A newborn baby looks calm and asleep after its bath.
Waiting at least 12 hours to bathe your newborn could lead to improvements in breastfeeding and temperature regulation, among other benefits. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

You’ve waited for the big day and it’s finally here—your new baby’s birth date.

When your little one arrives and begins to snuggle with you, take solace in knowing that every new baby benefits greatly from skin-to-skin time.

We’ve looked at some of the valuable reasons for skin-to-skin contact, not just for mom and baby but for dad, too.

Nurses will wipe and dry your baby at birth and quickly place him into skin-to-skin time with you, barring any medical issues that might slow that process.

At delivery, babies are covered in vernix—the protective, cheesy-like substance that helps them avoid getting waterlogged in the womb. Parents can rub in the vernix like a lotion.

Babies are also covered in blood and amniotic fluid, which is easily wiped off.

Vernix begins to fall off the baby in amniotic water while in utero. As the due date approaches, smaller and smaller amounts of vernix remain.

All babies are born with some amount of this substance. It’s just a matter of how much.

An overdue baby might be born with vernix under the chin, or in the armpits or groin areas.

Vernix serves important purposes besides helping a baby avoid looking like a raisin. It helps protect against infection when the baby is inside in the womb and it helps regulate the baby’s temperature. (This is why nurses rub it in, instead of rubbing it off.)

To bathe or not to bathe

Most hospitals wait at least 12 to 24 hours before giving a new baby a bath.

Why would anyone want to delay bath time? For starters, it allows for immediate skin-to-skin time.

And as already noted, it helps regulate the baby’s temperature. A bath can affect a baby’s temperature, but skin-to-skin works perfectly for regulation.

If you have twins at birth and you provide them skin-to-skin contact, each breast area will have a different temperature depending on the baby.

Isn’t that amazing? This information came from an interesting study that found that a mom’s breasts will perform independently of each other for temperature regulation, but not independently of the infant.

“The direction of the relationship between breast and baby temperatures depended upon the infant’s temperature,” the study noted. “When the infant’s temperature was high, breast temperature was decreasing, perhaps to prevent overheating. When the infant’s temperature was low, breast temperature was rising, perhaps to warm the infant.”

Returning to the topic of vernix: The International Childbirth Education Association noted the role of vernix not just in regulating baby’s temperature—it will also “lead to decreases in hypoglycemia, weight loss and jaundice.”

Vernix protects baby’s skin from bacteria and microbes and helps seed the newborn’s microbiome. (We’ve looked at this notion of seeding in past stories.)

By delaying bath time, you could also help stabilize baby’s blood sugar, given that bathing could potentially cause an increase in the stress hormone, which affects blood sugar.

Studies have also shown that holding off on bath time that first day can lead to an increase in breastfeeding rates.

A study published this year in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, involving about 1,000 mother-baby pairs, found higher breastfeeding rates with babies who were bathed 12 hours or more after birth.

About 450 of the babies in the study were bathed immediately after birth, while about 550 didn’t have a bath for at least 12 hours. The first group saw a breastfeeding rate of about 60%. The delayed-bathing group’s rate was about 68%.

Another thought on this: The amniotic fluid on the baby at birth has a smell that would be transferred to mom while breastfeeding. This, in turn, may encourage breastfeeding.

If you’re wondering when to bathe your new baby, take a minute to think it over.

You may decide waiting at least half a day is worth the benefits.