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Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor

Swaddle Baths Are Making Baby's First Bath More Gentle

Here's how to try it at home.
PUBLISHED ON 09/26/2017

Hospitals are continuing to find ways to make baby’s first bath a better experience. At UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Women’s Care Unit in Colorado, they’re keeping newborns comfy and cozy by letting them remained swaddled for their first dip.

It looks amazing.

Photo: UCHealth

Poudre Valley Hospital (PVH), which is Baby-Friendly certified, practices the new recommendation of delayed bathing after birth. Research backed by the World Health Organization says that vernix—the thin, white layer coating a newborn—keeps babies warm and regulates blood sugar if left intact for at least 8 to 12 hours rather than quickly being washed away in a post-birth bath. PVH waits a full 24 hours, and skips the typical spongebath for something more gentle.

“During a swaddle immersion bath, a baby is loosely swaddled in a blanket. The newborn and the blanket are immersed—up to the baby’s shoulder—in a tub of water. Each limb is then individually unswaddled, washed, rinsed and reswaddled,” says a press release from UCHealth. “Previously, a traditional sponge bath was done in the bassinet, near a sink. The newborn was not submerged in water but was naked and cleaned with a wet cloth or sponge. Studies show that the traditional sponge bath causes an increase in stress for both the baby and parent.”

Hospital staffers can attest to the positive changes they’ve seen from swaddle baths.

“Babies seem so much calmer; they don’t cry as much; it takes less time; and they seem so much warmer and cleaner than with a sponge bath,” says Shelli Calkins, RN and charge nurse on PVH Women’s Care Unit. “I love how much happier they (newborns) are.”

And parents seem pleasantly surprised as well.

“We were both a little nervous about the bath,” new mom Kelley Crimando says. “(Newborns) are so small and fragile, and I had heard they would cry and be unhappy. But as soon as we started doing it, it took a lot of my nervousness away. We dried Alexa off and swaddled her back up. When we got back to the room, she slept for two hours and was very relaxed. It was such a cool experience to give her the bath and see how content and peaceful she was afterwards.”

According to a study by the hospital, only 38 percent of babies cried during a swaddle immersion bath compared to 93 percent during a sponge bath.

And yes, you can try this at home in five to 10 minutes:

  • Set the water temperature between 99.9 and 103.9 degrees Fahrenheit (comfortable warm, but not hot)
  • Support your newborn throughout the bath
  • Keep in mind you only need to bathe a newborn about once a week
  • Wait at least 24 hours after circumcision to give a baby boy a swaddle bath