When should you first bathe a newborn?

Mmmmm! That newborn smell, it’s totally worth all of those horrible pregnancy symptoms, am I right?! Babies smell delicious and you don't need baby toiletries for that natural smell. That’s not just our opinion; it’s fact. We read it somewhere. Some clever people took themselves off and measured how women’s brains reacted to sniffing some babies. Might seem a bit of a weird request if you’re not accustomed to smelling babies, but you can totally sign us up for the job! Turns out the newborn smell triggers the same dopamine release and pleasure-reward response that occurs in addictions. So, when some of your friends rave on about how they’re ‘totally addicted to babies!’ then they might just be. Keep an extra close eye on your little one.

When should you first bathe a newborn

So, what makes them so intoxicating?! Well, researchers believe the smell is down to the leftover amniotic fluid & vernix caseosa (that cheesy white coating covering your newborn). While some of this coating can be wiped off after delivery, some will remain in skin folds and hair, continuing to provoke powerful protective instincts in the mother. Don’t rush to wash it away - it’s nature’s way of promoting maternal care and bonding. In fact, a good deep sniff may just help carry you through that exhausting newborn period. A great reason to delay baby’s first bath!

Another important reason to retain as much of the vernix caseosa as possible is that it provides several protective mechanisms for your baby. For a start, it forms a kind of waterproofing layer to prevent the skin from drying out. It also contains antimicrobial, immunological and anti-inflammatory factors which protect against infection and skin injury. Studies show that vernix retention also results in a lower skin pH, which suggests it assists in the development of the ‘acid mantle’ – a slightly acidic film on the surface of the skin that acts as a barrier to infection. The acid mantle can take several weeks to develop in an infant, and months to fully mature. Vernix retention offers protection during this period. In fact, the goal of the first bath should be to remove unwanted soil such as blood and meconium and to leave residual vernix intact.

The vernix isn’t the only thing covering your newborn. Your baby’s skin is also being colonised by bacteria, developing what is known as a microbiome. During the first days after birth, the developing skin environment stimulates the growth of some bacteria and limits the growth of others. This microbial skin colonisation is important to your baby’s immune system and has long term implications for your little one's health. Your baby’s microbiome will be determined by several things – pregnancy, birth, diet, and environment. It continues to evolve over the first year of life but we’re not suggesting you delay baths for that long; giving it a chance to become established in those first days and weeks without much interference would be a good idea though.

All that said, when should you first bathe your baby?? Well, honestly, there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Babies don’t really get dirty. They poop and spit up, yes; but these messes are localised and can be wiped off. Babies don’t sweat. They aren’t rolling around in the mud. They aren’t really doing anything at all to get dirty! ‘Topping and tailing’ – washing face, neck, hands and bottom with a cloth – is totally adequate while your babe is still in arms. Once they are on solids and rubbing spag bol in their hair, or crawling around on dirty floors (no judgement here), then a proper bath will probably be necessary. So, if your little one isn’t a fan of baths, don’t sweat it. If you have a little water baby on the other hand, a bath once or twice a week is ok. Bathing too frequently can actually do more harm than good – remember that microbiome! If you were planning a bath as part of a bedtime routine maybe consider some baby massage instead. It’s a great way to promote bonding, relaxation and aid digestion. A great recipe for a good night’s sleep!

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