Why Shouldn't Babies Be Bathed at Birth

Did you know that babies shouldn't be bathed at birth? Not doing so helps their development outside the uterus and their immune system.
Why Shouldn't Babies Be Bathed at Birth
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 24 December, 2022

Bathing a baby at birth aims to remove unwanted fluids such as meconium and blood from the little one’s body. It also aims to moisturize the stratum corneum of the skin. However, it’s actually best to wait a few days before bathing the baby for the first time. In this article, we’ll you why babies shouldn’t be bathed at birth.

Reasons why babies shouldn’t be bathed at birth

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not bathing newborns in the first 24 hours of life, but rather, waiting until vital signs are stable. Learn more about the reasons below.

To strengthen the bond between mother and child

If it’s not possible to wait 24 hours for a newborn’s first bath for cultural reasons, it should at least be delayed for six hours. This allows your baby to adjust to life outside the womb and allows the mother to bond with her baby.

Skin-to-skin contact is one of the most important factors after childbirth. Some of the benefits for the mother are as follows:

  • Early removal of the placenta
  • Decreased bleeding
  • Reduction of maternal stress
  • Improved breastfeeding practice

However, some of the advantages for newborn babies include the following:

  • A decrease in the negative consequences of the stress of childbirth
  • Correct temperature regulation
  • Less vigorous crying 
A other practing skin-to-skin contact with her newborn.
Skin-to-skin contact is one of the most important factors after delivery and helps strengthen the mother’s bond with the newborn.

Maintaining the vernix caseosa

Delaying bathing keeps the vernix caseosa intact, which is the fetal protective layer that acts as a chemical and mechanical barrier in the uterus. At the same time, this film reaches its greatest thickness between 36 and 38 weeks of gestation. It acts as a protection against infection while contributing to the cleansing and moisturizing of the skin. In addition, it’s composed of a high proportion of water, lipids, and proteins.

Some of the functions in which the vernix caseosa is involved are the following:

  • Development of viscera in the uterus: The vernix is in close contact with the amniotic fluid, and some of its components are released and supplied to the fetus.
  • Formation of the skin surface: It acts as a layer that moisturizes, hydrates, and optimizes all processes for the development of smooth and healthy skin.
  • Temperature regulation: The maintenance of a considerable amount of vernix is related to better regulation of body temperature.
  • Antimicrobial defenses: Enzymes and lipids act by identifying and suppressing skin surface flora.
  • Healing of burns and wounds: The high content of peptides, enzymes, lipids, and water contributes to this function.

Maintaining vernix caseosa after birth also helps prevent dry skin and even atopic disease.

Increasing breastfeeding

Newborn babies who are bathed at birth are less likely to experience proper and successful breastfeeding. This is related to the fact that babies are guided by their sense of smell. That is, they require their own and their mother’s smell to instinctively start sucking.

A study published by Breastfeeding Medicine concluded that newborn babies who postponed their first bath were 39% more likely to have successful and exclusive breastfeeding. It’s also not advisable to use soap, colognes, or perfumes, as they suppress or confuse the baby’s sense of smell, which is the most developed sense they possess.

A baby nursing.
Newborns who are bathed at birth are less likely to experience successful breastfeeding, as bathing could interfere with their sense of smell.

Regulating temperature

Another benefit of postponing the first bath is to wait until the newborn’s temperature stabilizes around 36.8 °C or higher. This helps prevent the risk of hypothermia.

Bathing is associated with significant heat loss, and temperature care is essential. Indeed, the baby has a large body surface, thin skin, little insulating fat, and limited temperature regulation mechanisms. In addition, it’s a good idea to use a cap on newborns to prevent heat loss through the head.

You may be interested in: 6 Tips for Your Newborn Baby’s First Bath

Final considerations regarding delaying baby’s first bath

Care during the first week of life includes regulating body temperature by drying and swaddling, skin-to-skin contact, immediate breastfeeding, and delaying the first bath.

Therefore, babies shouldn’t be bathed at birth. Rather, it’s best to postpone the first bath for at least a few days to help the newborn’s development outside the uterus and its immune system.

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  • World Health Organization. Postnatal care of the mother and newborn. [Internet] 2013. Disponible: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/97603/9789241506649_eng.pdf
  • Ruschel LM, Pedrini DB, Cunha MLCD. Hypothermia and the newborn’s bath in the first hours of life. Rev Gaucha Enferm. 2018 Oct 22;39:e20170263. English, Portuguese. doi: 10.1590/1983-1447.2018.20170263. PMID: 30365754.
  • Widström AM, Brimdyr K, Svensson K, Cadwell K, Nissen E. Skin-to-skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice. Acta Paediatr. 2019 Jul;108(7):1192-1204. doi: 10.1111/apa.14754. Epub 2019 Mar 13. PMID: 30762247; PMCID: PMC6949952.
  • Preer G, Pisegna JM, Cook JT, Henri AM, Philipp BL. Delaying the bath and in-hospital breastfeeding rates. Breastfeed Med. 2013 Dec;8(6):485-90. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2012.0158. Epub 2013 May 2. PMID: 23635002.

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.