By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New research finds that parents can make their babies healthier by delaying their first bath. When babies are born they have some remnants of amniotic fluid and a protective white film that covers the skin, which is usually washed off quickly, but this research says that might not be the best practice.

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Newborn babies usually get their first bath within hours of being delivered, but a new study says holding off on that first bath for at least 12 hours can be beneficial for the baby.

“We did see an increase in breastfeeding exclusivity. We did see an increase in moms going home, planning to give human milk to their baby, and we also saw an improvement in the baby’s temperature stability by not bathing them,” said Heather DiCioccio of the Cleveland Clinic.

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The research looked at about 1,000 new mothers and their babies. It found the rates of exclusive breastfeeding rose from about 59 percent to 68 percent when first baths were delayed. Newborns who weren’t washed right away were also more likely to go home with caregivers who had a plan for continued breastfeeding.

The researchers also found that babies weren’t as cold when they didn’t bathe right away — more evidence supporting the importance of skin-to-skin contact.

“Human touch is vital to the mother and the baby, or the parent and the baby, whoever is primary caregiver. You need to have that human touch, and I think by not washing the baby and encouraging that skin-to-skin contact and encouraging the breastfeeding, you’re improving that human touch, so now you’re looking at a long-term health benefit,” said DiCioccio.

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Breast milk can help to protect an infant from illness and breastfeeding is also beneficial for moms by helping to prevent certain cancers, as well as heart disease and obesity.

Stephanie Stahl