The study, published Monday in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, found that delaying a newborn’s first bath by about 12 hours “was associated with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates and use of human milk as a part of the discharge feeding plan.”
In other words, researchers found that delaying the bath by that amount of time increased the likelihood breastfeeding would occur while the mother and baby were still in the hospital. In turn, they said, the delay increased the probability the mother would continue to breastfeed after they return home.
To come to this conclusion, researchers with the Cleveland Clinic studied nearly 1,000 mother and newborn couples. Of those, roughly 500 babies had an immediate bath after birth while the others had a delayed bath.
The in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates increased from 59.8 percent prior to intervention to 68.2 percent after the delayed baths.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists various benefits of breastfeeding, especially for the baby. Breastfeeding — which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends new mothers do exclusively for the first six months of the child’s life — can reduce the risk of asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and eczema, among other benefits. For mothers, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast and ovarian cancers, according to the CDC.
Delaying a newborn’s first bath also has other positive associations. Immediate skin-to-skin contact between the mother and baby can regulate the infant's temperature, meaning the child's risk of illness decreases, The Plain Dealer reported.
The study echoes a similar finding at a hospital in Chicago in 2017, which discovered various health benefits — including lower rates of blood sugar and hypothermia — when a newborn’s bath was delayed by 14 hours, according to The Plain Dealer. Additionally, a 2017 World Health Organization recommendation suggests newborns receive their first bath 24 hours after birth.
“Our results provide new information on the benefits of delayed bathing after hospital discharge. Although our findings need to be replicated in other studies, they reinforce the connection between delayed bathing and greater likelihood of newborn breastfeeding that may extend into the postdischarge feeding plan and practice,” the researchers said in the study.