Does Bathing Newborns Remove Potentially Harmful Pathogens from the Skin?

Authors

  • Jennifer M. Medves RN, PhD,

    1. Jennifer Medves is Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario; and Beverley O'Brien is Professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
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  • Beverley O'Brien RN, CNM, DNSc

    1. Jennifer Medves is Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario; and Beverley O'Brien is Professor, Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
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Address correspondence to Jennifer Medves, RN, PhD, School of Nursing, Queen's University, 90 Barrie Street, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6 Canada.

Abstract

Background: Newborn infants are routinely bathed after birth partly to reduce the possibility of transmitting potential pathogens to others. The extent to which a mild soap reduces the quantity and type of microbes found on the skin through normal colonization has not been reported. The objective of the study was to compare colonization rates between infants bathed in soap and water and infants bathed in plain water. Method: One hundred and forty infants were randomly assigned to one group bathed in a mild pH neutral soap and water or to another group bathed in water alone. Microbiology swabs were taken on three occasions (before the first bath, 1 hour after the bath, and 24 hours after birth) from two sites (anterior fontanelle and umbilical area). Results: No difference occurred between groups on type or quantity of organisms found at each time period. Skin colonization is a function of time, and the quantity of organisms identified increased over time (Friedman A 2= 111.379, df = 5, p < 0.001). Conclusions: Bathing with mild soap as opposed to bathing in water alone has minimal effect on skin bacterial colonization. Skin colonization increased over time. The findings did not support the efficacy of bathing with soap and water to reduce skin colonization of bacterial pathogens. Although the incidence of potential pathogens colonizing the skin during the first day of life is low and unlikely to pose a risk to healthy newborns, health care professionals may wish to wear gloves until the infant has been bathed.

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