How should I look after a newborn baby’s skin?
As parents of newborn babies, we want to bathe our babies every night because we associate it with bonding, nurturing, and routine. Having a squeaky clean, sweet-smelling baby to go with the picture-perfect nursery and wardrobe set-up is what we are conditioned by society to believe we need. But that’s just not the reality for most of us, and in fact, over-bathing babies can be a real problem and can do more harm than good.
Midwives advise that you avoid bathing your baby for at least the first week, but preferably the first fortnight, and then keep bathing to a minimum unless baby is visibly dirty. Here, Cathy Tabner, a registered midwife at My Expert Midwife explains why, when it comes to bathing a baby, less is more…
What makes baby’s skin so special?
We might associate babies’ skin with softness, but a newborn baby’s skin is vastly different to that of an adult and demands greater care to protect it. Newborn skin is fragile, thin, and immature with a developing microbiome. Research shows that a well-developed and balanced microbiome can prove an effective barrier against skin infections and other damage in later life including premature ageing.
Microbiome – a baby’s first superhero!
During birth, a baby will inherit some of its mother’s microbiome – the complex community of bacteria, viruses and fungi that form a personalised protective barrier which develops during the first 2-3 years of life. The skin microbiome can be influenced by contact with the mother during a vaginal birth or a C-section, during feeding particularly if breastfed, by regular skin-to-skin contact with parents or caregivers and by the environment baby is exposed to. This combination of good and bad bacteria live together in a fine balance to reduce the risk of infection, some of which may have long-term health consequences, but if the balance is damaged or disturbed the bad bacteria may be presented with an opportunity to cause problems and infect the skin. A compromised microbiome can lead to:
· worsening of skin conditions such as eczema or acne
· dryness and dehydration of the skin which in turn becomes irritable, itchy and can crack and get infected
· premature ageing of the skin
· delayed wound healing
Most babies don’t need washing in the first 24-48 hours after birth, and can benefit from being left unwashed. Many babies are born covered with a thick waxy coating called vernix, which is packed full with natural moisturising factors which help to minimise dryness, cracking, and irritability. Don’t wash it away, leave it to work its magic! Harsh chemicals associated with washing can harm the beneficial protective barrier that a baby builds through its microbiome and newborns struggle to
stabilise their own temperature so delaying bathing for at least 24-48 hours protects them against becoming cold. Never bathe a baby who is struggling to support their temperature or one who is unwell.
Premature babies (those born less than 37 completed weeks of pregnancy), and or those who are smaller, unwell, or struggle to regulate their temperature after birth are at even greater risk of dry and irritated skin or becoming cold as their skin is even thinner and more fragile than a full-term baby, so even less bathing is advised to protect them.
How should I keep baby clean?
Sometimes baby needs to be clean, especially after spitting up, or a nasty poo explosion, but instead of bathing every day, topping and tailing is a perfect opportunity to keep baby clean, whilst connecting with them and keeping them warm. It helps to introduce them to water without feeling overwhelmed and does not need any specialist equipment or products just room-temperature water in a bowl or sink, some cotton wool, or a soft cloth to get into all their skin creases, and a nice warm, soft towel to keep them swaddled and to dry them off gently. Remember that a baby’s skin dries out more quickly than an adult’s, so after washing, even with water alone, a gentle and fragrance-free moisturiser should be used to support their delicate skin.
Following bath time, pat baby dry with a soft warm towel rather than rubbing dry, and follow up with lots of skin-to-skin and cuddles to help rebuild the microbiome, and use a you could even massage with a baby-specific massage product to keep that fragile skin nourished and soothed.
When can I start bathing baby?
In the first few weeks try not to bathe them more than 2-3 times a week unless visibly dirty. This is because their skin is much thinner than that of an adult, is more prone to dryness and their developing skin flora and microbiome may be disturbed. It is fine to use water alone, but if you do want to use products or feel as though their skin needs cleansing, avoid products that contain harsh surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate which can strip natural moisturising oils from the skin, causing irritation. Look out for soap-free products that are specially formulated for newborn skin. Have a close look at labels and ingredients and avoid products containing parabens, synthetic perfumes or colourants. Remember to nourish your baby’s skin with a fragrance-free moisturiser and support the microbiome by finishing your bathtime routine with some skin-to-skin.
To help parents give their baby’s skin the very best start in life the team of midwives at My Expert Midwife have created seven essential steps to expertly care for your baby’s skin:
1. Prepare to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby at birth by writing this in your birth plan
2. Have skin-to-skin straight after the birth to encourage their skin flora and microbiome to develop (your partner can do this too)
3. The first few days – use a bowl of water to clean your baby’s face and bottom (top and tail)
4. The first few weeks – bath your baby a maximum of 2-3 times a week unless visibly dirty
5. Always use the mildest products and moisturise after bathing to keep skin healthy and hydrated
6. Protect your baby’s skin by having skin-to-skin contact daily as often as possible
7. After three months you can start to use carefully selected essential oil blends to settle and soothe your baby
You can also get more Tips from Cathy Tabner at The Baby Show with Lidl GB at the NEC Birmingham 12-14 May 2023. Cathy will be talking every day on The Live Talks Stage with ‘Baby Boot Camp’ which you can attend for FREE with your ticket to the Baby Show.