I used to awww when I saw a picture of a newborn getting their first good scrub after birth. Hospitals even use scrub brushes to get all of that white "gunk" off of your new baby! But this practice does more harm than good!
The concept of the newborn bath is deeply ingrained in our society. As a matter of fact, I have found myself required to back up the statement that we should not bathe newborns with research, in the past.
Newborns are not born perfectly "clean". They are born covered in gunk, maybe blood, and definitely a splash of amniotic fluid. But your baby is not DIRTY.
IN FACT! The "gunk" our babies are born covered in (and have been covered with since around 20 weeks gestation) has many EVIDENCE-BASED functions.
So, let's get to know...
More commonly referred to simply as 'vernix', this protective covering has a laundry list of benefits for your baby, not only in utero, but long after baby is born. Before birth vernix protects your baby's developing skin from amniotic fluid and it's enzymes, protects developing ears from loud noises, helps keep baby warm, and many other things!
We are going to discuss deeper the postpartum benefits and functions of vernix today.
Vernix is a protectant
Newborn skin loses moisture FAST. Babies who were not bathed within the first day had higher levels of skin hydration and fewer dry skin issues
Also known as host defense peptides, vernix contains naturally occurring peptide antibiotics! This both supports the newborn immune system and protects your baby from infection.
A balanced pH is essential to healthy skin, and our delicate newborns need that protection even more. Luckily, vernix is shown to balance the pH of newborn skin.
Acts as an insulating layer to keep baby warm while temperature regulation systems mature.
Studies are showing vernix has promise as a treatment of epidermal wounds and to encourage the maturation of the epidermis in premature infants.
Bathing a Newborn Carries Risk
When we consider risks to the newborn in the first 24 hours, we probably don't think about a bath. However, according to the World Health Organization there are a few things to consider when bathing your baby in the immediate postpartum:
Increased risk of hypothermia
Higher rates of respiratory compromise
Increased oxygen consumption
Okay, so when should I actually wash my baby?
That's a personal choice, depending on your comfort level. However, the World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 24 hours after birth before giving your baby their first bath.
When you do give your baby their first scrub-a-dub-dub, it is absolutely reasonable to skip the soap. Warm water and a gentle wash rag is usually all that is needed to clean your baby for several months. If you do feel like a little help is needed, using a plant-based oil to remove any residue will ensure your baby's delicate skin will retain as much moisture as possible.
If your baby is dealing with dry skin, check your ingredients! Many products marketed for babies actually contain many harmful ingredients. Check all of your baby products for Safecosmetics.org "Chemicals of Concern" that are commonly found in baby products. They include:
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WHO recommendations on newborn health: guidelines approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017 (WHO/MCA/17.07). Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.