Bathing and Beyond: Current Bathing Controversies for Newborn Infants

Adv Neonatal Care. 2016 Oct;16 Suppl 5S:S13-S20. doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000336.


Background: Bathing the newborn infant is controversial, ranging from how and when to give the newborn their first bath, whether to bathe newborns at all in the initial days of life, and how to approach bathing the hospitalized premature and full-term infant in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Purpose: To review relevant literature about bathing newborn infants, as well as examine the controversies about bathing NICU patients including the use of daily chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) baths.

Findings: Despite studies showing that temperature can be maintained when the first bath was at 1 hour after delivery, there are benefits from delaying the bath including improved breastfeeding. Tub or immersion bathing improves temperature, and is less stressful. It is not necessary to bathe infants every day, and premature infants can be bathed as little as every 4 days without an increase in skin colonization. No differences have been reported in skin parameters such as pH, transepidermal water loss, and stratum corneum hydration whether the first and subsequent baths are given using water alone or water and a mild baby cleanser. Concerns about systemic absorption suggests caution about widespread practice of daily CHG bathing in the NICU until it is known whether CHG crosses the blood-brain barrier, particularly in premature infants.

Implications for practice and research: Research regarding bathing practices for NICU patients should be evidence-based whenever possible, such as the benefits of immersion bathing. More evidence about the risks and benefits of daily CHG bathing is needed before this practice is widely disseminated.