Baby’s First Bath: Who, When, and Where?

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In the discussion of what interventions and procedures may be offered for your baby postpartum, the first bath rarely makes the list.  You may wonder why it should!  A bath is perfectly harmless, right?  Could it really be considered an intervention?

If an intervention is defined as anything that intervenes in the continuous physiological process of labor, birth, and breastfeeding, then the in-hospital bath certainly qualifies as one.

Ultimately, the “burden of proof” for any intervention should lie on the intervention itself.  Are there any real benefits to a first bath being given in the hospital by a stranger?  If so, do these benefits outweigh the risks?  Rather than framing the discussion around risks of an in-hospital bath, though, let’s look at some of the wonderful benefits of delaying your newborn’s first bath, which include:

The Magic of Vernix At birth, your baby’s skin will be coated with a white, waxy or cheesy substance called vernix.  Depending on how many weeks your baby gestated, there may be a little or a lot of vernix on the skin.  Vernix provides protection in the womb from contact with the amniotic fluid (so that baby’s skin won’t wrinkle like ours does after a long bath).  Vernix also provides antibacterial protection, a true benefit in a hospital setting.  Vigorous scrubbing and bathing can remove this protective layer.  Rather than washing this natural barrier away, you can massage it into baby’s skin like lotion.

Breastfeeding Instincts Baby uses the smell of amniotic fluid on his or her hands to help initiate breastfeeding.  You may notice your baby nuzzles her hands against her nose as a cue that she is ready to nurse.  Washing away the natural smells on the baby’s skin will also get in the way of the signals provided by these smells which kick start instinctual breastfeeding and bonding processes.

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Together is Best for Mom and Baby Mother and baby both benefit from uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for the first several days after birth.  This closeness helps with regulating temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones, as well as increasing bonding hormones, and helping to establish mom’s milk supply. Baby’s other parent is the next best habitat when mom needs a break; familiar sounds and smells are comforting and calming to baby.  Removing baby from the loving arms of his parents for a bath interrupts this bonding time.

First Bath is a Lovely Ritual Giving baby her first bath is a sweet privilege that parents can enjoy when they are ready.  Bath time can be a good way to transition to a change in setting once the family leaves the hospital and settles at home.  Or, it can wait until days later when intuition says it’s time.

Who will give your baby his or her first bath?  When and where will it occur?  This choice is up to you!

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