The skin is a barrier between the body and the outer world. It protects us from various viruses, bacteria, and other infections. The skin also provides protection from hot and cold ambient temperatures, and from loss of water (dehydration). While adult skin usually deals with the outside world easily, a baby's skin is delicate and immature. It is easily damaged/disturbed, and its functions may suffer.
Bathing is a good way to clean a baby, and to remove blood and other substances after birth. However, at the time of birth, a baby is making the change from the temperature controlled environment of the uterus to the outer world. Giving a bath immediately after birth puts a strain on the baby, and hypothermia occurs often. The first bath should be given after a few hours, when the baby has stabilised its temperature.
An early bath is recommended if the mother is suffering from infections like hepatitis B or AIDS. Washing off the maternal blood quickly is one of the measures to protect the baby from the infection. On the other hand, low birth weight babies should not be bathed in the first few days, especially if they are premature.
A baby's skin is usually acidic. This acid nature has a purpose - it reduces the number of bacteria living on the skin. Bathing agents that make the baby's skin alkaline or neutral, even for a short time, allow bacterria to grow.
Most soaps are composed of fats and a strong alkali, and should be avoided. Babies do not sweat, so soaps are not terribly useful. Soaps also remove fats from the skin surface, leaving it dry and irritated. Plain warm water often suffices for a baby's bath.
Synthetic detergents with a pH close to the skin's natural acidity are now available. They are milder and less irritating than regular soaps. They leave the skin's natural acidity more or less intact after the bath, and thus do not promote bacterial growth.
Most cleansing agents will dry a baby's skin. Conditioners like lanolin, paraffin, or glycerin can be added to the soaps to keep the skin soft and supple.
Even the best cleansing agents and products will do some harm to a baby's delicate skin, and should be used minimally. Clean, warm water is the best for bathing a baby.
Last Revision: February 15, 2016
Should powders be used on babies? They absorb moisture, and can be somewhat useful in humid climates. They are also usually perfumed, which can leave a baby pleasant smelling.
However, powders can block the sweat pores of a baby's skin. This can lead to the formation of miliaria and infections. More dangerous is the possibility of the powder being inhaled. Baby powder inhalation is a common mishap that occurs when it is being sprinkled. Baby powder aspiration is a serious problem, and sometimes leads to hospitalisation and even death.
Powder application has little benefit, and can cause considerable harm. Better avoided.
Oils are useful as emollients, to soften and smoothen the skin. Coconut oil and olive oil are commonly used, and are good for dry skin. Nut based oils like almond and peanut oils should be avoided.
Some oils contain volatile chemicals, which can irritate the skin and cause contact dermatitis. In hot weather, oils can block skin pores and cause problems.
In general, the skin of a newborn shuld be left alone, except for cleaning with safe water. Use of "Baby Care" products can expose a baby to dozens of chemicals. The side effects, toxicity, and skin absorption of most of these substances are not adequately known.
Dr. Parang Mehta,
Opposite Putli, Sagrampura,
Surat, India. Tel: +91 9429486624.
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