Changing practices: should you delay your baby’s first bath?
For a long time, there was nothing new in the field of newborn baby care. We followed the policies that were tried and true, built over many decades of newborns. For the most part, these traditions led to a scientific and sterile birth experience.
Some of these traditions are long-extinct – when is the last time a father stayed in the waiting room while his baby was born? But most standard practices for caring for newborn babies have been more persistent.
The past 10 years, however, have been exciting for newborn medicine.
Mothers across the country are asking questions, trying to find the very best care for their snuggly new babies.
In response, we are starting to question what was “tried and true” and are studying best practices for healthy newborn babies.
There is good news. Questioning the status quo is producing results.
The medical community as a whole is paying attention, forming research consortia like the Better Outcomes through Research for Newborns (BORN) Network. Mercy Children’s Hospital & Clinics is a proud member of this group, and I am excited about the studies going on. I have no doubt that this new evidence being discovered will lead to even better patient care.
One simple example is delayed bathing.
Until the past few years, it has been routine newborn care to bathe a newborn infant as soon as it was convenient. After all, health care providers thought, who doesn’t want to have a clean, pink little baby for all the visitors to hold and kiss?
While early bathing was rooted in good intentions, recent studies have shown that delayed newborn bathing has many benefits.
Newborns are at risk for developing low temperatures as their bodies learn to regulate temperature on their own. Delayed bathing encourages prolonged skin-to-skin time with parents, during which time newborns can passively absorb heat from their parents. This, in turn, leads to a lower risk of low blood sugars, because infants are using less energy keeping themselves warm by burning fat.
Another potential benefit to delayed bathing is related to vernix, the thick white substance that covers babies at birth. Recent studies suggest that vernix may have antimicrobial, protective properties.
National and international health care organizations, including the World Health Organization, are embracing this evidence in their guidelines. You can learn more about this here. Although there is some disagreement in the exact details, recommendations range from delaying baths from 6-24 hours after birth.
At Mercy Children’s Hospital & Clinics, we have been practicing delayed bathing for more than a year. We are now entering phase two of this practice, extending the standard delayed bathing period from six hours up to twelve hours. Many families prefer to wait even longer for the first bath, delaying 24-48 hours from delivery. We encourage families to simply communicate these wishes with their healthcare team.
Delayed bathing is a small example of the ways in which newborn care is changing. We pride ourselves on being at the cusp of evidence-based medicine at Mercy Children’s Hospital and Clinics. We are honored to help you care for your precious children.
About Dr. Tara Andersen
Hi! My name is Tara Andersen and I am a pediatric hospitalist at Mercy Children’s Hospital & Clinics. This means I’m a pediatrician who works only in the hospital. I spend my days taking care of newborn babies and kids who need to stay in the hospital. I am also the medical director of the newborn nursery. In this job, I help oversee policies and procedures to take care of our smallest patients – newborn babies.
This is the 5th in a 6-part series from Mercy Des Moines. Find the rest of the posts below: