Local hospitals adopt ‘wait to bathe’ policies for newborns

(Provided Photo/Rachel Miller)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — New research is prompting many hospitals across the country to change their policy for bathing newborns.

For years, the World Health Organization has recommended bathing delays of up to 24 hours for newborns, but for many moms, you may remember your baby being whisked away immediately after birth for a scrub down.

Doctors have now found delaying a newborn’s bath promotes infant health, breast-feeding, and mother-baby bonding, so more and more hospitals are adopting ‘wait to bathe’ policies.

“It was different when they first told us they were holding off for eight hours, but other than that it was nice still having that intimacy with him before they bathed him,” Brianne Adkisson said.

She recently delivered Ellis at Hendricks Regional Health, where nurses wait anywhere from eight to 24 hours before giving babies a bath. Registered Nurse Katy Koon said that allows babies to enjoy skin-to-skin contact with mom longer and live in that white-waxy substance called vernix.

“That vernix is really good to kind of let it absorb in the skin and it really helps with bonding,” Koon said.

Vernix also contains antimicrobial proteins that are active against group B strep, E. coli and other common prenatal risks.

One hospital in Chicago reported delayed baths lead to a decrease in hypothermia among babies from 29 percent to seven percent. Hypoglycemia rates dropped from 21 percent to four percent and breast-feeding rates increased from 51 percent to 78 percent.

“It also smells like mom, so we think that leaving it on the baby helps the baby success with breast-feeding at the beginning,” Dr. Emily Scott of IU Health said. “I think all moms should feel empowered to ask on their hospital tours or as their OB providers what the practice is for bathing babies at the hospital they are delivering at.”

Scott says IU Health Hospitals wait at least six hours before little one wash downs. She believes the biggest hurdle in implementing the later lathering is parents who believe an unbathed baby is gross.

“There’s this misconception that babies are dirty after birth and they really aren’t,” Scott said.  “It is different, but at the same time as long as they’re taking care of the baby and doing what’s best for them then I’m ok with it,” Adkisson said.

Doctors we spoke with say as long as a baby is healthy, there is really no benefit to an immediate bath.

Eskenazi Health is currently in the process of changing their policy. Right now staff there give baths within four hours of birth, but they will soon wait at least twelve based on this research.  Community hospitals currently wait eight hours before bathing babies. St. Vincent’s policy is the closest to the World Health Organization’s recommendations. Nurses there wait at least 20 hours before bathing infants.

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