Bathing Your Baby In The Early Days Of Life

Everyone loves a baby with smooth, healthy skin, but you need to know a bit about this important organ to know how to keep it that way.

As for adults, a baby’s skin is the largest organ of the body, but there the similarity stops. The basic structure and function of the skin is more-or-less the same, no matter the age, but the cells are smaller and the collagen fibres are thinner in babies. From the outside in, we all have an epidermis, a dermis and a subcutaneous corium layer. Baby’s skin, like adults’, contains hair follicles, sebaceous glands, nerve endings, sweat glands and capillaries.

The stratum corneum (SC) or outermost layer of the epidermis, consists largely of ageing and dead skin cells which protect sensitive skin below while new cells are generated just below. This layer is 30% thinner than in adults, according to clinical research, but the rate at which shedding occurs with babies is quite rapid and mothers often comment on how small babies seem to have lots of flaking, dry skin. Just below this, the next epidermal layer is also much thinner than adult skin, another reason for infants requiring special skin care. The corium has two main layers, one of which contains connective tissue and elastic collagen bundles.

Functions of the skin

  • To protect and encompass internal organs
  • To protect the body from some forms of injury
  • To protect against invading organisms
  • To help regulate body temperature
  • To help prevent dehydration
  • To assist with the excretion of waste products
  • To manufacture Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight
  • To give cues about the environment by its sensory functions

Babies grow in a hydro-environment though and their skins need to adapt and develop to life in air after birth. Their skin in early months and years is more permeable and more prone to dryness. Just as a baby’s head-body proportion differs from adults, so does the ratio between their skin surface area and volume or weight. By implication, baby skin is more affected by topical products and sun exposure and is more susceptible to possible dehydration, the latter especially because their skin has less natural moisturising factors. Infant skin is able to absorb more water than adult skin but loses water at a faster rate too.

Other essential differences include fewer lipids and less melanin in a baby’s skin. Their skin also has a more alkaline pH than adult skin soon after birth, accounting for their less mature skin barrier and more minor skin problems. The normal pH of skin is slightly acidic, between 4.5 and 6.5. Baby’s skin has been shown to have a pH of about 6.34 soon after birth but often reaches a slightly alkaline 7.0 in the early months and years. The acid nature of skin gives it anti-microbial properties to help protect it from harmful bacteria.

Vernix caseosa

Derived from the Latin words for varnish (vernix) and cheesy (caseosa), this thick, creamy substance which coats Baby at birth, is useful both before and after birth. Do not immediately wash off all vernix caseosa from your baby’s skin after birth as it acts as an emollient against the dry external environment, helps conserve heat, and contributes toward the barrier effect of the skin.

Bathing your baby

The most important things to know about bathing babies is that a complete bath is unnecessary in the early weeks and that you should use the gentlest products possible, to protect Baby’s sensitive, developing skin. One of the easiest and best ways to bath Baby is for you to bath together, with Baby cradled on your lap.

Step 1: Slip your hand under Baby’s neck and grasp Baby’s furthest arm securely with your fingers, with his neck lying on your wrist. Slip your other hand under his buttocks.

Step 2: Place Baby in the bath and drape a wash cloth over his tummy, so that he feels secure.

Step 3: Make sure his feet are braced against the end of the bath. An unhappy baby will usually settle immediately and you can wash his tummy, arms, legs and genitals in this position.

Step 4: To turn Baby over onto his tummy, grasp his furthest arm from the front with your free hand, slip the hand that had been cradling him towards you under his back and grasp him around the chest (thumb on chest, fingers cradling around to his back), turn him onto his tummy in a ‘froggy’ position, with his arm and chin resting over your forearm. Now you can wash Baby’s back and buttocks.

Step 5: Once Baby is washed all over, grasp him securely around the chest with both your hands, hold him upright to keep his head from flopping and to allow excess water to drip off, place him on his back on a towel, wrap him up, and dry him off.

And don’t forget, Mom and Dad, one of the best ways to bath Baby is for you to bath together, with Baby cradled on your lap. You’ll both love it!