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Breastfeeding Rates Rise If You Delay First Newborn Bath

Breastfeeding Rates Rise If Hospitals Delay This Common Postbirth Practice

If you are concerned about being able to breastfeed your newborn, there's a simple thing you can request of your doctor before delivery that will increase your chances of nursing success.

According to a Cleveland Clinic study, delaying a baby's first bath — a quick sponge bath to wipe away the natural coating of blood and amniotic fluid that covers a newborn — significantly increased exclusive breastfeeding rates.

In the study, which began in early 2016, study author Heather DiCioccio and the nurses at Hillcrest Hospital in Ohio implemented a delayed bathing policy and then compared 500 babies who had an immediate bath to those who didn't receive a bath for at least 12 hours postbirth.

They discovered that the in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates in the delayed-bath group rose from 59 percent to 68 percent.

According to DiCioccio, immediate baths were once commonplace because people were "kind of grossed out" by the unaltered appearance of a just-born baby. At Hillcrest Hospital, most babies had been bathed within two hours of birth, she said.

But, she maintains, the common-sense benefits of waiting to bathe babies far outweigh any cosmetic discomfort.

According to the study's author, immediate baths were once commonplace because people were "kind of grossed out" by the unaltered appearance of a just-born baby.

Baths tend to increase stress in newborns and make them feel cold, both of which mean they are less likely to breastfeed. Plus, DiCioccio noted, it strips the baby of their waxy vernix coating, which acts like a layer of warmth. According to some studies, the presence of amniotic fluid actually encourages breastfeeding. In fact, the suckling response among newborns — which develops in the womb — lasts longer when newborns are exposed to their own fluids. Most of all, the sooner a mother is able to begin nursing, the better.

"We're starting to see that the earlier we can get the babies to latch, the better mom's milk supply will be," DiCioccio said.

Now, delivery teams within the Cleveland Clinic group wait at least half a day after birth to bathe newborns, but there's no clear-cut guideline nationwide. Some encourage delaying bathing by a full 24 hours while others recommend just an 8-hour-minimum delay. While some parents opt out of a hospital bath altogether, others still want an immediate washing.

"We've only had a couple moms who have refused to have their baths delayed," DiCioccio said. "In those cases, nurses will honor the parents' request and bathe the baby earlier, after explaining the benefits of waiting."

Generally, the process is the same: once the baby is born, a nurse will wipe blood off but then immediately give the infant to the mother for a skin-to-skin session, another practice helpful in breastfeeding.

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