March 13, 2009

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness…Or Is It???

newborn baby with eyes closed wrapped in green towel after a bath

I have always shared with both my doula clients and my childbirth students that less is more when it comes to baby hygiene products, and bathing your newborn and infant. Reality is, little babes do not get all that dirty, (it’s not like they are crawling through the mud or anything! and what is wrong with mud anyway?) and their skin is ever so sensitive. I have always stated that just plain water is the ONLY product that babies need on their skin and in their hair and on their bottom on a regular basis. And, too much bathing can be drying on their tender newborn skin. If parents feel the need to bathe with a product, the purest, most simple product available is the best, without artificial dyes, without fragrance, free of petroleum products, free of preservatives. Simple is better, plain water is best. Today I read in the Washington Post, that more than half the baby shampoo, lotion and other infant care products analyzed by a health advocacy group were found to contain trace amounts of two chemicals that are believed to cause cancer. Wow! Probable Carcinogens Found in Baby Toiletries will open your eyes to the truth around less is more when it comes to using such products on your gentle newborn.

Clients, Jodi and little Cash enjoy a bath together

Clients, Jodi and little Cash enjoy a bath together

Additionally, I encourage my clients to look into the benefits of delaying the first bath for their newborn. For homebirthers, this is not usually an issue, no one ever seems to be in a rush to bathe the baby, and sometimes many days pass before it moves to the top of the list. In a hospital setting, there is often great pressure by care providers to get the baby bathed, especially if the new family is being moved to a postpartum room elsewhere on the unit. It always seems as if there is a big, master checklist of things that HAVE to happen before the family relocates, and bathing is often right up there. When the bath occurs in the first few hours, the postpartum parent is not quite physically able to participate as they are still regaining teir footing after birthing a human being. The baby will have nursed and settled down, only to be disturbed by this “necessary” activity. Often it is the nurse or nursing assistant who does the bath, with the proud partner standing by and taking pictures, and the birthing parent across the room, in the bed, resting. How much nicer if the first bath could be in the arms of a parent, shared bathing in the big, large bathtub, safe in the arms and on the chest of those who love them most. Even better, if this happens at home, after discharge. Over the years, I have heard so many discussions from providers on why the baby needs to be bathed asap, including…”We will have to handle your baby with gloves, until it is bathed…” which I personally think is a good thing in the hospital anyway, bath or no! Also…”We consider your baby a biohazard and will have to post something on the door to your room warning people of this…” which I also think is a good thing, keeps the riffraff out!

My intuition is backed up by the research! The study Host defense proteins in vernix caseosa and amniotic fluid questioned the routine use of some newborn procedures. 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 their parent until bodyfeeding is established may prevent some cases of devastating infections caused by these bacteria. The fact that preterm babies tend to have more vernix than babies born at or after 40 weeks might mean that healthy, stable preterm babies derive even greater benefit from staying with their mothers during the immediate newborn period.

Finally, this study illustrates how the normal physiology of pregnancy and fetal development is part of a continuum that extends beyond birth to the newborn period. The place for a newborn is right on his/her parent’s chest, skin to skin, for as long as possible. And letting that vernix work it’s way into the baby’s skin is just added protection from the “big bad outside” that the newborn is becoming familiar with.

Keeping the diaper area clean and dry, washing the baby’s hands and face with warm water several times a day, and the occasional bath safe in the arms of a parent, with just water is all your kidlet needs to get off to a healthy start!

Posted in
Sharon Muza Doula Educator Trainer



Through a deep understanding of evidence based information and best practices, a dose of humor and a respect for individual choices, I have been able to build a successful and satisfying career for almost two decades. From Birth Doula Trainings to Lamaze Childbirth Classes and TENS Machines for Labor Pain, be sure to explore my offerings to find the support you need.