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That First Bath…Why Wait?

In a world where women are starting to question all of the normal protocol that goes along with childbirth, this routine newborn bath has gotten some scrutiny.  Why do they do it?  Why has it become routine?  Can you speak up and say no?  Why say no?  We are here to answer all your burning questions about that first scrub down.

When I had my first, she was born in a warm tub in a hospital, it was perfect and beautiful and while she came out in water, she was placed on me and was still covered in that beautiful waxy coating of vernix caseosa.  I had done a fair amount of research on the topic and knew I didn’t want her bathed, but truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect.  She had a light coating and the water of the tub barely removed any of it.  She was slippery and slimy, (it almost seems like vaseline with baby powder mixed in it) and they wrapped her up tight while I got out of the tub.   My husband followed the nurses around like a hawk every time she was taken off of me to make sure she wasn’t bathed and all of our other wishes were met.  When she was finally back to me for skin to skin that coating was thinner but still there.  I was proud that we got through the beginning and was hoping to get her a week or so in without a scrub down.  My wishes were not granted however, because a few hours later she was turning purple and had to go to the NICU where they do a routine bath while they are setting her up to monitors and putting terrifying tubes in her…a total bummer.  While it was the least of my concerns at that moment, that question stuck with me.  Why do they HAVE to bathe them?  Why has this become routine?


The truth behind that baby bath?   The nurses do it to remove fluids that could harm THEM not the baby.  It can be dangerous if a mother is carrying any diseases or bacteria for a nurse to come in contact with amniotic fluid, blood born pathogens or vernix, so they clean the baby to make sure things are sterile in the unit.  (In my situation, it was to protect premature babies in the NICU).   The other major reason is just a lack in understanding and a large percentage of people “don’t want their baby to be covered in gross stuff” so the nurses have grown accustomed to cleaning them off no matter what.

So, what is that magic coating?  “From the Latin words vernix meaning, “varnish” and caseosa meaning, “cheesy,” this protective substance is secreted by your baby’s sebaceous glands. As the Latin names reflect, the coating is a white, cheesy substance made up of oil and sloughed off skin cells.” – Wikepedia

Vernix left in tact not only protects the babies skin and helps moisturize it and keep it soft and clean, but it is also protects your baby from infection.  It has been linked to helping a mothers milk come in quicker when holding her baby and it also helps keep your babies skin temperature regulated, it’s pure magic!  Whether you have a C-section or a Vaginal birth if there is vernix left on your babies skin, rub it in like  lotion and enjoy that magic.

There’s aren’t many things you can’t speak up about when it comes to birth.  Always ask, always speak up and always go with your gut!  Yes, you can request no bath to be given and yes, they will most likely listen and be a-OK with your request, they will just use gloves when handling your baby.  And lets be honest, wouldn’t you rather they be using gloves anyway?