A baby smiles and lies in a bath for bath time.
Bath time can be wonderful, but it’s not one of the first things a new baby needs. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

At a recent Baby Summit meeting, where representatives from hospitals gathered to discuss all things baby, the topic of newborn baths came up.

At this particular roundtable discussion on newborn baths, the facilitator was from Boston. At their Boston hospital, the facilitator said, newborns aren’t bathed until they’re at least 24 hours old.

There were varying responses from the many hospital representatives: Some said their hospitals give baths to newborns within two hours of birth, while others said baths are provided within four hours.

At Spectrum Health, staff recommend waiting at least 12 hours before bathing a newborn. In fact, some babies actually go home without a bath.

You might wonder: Why would parents want to delay their baby’s bath—or even skip it altogether—while they’re in the hospital? There are a few good reasons:

Promoting skin-to-skin

We know that skin-to-skin is very important. In promoting skin-to-skin, baths are often delayed for a later time. This is a great thing, because skin-to-skin is much more beneficial to parents and baby—certainly more beneficial than the first bath.

Maintaining baby’s temperature

After a bath, baby is typically put under the warmer to help him maintain his temperature. After your baby has a bath, the best thing would be for him to go back to skin-to-skin, which will better regulate his temperature and sugar levels.

The power of vernix

Babies have vernix on their skin. It’s a cottage cheese-type substance that helps protect them from getting that waterlogged look that you or I would have if we sat in a hot tub for nine months! But research on vernix shows it does more than just protect the skin—it also adds a layer of protection to baby’s immune system.

Vernix is like a lotion; it can be rubbed into baby’s skin. Research also shows that the vernix acts like an insulator, helping babies maintain their temperature. This would be another reason to rub the vernix over baby’s skin and not wash it off.

A study on vernix, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that a number of immune substances were present in both amniotic fluid and vernix samples.

“Tests using antimicrobial growth inhibition essays show these substances are effective at deterring the growth of common perinatal pathogens—group B. Streptococcus, K. pneumoniae, L. monocytogenes, C. albicans and E. coli,” stated the study, which also found that the innate immune proteins found in vernix and amniotic fluid are similar to those found in breast milk.

International Standards

According to the World Health Organization, newborn baths should be delayed 24 hours—although if it’s a cultural issue, try to wait at least six hours after birth.

How long did you wait to give your newborn a bath? What do you think about waiting? Share your thoughts in the comments below.