Move aside sponge baths, there’s a new bath in town and babies are loving it.
Back in the day when a baby was born, one of the first things hospital staff would do is whisk him away to get cleaned up. Nowadays, we know that giving an infant a bath too soon after birth can actually be harmful. Washing off a baby’s vernix (that protective white coating on the skin) and exposing them to water too soon can decrease a baby’s ability to regulate temperature, fight off infection, cause them stress, and dry out their skin.
Separating a baby from him mother for a bath right after birth could also potentially interfere with his blood sugar regulation and breastfeeding success. Therefore, governing healthcare agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that a newborn’s first bath should be delayed for at least six hours — and preferably 24 hours — following birth.
Even with the 24-hour rule, a bath can be a stressful experience for baby. There’s a stranger handling him, he used to be all cozy snuggled up to Mom and now he’s being doused in water with bright lights in his eyes. All-around, bathing is anything but relaxing or calming for the baby.
Enter the swaddle bath.
Introduced by UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Women’s Care Unit in Colorado, the “swaddle immersion bath” is just as relaxing as it sounds. After the first 24 hours, baby is loosely swaddled in a receiving blanket, and gently immersed in a basin of water kept at a cozy 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Under the supervision of a nurse, parents either observe or are guided through the bathing process, which involves unwrapping each limb one by one, gently washing it, and then re-wrapping it so baby stays nice and warm throughout the whole experience.
“Most of the time with a sponge bath, the baby will cry, and you see the parents turn away,” Edna Sailer, the nurse who came up with the protocols for the swaddle immersion bath, said in a statement from UCHealth. “It can be a bit dramatic for both parent and baby.”
In contrast to traditional newborn bathing, the swaddle immersion bath is a calm and gentle experience for babies and parents alike. Hospital caregivers practicing this bathing technique report that baths are taking less time, babies are crying less, and most importantly, they are being kept warm throughout the entire experience.
This sounds so lovely, I wouldn’t mind having a swaddle bath myself!
Parents are encouraged to bond with their baby during the swaddle bath, too. Many nurses will even teach basic massage techniques that can be used on baby. Sailer’s study showed that only 38 percent of babies cried during a swaddle immersion bath as compared to 93 percent of babies who cried during a sponge bath. As a former OB nurse, I can definitely attest to the fact that babies cry pretty much nonstop during their baths!
But um, what about the umbilical cord?
The whole reason we started doing sponge baths on babies in the first place was because of their umbilical cords, right? We were all told that we should never give a baby a bath until their umbilical stump fell off, right? Was that a lie this whole time?
According to UCHealth, putting the baby in water isn’t as horrible as we all thought it was. Getting the baby’s umbilical stump wet has not been associated with higher rates of infection, but the key is to not bathe your baby too often. If you bathe your baby more frequently than every 2-3 days, it can dry the skin out and may prevent the cord from drying out enough to detach.
Many nurses who have commented on UCHealth’s story on Facebook, noting that while the immersion bath is nothing new, they support the claim that the technique is great for babies to get squeaky clean — and super relaxed.
“I am a NICU nurse and love giving swaddle baths but it not new!” one nurse commented. “Been doing them since the hospital I worked at 15 years ago trained us in developmental care and taught us how to give swaddle baths! Love that this is finally catching on!”
Other hospitals have also introduced the newborn swaddle immersion bath for their babies, noting similar data that the technique helps keep babies’ temperatures more stable, promotes breastfeeding (by not stressing the baby out too much), and provides an overall more enjoyable experience.
So if you’re heading to the hospital soon to welcome your little one, get ready — your baby may just have the best bath of their life coming their way!