It is also said to facilitate passage through the birth canal.
The vernix helps to regulate and stabilize your newborn’s temperature after delivery. Remember that outside temperatures are often much lower than your baby’s former warm environment. (source).
Temperature regulation is especially critical for preterm babies and those with low birth weight.
Unfortunately, nurses traditionally tend to wipe the vernix from the newborn’s skin while the baby is still wet from the womb. This has long been considered a necessary part of the initial aftercare.
In the past, they would dry the baby to help regulate its temperature, while stimulating respiratory efforts. Later research then revealed that this wasn’t necessary.
It has even been suggested that the vernix should not be washed off for several days, due to its many benefits in the first days after the baby’s birth (source).
2. New Baby Scent
As almost every mother knows, there’s nothing like that new baby smell. It’s a scent of comfort which warms your heart and makes up for all the trials and tribulations of pregnancy. And no, I’m not making this up.
A study showed that, when we smell our newborn baby, sparks fly in the pleasure centers of our mommy-brains. This gives us the same sensation as receiving a reward (source).
Think of the scent as a neat trick nature uses to motivate new moms to care for their babies (as if we needed that!). The same goes for animals.
Growing up on a sheep farm, I was always told never to touch the newborn lambs. Doing this would interfere with the baby’s scent, potentially causing the mother to neglect her newborn.
Of course, a quick bath after birth won’t cause you to neglect your baby. But it can take away the new baby smell. Most of this beautiful fragrance comes from the vernix and amniotic fluids.
So, sadly, when a nurse bathes your newborn, she’s likely to remove much of that precious scent.
3. Natural Moisturizer
Being submerged in fluids for nine months can make any skin sensitive. With the sometimes harsh and unforgiving outside air, newborns can be especially prone to dry skin. Most mamas cope by smothering their babies in lotion.
But the vernix still has some magic powers left. It will work as a natural moisturizer, protecting baby’s skin. This is mostly due to its high water content, which enables it to moisturize the top layer of skin.
Research has found that the vernix holds filament-aggregating protein (source). As this element breaks down, it turns into water-binding molecules.
These molecules work to retain the plasticity and elasticity of the skin, much like a lotion would.
Did You Know?
In the hours following birth, there’s a special window for bonding time. Your new baby wants to be as close to you as possible. Your chest provides the three things newborns love the most: food, warmth, and comfort from hearing your heartbeat.
Snuggling your baby on your chest will make them feel secure. For now, their vision is minimal, so they feel safest when close to mommy.
Skin-to-skin contact will also promote breastfeeding. As a mother who struggled with getting my baby to latch on, I wish I had known this before.
It feels like a crime to allow someone to interrupt this precious time, just for a bath. You can’t turn back the clock, so treasure the moment.
Many new mothers (about 92.6 percent) begin to breastfeed within the first hour of baby’s life. However, only 26.6 percent actually make skin-to-skin contact (source).
This intimate contact after birth provides sensory stimulation and helps your newborn retain body temperature. It may help regulate baby’s breathing and motivate them to move.
After spending nine months growing in a cozy environment, entering the outside world can be terrifying. With the new smells, sounds, and feelings, taking your newborn away from the comfort of your skin at this time can cause unnecessary stress.
Stress can quickly cause baby’s heart rate to increase, and breathing could become irregular. Crying turns into agitation and their body may respond by lowering the blood sugar.
Exposing infants to excessive stress may cause behavioral problems later in life. It can also lead to stress-related health issues in the future. Some studies suggest it may even interfere with brain growth and, in extreme cases, shorten the lifespan (source).
Fortunately, you can prevent this by keeping your newborn close to you for at least the first few hours. Being a nurturing parent can build up stress resilience in your baby from the onset, which will last through adulthood.
When keeping your baby close, speaking or singing softly, stroking their head, you’re releasing a variety of chemicals. These include oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” and endogenous opioids, which give natural pain relief (source).
As the brain releases these chemicals, it shuts down the production of stress hormones. In turn, you limit the physiological wear and tear that stress can cause.
When To Have Baby’s First Bath
The answer varies. Each hospital or medical facility will probably suggest something different. Most will now wait between eight and 24 hours or more before encouraging the first bath.
Today, some hospitals have actually begun to see the first bath more as a learning experience for new parents, as opposed to a routine cleanse by hospital staff.
Bathing a wiggling newborn can be intimidating, so I’m sure most first-time moms would appreciate this lesson.
Cherish The Moment
As you can see, waiting to give baby the first bath is nothing but beneficial. The vernix caseosa still covering their delicate skin will protect them as they adjust to their new surroundings.
Enjoy the baby’s scent and keep your newborn close to your chest, establishing the first bonds and encouraging breastfeeding.
When you’re ready for baby’s first bath, check out our article on How to Bath Baby. Here, you’ll find information, hints and tips to do this with confidence.
How long did you wait before bathing your newborn? Do you know any other reasons to delay baby’s first bath? We would love you to share your experience with us. Don’t forget to share this with any soon-to-be mamas you know!