Hold off on the First Bath

Why are hospitals so quick to bathe newborns?  Up until recently, not many people questioned this practice.  After all, doesn’t every parent relish the feeling of having their freshly bathed new bundle handed to them, the scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo lingering in their hair?  Well, some do, but others would prefer to hold off on that first bath, letting the vernix do its amazing work for a little bit longer. Vernix is a cheeselike substance that coats a fetus’s skin and provides a protective, antimicrobial skin barrier in the watery womb. During delivery vernix acts as a lubricant, then continues to provide antibacterial, temperature-regulating and cleansing benefits after birth. 

This calls into question our current practice of washing newborns quickly after delivery.  Many hospitals bathe within the first few hours after birth, a time when parents and baby should be bonding as a family unit.  Perhaps they should be waiting longer, or skipping the bath all together for healthy mother/baby dyads who head home within 48-72 hours.  As explained in this article by Birth Bliss,  

Early bathing of the baby removes vernix, which contains antimicrobial proteins that are active against group B streptococcus and E. coli. Delaying the bath and keeping the newborn together with his or her mother until breastfeeding is established may prevent some cases of devastating infections caused by these bacteria.

But it isn’t just the antibacterial properties of vernix that makes a good case for holding off on the first bath.  Here are some other reasons to wait:

Closeness fosters breastfeeding

The first few days are the most influential for establishing effective breastfeeding.  How does this happen?  By being together with mom, smelling her, feeling her warmth, and listening to her heartbeat.  Bathing is an optional activity that causes unnecessary separation, even if it’s just for a short time. 

Newborns can’t regulate their temperature very well

Newborns get cold very easily, and if you’ve ever spent time in a hospital, you know that their rooms can get chilly!  Unless he’s in a warmed incubator, your baby should be bundled or skin to skin with you as much as possible. 

Risk of infection

Hospital acquired infections are on the rise, as are antibiotic resistant bacteria.  A hospital bath increases the risk of your baby’s skin being exposed to these bugs, despite how closely the staff adheres to infection policies.  Keeping baby with you and out of the nursery as much as possible reduces risk of infection.

The first bath only happens once



Even if it’s just a sponge bath, the first bath is a special experience that parents want to be a part of.  In the hospital, this isn’t usually the case.  Baby is whisked away to be bathed by a gloved nurse in a cold room.  We believe baby’s first bath should be warm, nurturing, and with mom and dad present. 

Birthing in a birth center or at home? Then you won’t have to worry about the bath happening too soon.  If birthing in the hospital and you wish to hold off on the bath, simply make your preference known to the staff.  They should honor your wishes without question.

Remember: until the cord falls off, you’ll be giving your baby sponge baths only.  This is to prevent infection.  As soon as the cord is off, it’s time to have fun in the tub!  Here’s a few we recommend:

The First Years

This tub is comfortable and relatively light.  Can be used from the newborn to toddler stage.

Puj Tub

This is a great tub for bathing newborns in the sink.  Folds up nicely and is ideal for travel.


To read more about the incredible properties of vernix and why delayed bathing is good practice, check out these articles: