Delaying baby's first bath could help with breastfeeding, new study

Delaying baby's first bath could help with breastfeeding
Delaying baby's first bath could help with breastfeeding Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Delaying a newborn baby's bath for at least 12 hours after delivery may help mums to breastfeed, according to a new study. 

The research, published in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, found that mums were eight per cent more likely to exclusively breastfeed in the hospital when their bub's first bath was delayed.

"We wanted to conduct research on this topic because more mothers were asking us not to bathe their baby right away," said lead author, Dr Heather DiCioccio. Dr DiCioccio added that women were reading about the potential benefits on blogs, which noted that amniotic fluid has a similar smell to the breast, possibly making it easier for bub to latch.

And yet, despite this widespread advice, very little research had been conducted.

To examine this, Dr DiCiccio and her team studied almost 1,000 mother-newborn pairs including 448 babies bathed shortly after birth and 548 whose baths were delayed. 

As part of the study, the team revised their department standard of care so that baths were delayed for at least 12 hours, but closer to 24. (Researchers honoured the requests of parents who wanted early baths. Newborns of mums with transmittable blood-borne pathogens (e.g., HIV, hepatitis B)  were also bathed early for safety reasons.)

And the results certainly point to holding off that precious first bath.

"We found that delaying the initial healthy newborn bath for more than 12 hours after birth led to a greater rate of in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding, especially among mothers who gave birth vaginally," the authors wrote. "Furthermore, mothers of newborns in the delayed initial bath group were more likely to have discharge feeding plans of only human milk or that included human milk."

But why might that be the case? There are three theories:

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Touch:

"Human touch is vital to the parent and the baby," Dr DiCioccio says. "You need to have that human touch. I think that by not washing the baby (so soon), encouraging skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding, you're improving that human touch. So you're now looking at a long-term health benefit."

Smell:

The similarity in smell between the amniotic fluid and the breast may encourage babies to latch.

Body temperature.

According to Dr DiCioccio Babies weren't as cold when they didn't have a bath straight away. "Being cold, she says can mean a baby who's too tired to nurse."

Hilary Rorison, head of the Professional Practice Unit at Australian College of Midwives says, "It is lovely seeing more research emerging what backs what myself and many midwives have seen in our clinical practice. Newborns are incredibly sensitive, and are communicating with their mothers via touch, sound, taste and smell. These complex communications cause physical, hormonal and behavioural changes in both the mother and the baby."

But interruptions to this communication, Ms Rorison explains, "such as separation from the mother, early baths or washing of the breasts, can have have negative consequences, as seen in this piece of research.Laying skin-to-skin on its mothers chest helps the baby regulate its breathing and temperature – which it is learning to do for the first time on its own."

According to Ms Rorison, delaying bub's first bath is an easy way to support women and babies in learning how to breastfeed.

"The more we learn, the more we come to know that often Mother Nature knows best," she says.