Though it may look off-putting, the waxy, white substance (vernix) covering your newborn’s body after birth actually acts as a super-protector or body butter. The protocol to wash it off babies immediately has developed out of our germophobic culture, not from an accurate understanding of how it functions. Many moms are now choosing to delay bathing their newborn to let the vernix remain on the skin for as long as possible. Here’s why.
What is delayed newborn bathing?
Delayed newborn bathing has massive health benefits for your child, including protecting him from infection and regulating his body temperature. Some hospitals will still try to wash off a baby right after he’s born. However, many now make it standard protocol to wait 8-24 hours to give a baby his or her first bath, and up to 48 hours if the baby was delivered by cesarean section. There’s really no upper limit, so you can leave (and rub in) the vernix coating on his skin for as long as you want. Vernix isn’t fully absorbed until 5 or 6 days after birth, so some mamas wait that long before giving junior his firth bath.
Be sure to speak up and ask for delayed bathing or no bath at all if that’s what you desire, and include it in your birth plan. Delayed newborn bathing is consistent with World Health Organization recommendations and greatly reduces the risk of infections.
What is vernix and why is it helpful?
Vernix is the white substance covering a newborn baby and functions like an anti-germ barrier. It also helps to regulate your baby’s body temperature and blood sugar levels. Inside the womb, vernix kept your baby from pickling inside the amniotic fluid. If you wash baby, the vernix comes off.
Vernix has a waxy, almost cheese-like texture. It is composed of skin cells your baby made early in development inside the womb. The substance contains helpful proteins that prevent bacterial infections. During delivery, bacteria such as Group B Strep (if GBS positive during pregnancy, learn your options here) and E. Coli can be transmitted to newborns and cause bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and meningitis—all of which can be fatal to a newborn. Vernix is nature’s protection against these infections. It is meant to stay on your baby for at least 24-hours after birth. Vernix doesn’t fully absorb until day 5 or 6 after birth, so you may want to wait to bathe your baby until then.
Other benefits of delayed newborn bathing.
- Stable Blood Sugar. An immediate bath can cause infant stress. Stress hormones make your newborn’s blood sugar drop. This may make the baby too sleepy to wake up and breastfeed, causing blood sugar levels to drop even more.
- Temperature Control. In the first few hours after birth, your baby has to work hard to stay warm as they adjust to room-temperature conditions. After all, he’s been in your 98.6-degree womb for nine months! A too-soon bath can cause hypothermia.
- Maternal-Infant Bonding. Taking a baby away from mom right after childbirth to bathe them interrupts the mother-infant bonding. This time is important for so many healthy processes, including blood sugar and temperature regulation, breastfeeding, and emotional connection.
- Improved Breastfeeding. Studies show that mothers and babies have greater success with breastfeeding when given “skin-to-skin” time without interruption or baths. Babies who breastfeed in the first hour of life and practice latching right away have greater rates of success breastfeeding throughout their infancy. This special time should not be interrupted by a bath.
- Natural Lotion. Vernix is like body butter. Midwives and naturopaths recommend rubbing it in and leaving it on for as long as possible. It acts as a skin protectant and moisturizer. You don’t want the baby to lose these natural good bacteria and germ-fighting aspects present in the vernix, only to be replaced by artificial lotions that are absorbed through your baby’s skin into their bloodstream.
Exceptions to delayed newborn bathing.
Babies born with chorioamnionitis or meconium staining typically get a bath immediately. Their risk of infection is much higher. Babies born to moms who are HIV positive or who have hepatitis will also get a bath right away to limit the chances of disease transmission. However, you may want to consult your healthcare professional about these circumstances in advance. You will want to have a plan in place, which may or may not involve delayed bathing.
Vernix is good for mom, too.
Vernix is a natural lubricant that helps your baby move out of the birth canal more smoothly during delivery. This protects mom from additional tearing. Also, because of its antibacterial and antimicrobial nature, it helps prevent infection in the vaginal canal. It has also been shown to help perineal tears heal better.
Ask in advance if delayed bathing is a protocol at the location you will deliver. Vernix is undoubtedly nature’s way of providing baby and mother with a super germ-protecting and healing substance. You’ll want to keep it on baby for as long as possible. Make it a bullet point on your birth plan, and communicate with your healthcare provider and/or your partner ahead of time that you want a delayed bath for your infant.