Q: I recently heard a story about many hospitals now waiting hours to give newborns their first bath. What’s the deal?
N.S., of Belleville
A: Perhaps they’re trying to avoid lawsuits by being extra careful not to throw out a baby with the bathwater.
But seriously, folks, medical studies are showing that what doctors once figured was cleanliness is not next to godliness in this case. Babies are born covered in a white substance known as vernix caseosa, which largely consists of skin cells that were produced and then shed during the child’s early development in the womb. This waxy, cheeselike substance contains proteins that, if not washed off immediately, may help fight bacteria that can be transmitted during delivery. The “wait-to-bathe” policy may be a natural way to prevent blood infections, pneumonia and other nasty bugs.
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And that’s not all, experts say. An immediate bath can stress the baby, causing an abnormal drop in blood sugar and body temperature. Moreover, when the baby is immediately placed next to the mother, it may improve bonding as well as breastfeeding. It also is expected to encourage doctors and nurses to keep their gloves on when they handle the newborn and will allow mom to enjoy the experience of giving her child the first bath after she recovers from the birthing ordeal.
As a result, a growing number of hospitals are giving new parents the option to wait eight to 24 hours for that first bath — and up to 48 hours if the child was delivered by Caesarean section. The hope is that it will lead to fewer medical interventions and, thus, lower medical costs.
Just for fun, here are some playful riddles involving the alphabet. See if you can figure them out. What letter is like a gossip? What letter is like a wedding ring? What letter is like death?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: Just before his first child was about to be born in 1937, a struggling 25-year-old entertainer named Danny Thomas reportedly put his last $7 in the offering plate during a Mass in Detroit and prayed to St. Jude for help to support his family. A week later, he landed a job that paid him $70. In thanks, he promised to build a shrine to the saint if he were successful in life. Twenty-five years later, Thomas celebrated the opening of his St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., which has daily operating costs of $2 million but offers free care to its patients. In its 55 years of operation, it also has helped the survival rate of young cancer patients soar from 20 percent to 80 percent. Two days after celebrating the hospital’s 29th anniversary in 1991, Thomas died of heart failure at age 79 and was buried in a mausoleum on the hospital grounds. Nine years later, Rose Marie, his wife of 55 years, was interred by his side. Now, his first child — Marlo — has taken over the cause.