Having a baby means we will always have company. In the early days, weeks, months and even years, it's a hands-on 24/7 reality. From never leaving your baby unattended to those inevitable interruptions from toddlers whose sixth sense kicks in when mama is in the bathroom, sometimes trying to take a shower just isn't doable. And, we can be left thinking—Do I stink? Am I dirty? How long can I really go without a shower?
The good news: You don't need to worry, mama.
"We over-bathe in this country," says Boston dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. "That's really important to realize. A lot of the reasons we do it is because of societal norms." In fact, up until the 19th century, it was not uncommon to go a whole month (or longer!) without a shower. And having one sooner was a luxury for the wealthy—if you call cold showers luxurious.
The CDC states that although frequent bathing has aesthetic and stress-relieving benefits, it serves little microbiologic purpose. In other words, your body doesn't need a shower as often as you might think, and going a week could be just fine, mama.
Skin is a living, breathing organ that uses pores and biology to create its biome. There are good bacteria and bad, and they live in balance on our skin, working together to provide a barrier to infectious microorganisms that we may encounter, and supporting our immune system along the way. Studies have found frequent showering, as in 2 or 3 times per week, especially in hot water, may do more harm to our body than good by stripping away the thin layer of fatty acids and oil that help protect skin from outside contaminants. This can also make our skin more dry, flaky and itchy.
If you can't remember the last time you showered, keep this in mind, mama:
1. Our skin has an amazing way of cleaning itself.
Turns out, we were not meant for constant cleaning. There are about 1,000 different bacterial and 40 fungus species that live on our skin, and the balance between them keeps the ones that can make us sick from taking over.
Daily showers can remove skin's natural oils and disrupt the population of bacteria and actually contribute to body odor, because when the system is out of balance, the species that tend to favor the kinds of microbes that produce odor thrive. When the ecosystem is balanced, we don't smell bad, we just smell like a person.
2. When we allow our body to equilibrate, our skin and hair will fluctuate less between oily and dry.
The top layer of skin is made of dead skin cells (like bricks) that protect underlying skin layers, held together by lipids (like mortar) that seal in moisture. When we shower, we're breaking apart this layer. More showers can mean more damage to the top layer and less time for skin to repair and recover through natural oil production. This is bad for our hair, too. Stripping our scalps of essential oil makes it dry and prone to dandruff and greasiness as the scalp tries to overcompensate for dryness.
3. Changing your clothes can help you feel more clean.
In a study of Russian astronauts, it was discovered that up to 93% of sweat, skin oils and sebum were absorbed by the fabric of their clothing. That's right—you can stay clean just by changing your outfit!
But it's important to note that infrequent showering can be taken too far. Everyone has a different rate of cell turnover and sebum production, and a different level of tolerance for how long is too long to go. And too much time between showers, for too many weeks in a row, can cause dermatitis neglecta to develop, where dead skin cells combine with dirt and sweat to form brown patches on the skin. Luckily these spots are harmless and can be washed away with a little soap and water.
Bottom Line: Don't fret if you can't get a daily shower, mama. Just remember to wash your hands frequently to reduce the chance of passing along germs—and use those baby wipes to freshen up your bitty bits, if you want to 😉.