One of the most beautiful things I’ve noticed about newborns is that they’re born with their own particular smell, and this smell washes off with the first bath. My son smelled like raw chicken, permanently fresh, and when we bathed him at 1 week old the smell went away. Then my daughter was born smelling like roses, and again as soon as she was born the smell disappeared. Savor this first scent. If you do have a baby and write to tell me about it, I will often write or text back to sniff the top of their head for me. That’s the main source of this special bonding smell.
It drives me mad in Israeli hospitals that they feel a need to take the baby away from mama, and take him to the nursery (tinokiya) for observation and tests for a few hours, even if the mother has opted for rooming in. I always remain with the mother for a number of hours after the birth, so that the dad can accompany the baby to these tests and make sure nothing is done that they don’t want, and that the baby is handled gently. (People in any job are always more likely to be careful if they are being watched.) One of the first things they want to do is give the baby his first bath. I always talk with parents when preparing their birth plan about NOT washing the baby for a week. Babies are born sterile, un-colonized by bacteria. If the mother hasn’t received antibiotics, then her birth canal is populated by normal, healthy bacteria. Not only that, but the area where the baby is born (between her legs) helps expose him to healthy gut bacteria. Within the next 24 hours those bacteria multiply and colonize his skin, and start promoting healthy gut function. When we wash his protective vernix covering, we’re also washing off the normal bacteria of his family and instead exposing him to hospital bacteria! Now of course, they use heavy antibacterial cleaners, which means that the gentile, benign bacteria are killed off and the heavy duty rare surviving bacteria are likely to be what we commonly call hospital bugs. Mutant bacteria, unhealthy results. Hospitals are full of sick people. If you can’t have your baby at home, where the surroundings have fewer sick people, then please, please be sure to leave on his first exposure to healthy bacteria as well as the protective vernix. The bacteria that colonize a baby’s skin are with him for life, and the long term effects of this first colonization are unknown. For a more in-depth study of this concept I strongly recommend Sarah J Buckley MD’s book, Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering. She is a doctor, birth professional, mother, and has done a ton of research in this field!
One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard a pediatrician say in Israel is that he simply refuses to do the baby checks of an unwashed newborn, in case he gets an infection. My suggestion to him is to put gloves on – then he’ll be protected from this ‘dangerous’ new little life! Or let someone else look at my newborn, thank you very much.
If your baby has done a meconium poo then rub it off with a clean cloth or use sterile, cooled boiled water to gently sponge him off. There’s still no reason for a full bath – the first poo is not stinky or gross. It is the substance that padded out his gut from the time he was first formed, and means that he is ready to fill it with food now.
A lot of babies are born with a thick creamy film covering their body and thickly nestling in their creases, called vernix. It’s the best body lotion ever, made naturally! God designed it to protect their growing skin while immersed in fluid in the womb, from getting waterlogged and cracked. Some mothers use the excess on their own face – it’s rich and beautiful and 100% natural. There’s no need to rub this off off your baby; leave it on to soak in. You can even gently rub it in, giving your baby his first ‘baby massage’. Touch is relaxing, comforting, and bonds the two of you together. One of the coolest posts I’ve come across lately is this one by Rosie Pharo, a massage and aromatherapist of London, about the amazing antibody rich protecting properties of vernix.
So, wait until the first, sacred week of life is over. They’re not rolling in the mud, and any messy poos can be swabbed away with cooled, boiled (sterile) water and a cotton ball. Goopy eyes or dribbled milk can be gently cleaned away in the same way. After the first week, then use a mild, chemical (ie soap) free bath. I’m sure that over-sensitization of skin in small children (allergies) must have some connection to all the early exposure to chemicals and lotions, smells and baby wipes we use in the first weeks of life. Take it easy on that baby’s skin! Warm water is all that’s needed.