When and how to give a newborn a bath
One of the most common questions that I get when I am on shift in the postnatal ward is, “When can my baby have his/her first bath?”. Well mama, this blog will tell you all of the ins and outs about baby baths - the when, how and where we should bathe our bubs.
Research shows there are benefits in delaying the first bath by 24-48 hours as your baby isn’t dirty! They are actually covered in all of your wonderful flora and bacterium from birth. Having this on their skin is great as it begins to boost their immune system, just like your colostrum. Your baby is colonised with all of the GOOD bacteria through your birth canal when it’s born. This kickstarts their immunity in a very specialised way, with antibodies and organisms transferred straight from Mama to baby. This allows your baby to smell you, even when they are outside of your tummy.
Another thing you might notice is that your baby is covered in vernix following birth. Vernix is the thick, white paste that babies are covered in when they are born (if bub is overdue, they may have less or none).
Do you know that amazing newborn smell? Well that amazing newborn scent is actually from vernix!
When inside your womb, the vernix acts as a barrier and moisturises your baby. It does the same thing in the outside world, It acts like a natural moisturiser for your baby. Allow the vernix to soak into your baby’s skin as it is so good for their health. Vernix contains proteins which can protect your baby from infection in the first days of life, it’s a natural, specially created antibacterial moisturiser for your baby that is truly amazing. Delaying the first bath lets the vernix remain on their skin as long as possible and lets them soak in all the goodness.
Your bubba isn’t as good at regulating their temperature as you or I, so delaying their first bath will keep them nice and warm. Keeping your baby skin to skin regulates their heart rate, breath rate and temperature, it allows you to bond with them and form a special connection in those first few hours. Enjoy this Mama! These moments are precious. Having your baby close, allows them to smell you and keeps them calm and soothed. They are adjusting to this big, bright world which sometimes can be very cold for them. Uninterrupted skin to skin contact will also help you so much with your breastfeeding. Both you and baby are learning- and so are your breasts! Frequent feeding and feeding on demand will help your milk supply. Don’t worry, their first bath will come, and your midwife will give you some great tips to ensure they are kept as warm as possible.
Let’s chat further, about breastfeeding and how a delayed bath can help this journey, especially for those bubbas that are placed straight on Mama’s chest after birth and kept there until the first feed. When a baby is placed on Mama’s bare skin, they use all their senses; touch, smell, sight, taste, sound. From the very first feed, a baby automatically associates the warm, comfortable place where they can hear your voice and heartbeat with feeding. From this moment, a bond is formed and in the first few days when they are still learning, skin to skin can help everyone. By bathing them a little later on, you can do more skin to skin, which means more breastfeeding and bonding!
Along with regulating your baby’s temperature, delaying their first bath can help stabilise your baby’s sugar levels. Heat, movement, oxygen and sugars work hand in hand in a special ‘newborn energy triangle’. In the first few days your baby works hard to use it’s own system away from Mama’s placenta and warm body. A newborn’s first bath may cause crying - they tend to always cry during their first bath, but I promise you, these water babies learn to LOVE bath time more and more. When a baby cries, they move their body around lots which can use up their heat, and energy stores, which can make your baby sleepy, a sleepy baby doesn’t want to feed. This cycle can continue, and in turn, your baby’s blood sugar may drop. Allow your baby time to adjust to the outside world and get to know your breastmilk and feeding pattern. Delaying their first bath by a few days, will allow for a smoother transition which can help stabilise their temperature, energy and sugar levels.
Some baby’s who have mothers that have certain medical conditions such as Hepatitis B and HIV will require a bath as soon as possible. Consult your midwife or pediatrician if you have any questions about this.
Your baby can be bathed when you feel like you are ready. Birth is a beautiful, yet intense experience, and you can feel physically and emotionally exhausted after it. Depending on the type of birth you had, this can limit how much you move around straight after birth. Remember this and be easy on yourself Mama. Around day one or two, you will likely begin to walk around more and more, and when you feel strong enough, you are able to enjoy and share the wonderful moment of your baby’s first bath. Try and find a place to bath your baby that is waist height or higher. This allows you to not have to bend over and strain your back.
Most hospitals will have a designated baby bathing sink that you can use. Even at home, the kitchen sink is a great place to bathe your baby as long as it’s sanitised and clean. A lot of parents I see have a special bathing insert- you can pop these up at a comfortable height on your kitchen bench.
Remember to purchase all natural organic nourishing products for your newborn before their first bath. Lovekins’ Baby Hair + Body Wash is gentle, effective, Australian made, certified vegan and endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives.
When you are in hospital, your midwife will demonstrate to you how to hold your baby and some tips when giving them their first bath. Some hospitals may even have a baby bathing class everyday. I must say, this is one of my favourite jobs when working on the postnatal ward. It’s such a special experience, the main pointers I think are important are:
- No windows or doors open - no cross breeze that might make your baby cold.
- Bath temperature should be nice and warm. Test this with your wrist or elbow as your fingers are desensitised to heat. Some parents have a bath thermometer, this is not essential, however if you do have one around 37 degrees celsius is perfect.
- Hold your baby with your strongest hand, with your fingers wrapped around their upper arm so they don’t slip away.
- Work from cleanest to dirtiest, from head to toe. Wash the eyes with a clean washcloth wiping inwards to outwards and not rubbing. Be careful not to contaminate those little eyes.
- Give all the crevasses a good wash. Under the arms, under the neck, between the legs, anywhere moisture can get stuck.
- Drying is more important than washing, make sure your baby is nice and dry by using a clean, dry towel. Give them some tummy time when you dry them off, watching them closely.
- Use all natural, toxic free products such as Lovekins Hair + Body wash.
- Once the bath is over, you can rub Lovekins Natural Organic soothing baby moisturiser on their delicate skin.
Delaying your baby’s first bath has many benefits for your baby and even some for you. Remember to stay calm and trust your instinct because you know what is best. You’ve got this. Your baby’s first bath is such a special moment for you to enjoy so hold off a day or two so you can spend time bonding with your brand new bundle of joy.
Written by Aliza from Bumpnbub