Why Wait to Bathe

Since June 2017, most newborns at Memorial Health System hospitals have waited about 24 hours to receive their first bath. But, trust us, that’s a good thing.

Three of the four MHS hospitals have maternity units–Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln and Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville–and have been asking parents to wait 24 hours before bathing the newest addition to their families.

Delaying that first bath is actually healthier for the baby, says Susan McCarty, a registered nurse and one of the nurse managers with Family Maternity Suites at Memorial Medical Center.

“As a Magnet-designated hospital, Memorial really values evidence-based practice,” McCarty said. “And the evidence shows that waiting to bathe helps the baby better make that transition to living outside of mom.”

Advantages to Waiting to Bathe

  • Improves regulation of body temperature
  • Increases breastfeeding success
  • Boosts skin hydration
  • Supports healthy blood sugar levels

When babies are born, a waxy or cheese-like white substance called vernix coats their skin. Babies are still dried off after birth, but nurses are careful not to wipe off the vernix, which contains anti-microbial proteins that protect newborns and keep their skin hydrated. Waiting a day allows the vernix to absorb into the skin.

Further, the amniotic fluid on their hands has the same smell as mom’s first milk, a pale yellow nutrient-rich substance called colostrum that’s produced shortly before birth and for a few days after. By bathing newborns soon after birth, it disrupts their feeding cues, McCarty said.

While the 24-hour waiting period for a baby’s first bath is voluntary, nearly all parents have supported the measure, McCarty said. Many younger parents have already learned through online research about the benefits of a delayed first bath for their bundle of joy before they even arrive at the hospital.

Susan McCarty, BSN, RNC-LRN, is nurse manager of Family Maternity Suites at Memorial Medical Center. She has worked at Memorial since 1988, 28 of those years in the nursery. She earned her degree in nursing from Mennonite College of Nursing in Bloomington, Illinois, and holds specialty certification in low-risk neonatal nursing.

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