Reasons to Delay Baby's First Bath

3 day old baby being bathed by mother

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There are many reasons to consider not having your baby bathed in the first hours after birth. Some hospitals have a policy of bathing the baby just after birth, but as parents, you may be able to decide when to bathe your baby and who is the one to do it. An exception: If a gestational parent has HIV or hepatitis, babies should be bathed after their first breastfeeding.

There are several benefits to delaying the baby's first bath, and you may reconsider when you would like it to happen after learning about the advantages of waiting. (Much of the research on bathing newborns is related to the preterm or low birth weight baby.)

Babies Are Born With a Natural Skin Protectant

In utero, babies are protected from their watery environment by a special substance called vernix, found on their skin. You may notice some vernix on your just-born baby. It looks a bit like white, waxy cream cheese, and some babies seem to have a lot and others not so much.

Babies tend to lose the vernix the longer the parent is pregnant, so those babies past their due date might not have a lot of it visible anymore, though usually there is still some hidden in the folds of their skin and under their arms. Babies born earlier often have a larger amount.

Research indicates that vernix has immune properties and leaving it on your baby's skin provides a layer of protection while your new baby's immune system is getting stronger. Vernix can act as a natural moisturizer and helps to keep your baby's skin soft and supple. 

Baby Wants to Be Near You

After birth, your newborn baby wants to be as close to you and your breasts as they can get. Snuggling on your chest, close to the food source, where they can hear you, smell you, and feel you against their skin is a source of comfort for your new little one.

Being close to your breasts can help encourage breastfeeding and support the baby making a smooth transition to life on the outside. Delaying the bath may give your baby more time to get to know you and have their first feeding (but this can be accomplished after a bath, too).

Baths Can Lower Body Temperature

New babies have difficulty regulating their body temperature because of their larger surface area to weight ratio (and often, the amount of body fat they have). A bath may result in the baby working harder to keep their body temperature in the normal range. Some babies need to be placed under a heat lamp to bring up their temperature after their bath.

A parent's chest is the perfect place to maintain the baby's temperature. Your chest has the ability to heat up or cool down to help the baby stay at just the right temperature. Adding a bath into the mix makes it harder for the baby to maintain their body temperature.

However, how the bath is given has a significant effect: How long does it last? Is the baby kept naked the entire time, or swaddled while their hair is being washed? Is the room air-conditioned? Is the water warm? Is the bath happening in your room, or in the nursery?

Separation Can Be Stressful

Being separated from their parent can add an additional layer of stress to a new baby just figuring out life on the outside. If your baby gets cold, their body may release stress hormones in response. Their blood sugar may drop temporarily.

If your baby's blood sugar is being monitored due to their parent's gestational diabetes or their size at birth, the baby's health care providers may be concerned and want to introduce formula to bring their blood sugar back up to the normal range.

Should Hospital Staff Wear Gloves?

In many hospitals, it is a policy for staff to handle all unbathed babies with gloves on their hands, so as to protect staff from coming into contact with any amniotic fluid, blood, or vernix that remain on your newborn.

Considering that the transmission of hospital-acquired infections is on the rise (and in the wake of COVID-19), some consider it good practice to have all hospital staff wear gloves when handling a newborn baby, even if a bath has already occurred.

A Word From Verywell

There are many benefits to delaying the bath of your newborn until both you and baby are stable and ready to participate. There is often no medical reason that a newborn must be bathed in the first hours. Sharing your wishes with hospital staff can be done respectfully. In most cases, it will not be an issue to honor them.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bathing your baby.

  2. Bamalan OA, Menezes RG. Vernix caseosa. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

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