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Why you shouldn’t bathe your newborn baby

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A simple change in hospital policy has dramatic results for newborn health care -- and success with breastfeeding.

I’ve had five babies, and I’ve never questioned it when the nurses whisked the baby out of my arms shortly after birth for a bath. Actually I was always a little jealous, since childbirth is a grueling process and always leaves me wanting a bath, too.

But a recent initiative by Illinois nurse Courtney Buss has demonstrated that immediate bathing after birth is a bad, and even dangerous practice:

“Newborns are born with vernix covering their bodies, Buss said. It is a white substance with a texture like a heavy lotion, she said. Vernix, which forms in the third trimester, is water resistant and is like an extra layer that keeps babies warm and regulates their temperatures, she said. It fights infection and helps skin continue developing after birth, she said.”

Of course I figured that the white goop had a purpose, but I thought it was to protect the baby from the amniotic fluid inside the womb. It turns out, though, that vernix doesn’t only regulate temperature and fight infection; it also increases the chances of successful breastfeeding.

Vernix helps a baby pick up the mother’s scent and latch properly, but it also helps control low blood sugar and conserve a baby’s energy so it can breastfeed. Advocate Sherman Hospital, where Buss implemented her “wait to bathe” strategy, saw breastfeeding rates increase from 51 percent to 78 percent in the first 10 months.

Additionally, hypothermia rates decreased from 29 percent to 14 percent, and hypoglycemia rates dropped from 21 percent to 7 percent. The results were so astounding that hospital administrators took notice, and 6 of the 12 Advocate Health System hospitals are in the process of adopting the wait-to-bathe strategy.

These are amazing results from such a simple change. Buss stresses that parents can elect to have their child bathed anyway, but most of them don’t — which seems like a no-brainer to me. In fact, I imagine that the wait-to-bathe policy will soon be in hospitals nationwide, as parents learn about the benefits and request it themselves. I know I would!

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