Bathing a Newborn

Bathing a newborn shortly after its born to  cleanse the products of birth may seem a logical choice; however, there are drawbacks to this routine procedure that should first be considered, which might affect the decision to delay or even refuse a formal bath.

  • A newborn's skin is extremely sensitive, not just to temperature, but also to touch.  Before its birth, the only touch the baby knew was the gentle waves of amniotic fluid that swirled around it, caressing its body, a very sharp contrast to the vigorous scrubbings of a washcloth.  Aggressive sensory stimulation can overload the newborn baby's sensory system.
  • The vernix which coats a baby's skin serves to soften, moisturize, and protect from infection.  It can be gently massaged into the skin to provide long-lasting natural moisture which cannot be duplicated by any man-made options.
  • A bath will lower the baby's body temperature which may then prompt hospital staff to insist on placing the baby in a warmer until its temperature rises sufficiently rather than allowing skin-to-skin contact with the mother.

Be aware that if you do choose to delay bathing your newborn or refuse a formal bath entirely, hospital staff may insist that it is required, which is not the case. Any and all procedures can be refused, even those considered hospital policy. In some instances, a waiver must be signed.  In the case of a homebirth, this is a non-issue.  It's also important to note that in the case of a waterbirth, the water temperature should be warm enough to sustain the baby's temperature.


Moore ER, Anderson GC, Bergman N. Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD003519. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub2.

McCall EM, Alderdice FA, Halliday HL, Jenkins JG, Vohra S. Interventions to prevent hypothermia at birth in preterm and/or low birthweight infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004210. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004210.pub3.

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