newborn baby being bathed: should you delay your babys first bath and how often should you bath your baby

Should you bath your baby in the first few days of their life or is it better to delay their first bath? The advice about when a baby should have their first bath has changed over the last few years. The recommendation now is that you should wait to bath a baby until at least 24 hours after birth and definitely not sooner than 6 hours after birth.

Should you delay your newborn baby’s first bath? 

The short answer is: YES. But why should you delay giving your newborn their first bath?

  • The major reason for this is that when a baby is born, it is covered in vernix, a white substance that helps to keep their delicate skin moisturised and also contains anti-bacterial properties. A baby may be exposed to infections such as E.coli or Group B Strep during the birthing process and the vernix acts as a natural barrier to these infections for your baby.
  • In the few hours after birth a mother and baby should engage in skin-to-skin time. This is so essential for the exchange of good microbiota between mom and baby. This exchange forms part of establishing good gut integrity but it is also invaluable for bonding – if the baby is taken from mom too soon then this time is interrupted.

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  • Bathing a baby directly after birth may also have an impact on the baby’s blood sugar levels. Baby will already be under stress after the birth and will have lost the benefit of mom’s blood sugar from the placenta. A bath will most likely cause baby to cry and this releases stress hormones – these hormones then cause blood sugar levels to drop. With low blood sugars a baby becomes sleepier and may struggle to breastfeed.
  • Our natural body temperature is between 36.5 and 37.5 and this is what baby would have become accustomed to in utero. The delivery theatres are usually colder than this, and adding a bath to the equation may lower baby’s body temperature too much, resulting in hypothermia. Giving the baby time to settle down and adjust to the outside world before having their first bath will definitely make for better temperature control.

newborn baby being bathed: should you delay your babys first bath and how often should you bath your baby

When should I give my newborn baby their first bath?

It is recommended that a newborn only has a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls off. This is especially important if you are following the dry cord care method as submerging the baby’s body in water would affect the healing of the umbilical cord. Once the cord has fallen off you can bath your baby normally.

ALSO READ: How to take care of your baby’s umbilical cord properly

How often should you bath a baby?

Are you wondering how often you should bath your baby? It’s not necessary to give a baby a full bath more than three times a week. Basically, you would do a “top and tail” in between those baths ensuring that your baby’s face, neck and nappy area are clean and properly dry.

Once baby starts crawling you might want to bath baby every day since they do tend to get rather grubby, but this is not medically necessary. In fact, your child’s skin will benefit way more from the natural oils than it would from daily bathing – so, bathing your baby or child every alternate day is perfect.

Should I use soap to bath my baby?

Please avoid using any normal soaps on your baby’s skin. These soaps are harsh on their delicate skin and the perfumes may cause allergies. I only recommend hypoallergenic lotions or soap formulated specially for babies. And remember that you should always moisturise the skin after the bath with an emollient.

Affectionately known as “Dr Rico” by his patients, Dr Maraschin is passionate about preventative medicine and building trusted relationships with parents and patients is a priority to him. Well-known among the community, he is highly regarded with providing the best care for babies, toddlers and kids. He has played a pivotal role in creating his well-deserved prestige, with a particular interest in neonatology, allergies, immunology and vaccinology. Dr Enrico F. Maraschin, MBBCh (Wits), FCPaed (SA)