A wait of at least 24 hours is recommended — for a very good reason.
Mothers of teenagers, think back to the happy day when your son or daughter was born: Shortly after birth your infant was likely taken away from you. It was to be expected—after all, the baby needed to be cleaned up and washed off. But now, experts are saying there’s evidence that parents should wait a bit longer—at least 24 hours, or more—before bathing your little one.
“It’s important to remember that babies aren’t born dirty,” explains Dr. Ira Jaffe, a board certified maternal fetal medicine OBGYN doctor in NYC. “The way they’re designed to come out is how they should come out.”
Babies are born with a white, waxy coating, which convention has held should be washed off sooner rather than later. But this substance, called vernix caseosa, can be beneficial if left on for awhile longer.
While it may seem like bathing a baby right after birth has been the thing to do for as long as any of us can remember, there has been a recent and evolving interest in understanding that babies are covered in vernix for a reason—and we’re just now gaining a better understanding of its benefits.
A 2004 study by ACOG’s Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology points out that vernix adds a protective layer to the skin, which makes it softer and protects the immune system.
Additionally, vernix and amniotic fluid contain antimicrobial peptides which can guard against bacteria and fungi. A follow up article by Science & Sensibility points out that pneumonia and meningitis are among the diseases that these agents protect against.
Similarly, doctors have recently begun to delay clamping a baby’s ublilical cord until a minute after birth, proving that the bathing debate is just one part of an effort to improve the entire birthing process for babies and their mothers.
Advocates for change also point to the importance of uninterrupted skin-to-skin bonding time for mother and baby, which helps your newborn feel more secure in the first moments of his or her life.
“Nothing is better for a baby than laying against a mother’s skin,” said Dr. Jaffe. Taking a baby from his mother for a bath right away can lower his body temperature while a mother’s chest has the ability to heat up or cool down to help the newborn maintain the correct body temperature, according to Very Well.
While there is no one standard practice in place for when exactly is best to bathe a baby, delaying washing will likely become more widespread as more women hear about it. The World Health Organization currently advises delaying bathing for at least 24 hours, according to Today’s Parent, but moms have chosen to wait longer as well. “It’s just very intuitive,” said Dr. Jaffe. “This is what’s good for the baby, and once you start thinking about it, it just makes sense.”