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Why Delaying the First Bath after Birth is a Good Thing
By Gretchen Hegwood, CN-3, RNC-WHP
Delayed bathing is a crucial step in the transition of the newborn to the outside world. While it may be a new concept to some, at Beebe we are now using this evidence-based practice to improve the overall health of the baby after it enters the world.
There are so many benefits to delayed bathing for both mother and newborn. By waiting to give the newborn the first bath, studies show the newborn is better able to stabilize his or her blood sugar and temperature. Delayed bathing also helps the baby transition to the outside world in a calmer fashion, allowing the baby to get used to being outside the womb, bond with mom and dad, and start the breastfeeding process. It also gives the parents a chance to view the first bath so they can get tips on bathing their new infant.
Beebe Healthcare is proud to be the first hospital in Delaware to earn the designation as a Baby-Friendly™ Hospital, reflecting its commitment to the optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother-and-infant bonding. Beebe Healthcare is the first organization in Delaware to earn this international designation, launched as part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in 1991 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Delayed bathing fits into the Baby-Friendly practices by promoting skin-to-skin contact right from birth and throughout the breastfeeding process. Studies have shown that increasing skin-to-skin contact early after birth decreases the stress on the newborn and starts the bonding process more quickly.
Here are some ways delayed bath improves the health of your baby.
1. It limits the risk of infection. When your infant is born, they are covered in a white substance called vernix which is made up of skin cells from earlier development. This substance helps fight against bacterial infections and acts as a natural germ protector for your little one. Common bacterial infections for newborns include Group B Strep and E. Coli which can lead to pneumonia and meningitis. By delaying the first bath, you are allowing the vernix to continue working as a safety net for your little one’s immune system.
2. Helps to stabilize infant blood sugar levels. After your baby makes its debut, its body must work to adjust to a new environment. There is no longer a placenta to maintain blood sugar levels. If you bathe a baby too soon after birth, they run the risk of emitting too many stress hormones which will cause their blood sugar to drop making them tired and less likely to breastfeed. In some cases, this fatigue can result in neurological injury.
3. It provides temperature control. Babies can contract hypothermia when given a bath too soon after birth. Keep in mind, in the womb they are at a cozy 98.6 degrees, whereas most hospital rooms hover around 70 degrees. This means your baby must use a lot of energy to fight to get warm once they’re introduced to the outside world. If your baby gets too cold, their blood sugar levels will drop which can lead to other complications.
4. More maternal-infant bonding time. Proper skin-to-skin time with mom is necessary to help encourage breastfeeding and to maintain overall wellness for your infant. Time and time again, babies who are held on their mother’s chest moments after delivery end up maintaining better blood sugar levels and temperatures and even have an easier time breastfeeding.
5. Improves breastfeeding ability. The sooner your infant can spend time skin-to-skin with you, the easier the breastfeeding adjustment period is. Avoiding medical interruptions like baths help ease this process, too.
6. There’s no need for baby lotion. Babies need protection as they transition into our environment. If you delay bathing them after birth, you can avoid using artificial lotions because they will already be covered in vernix which is a natural protectant.
7. Nurses and doctors will continue to wear gloves. When your baby is unbathed, it is hospital protocol for all medical staff to wear gloves to prevent exposure to harmful fluids. Taking extra time before bathing your infant ensures that viruses and infections are not passed along.
8. Parents get to enjoy giving their newborn a bath. Once mom has recovered, the parents can help take part in bathing their new little bundle of joy. This can be a special bonding moment for all and a great teaching opportunity for both nurses and parents.
The staff of Women's and Children's take pride and satisfaction in every couple that choses Beebe. We all have passion for what we do as nurses and that shows in our daily practices. The TEAM of nurses that we have in our two units are what makes such positive experiences for everyone no matter what the situation. These team members work together in sometimes chaotic situations to make it the best experience for all of our patients.
We are proud of all our Beebe mothers and we treat each patient that walks through the door as if she were a friend or family member.
Gretchen Hegwood, CN-3, RNC-WHP, is a nurse with Beebe Women’s and Children’s Health. She earned her nursing degree at Delaware Tech and is currently in the process of obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Gretchen has a certification in Inpatient Obstetrics and is a charge nurse, sits on many unit-based committees, and is the scheduler for her department. She has been with Beebe for 17 years and is a passionate supporter of all mothers and babies.