It’s bath time for Elizabeth.
But this delicate newborn’s dip in the tub will be a little different from the conventional kind. The soft, snug blanket in which she’s swaddled is not removed. Instead, Joan Muth, R.N., and Elizabeth’s mom, Annike, gently lower the baby girl–blanket and all–into the warm water.
As she eases into the tub, Elizabeth’s little rosebud lips form a perfect “o,” as if she’s catching her breath. The sensation is powerful to her–and, clearly, a pleasant one. Her facial features soften and her eyes close as she relaxes into the bath.
“I was amazed. I was not expecting that,” Annike says.
The baby’s reaction is not typical of a preterm infant at bath time. Conventional baths or even sponge baths can be traumatizing to preemies and are often met with crying and distress. Babies born prematurely have a more difficult time handling the stimulation of their new environment outside of the mother’s womb.
Not only do they feel vulnerable with their limbs exposed and unbound, but they can also lose body temperature rapidly during a bath, which can be dangerous for fragile newborns. A growing number of nurses, including those in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital are not only adopting this method of bathing infants, they’re teaching it to new mothers as well.
“Before, it was all about giving the baby a bath fast, so they didn’t get too cold. It mattered less whether they enjoyed it,” Muth says. “Now, it’s more developmentally correct to have the babies feel comfortable and secure. There are clinical reasons that we don’t want bath time to be stressful.”
With swaddle bathing, the blanket helps to keep the baby warm and snug, providing a more womb-like environment. Each limb is gently unwrapped and washed, one at a time, and then wrapped up in the blanket again.
It’s common for parents to be intimidated by the prospect of bathing a fragile newborn.
“She’s so tiny, I don’t want to break her,” Annike says. “I rely on the nurses a lot.”
Witnessing her new baby get pleasure from bath time helps this mom to feel more secure too.
Call it “Baby’s first spa.” A girl could get used to this…