There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.
This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.
The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.
Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.
DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.
"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."
For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.
However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.
Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.