Can the timing of a newborn’s first bath help breastfeeding process?
New United States research has found that despite the standard practice of bathing newborns straight after birth, waiting for at least 12 hours before the first bath could increase the rate of breastfeeding during the hospital stay.
Led by Heather DiCioccio, a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital, a study set out to investigate the benefits of holding off on a newborn’s first bath after more mothers started to request the delay.
“They were reading on mom blogs that it was better to wait to bathe their baby the first time, since amniotic fluid has a similar smell to the breast, which may make it easier for the baby to latch,” explains DiCioccio.
The standard practice in DiCioccio’s clinic was to give a newborn’s first bath within 2 hours of birth. She also notes that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the clinic was also low.
For the study DiCioccio recruited 996 healthy mother-newborn pairs including 448 babies bathed shortly after birth and 548 mothers who delayed the bath for at least 12 hours.
The findings, published in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates increased from 59.8 percent before the bathing change to 68.2 percent after the change, with mothers 8 percent more likely to exclusively breastfeed in the hospital when the bath was delayed.
The effect was also stronger in mothers who delivered their baby vaginally compared to those who delivered by C-section.
The researchers note that positive effect may be due to the fact that delaying a bath encourages more skin-to-skin time between mother and baby. It also helps to stabilize a newborn’s temperature.
“They weren’t as cold as the babies who were bathed sooner after birth, so they may not have been as tired trying to nurse,” DiCioccio said.
Mothers who delayed the bath were also more likely to include human milk in their discharge feeding plan after leaving the hospital.
The Cleveland Clinic is now working to put in place the delayed bath practice at all of its hospitals, with DiCioccio adding, “It is now our policy to delay the bath at least 12 hours, unless the mom refuses to wait. In that case, we ask for two hours.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, and then continuing breastfeeding while introducing foods until infants are 12 months old. JB
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