While most of our internal body cavities are functionally sterile, the health of those areas that come into direct contact with the outside world – such as through the air we breath and food we eat – is entirely dependent on thriving, balanced colonies of micro-flora.
This means the amniotic fluids, and the growing fetus inside, are essentially sterile until the moment baby is born. Immediately upon birth, baby’s skin must rapidly adjust from the aqueous, sterile amniotic fluid environment to the air outside mom’s womb. The transfer of healthy (or pathogenic) bacteria to baby’s body begins immediately as baby moves through the birth canal, then continues with everything that touches baby until – hopefully – baby ends up in mom’s arms for her first moments of skin-to-skin contact.
Skin-to-skin contact has essential benefits for baby’s skin health. During skin-to-skin time, mom is transferring the micro-flora from her own body to her baby’s body. This step is one of the first steps in reducing the pH of baby’s skin from that of the amniotic fluid (about a pH of 7) to the ideal skin pH for baby of about 5.5. pH refers to the acid-base scale, with water and most internal body fluids being at or near a pH of 7. Acids are low on the scale and bases are high on the scale.
The slightly acidic pH of baby skin supports the ideal ecosystem for baby’s newly established micro-flora to flourish. As the population takes hold, it then contributes back to maintaining the ideal pH for skin health by producing acids. Your baby’s pH balanced, micro-flora enriched skin surface contributes significantly to the development of a strong immune system to prevent and fight infection.
To ensure the essential combination of an acidic skin pH and balanced population of micro-flora for newborns, there are a few key steps to build into your birth plan:
First, pending no immediate health risk or life-threatening scare, ensure baby is given immediately to mom for at least an hour of skin-to-skin time after birth. In the vast majority of cases baby doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, poked, prodded, weighed and bathed before those sacred moments of skin-to-skin time with mom. Observation by a qualified health professional generally provides all the information anyone truly needs immediately after birth. If baby is born via a C-section, dad or another relative or close friend can stand-in for that first healthy dose of skin-to-skin time.
Second, make sure the hospital or birthing center is using a cleanser that is pH balanced for skin at about 5.5. Many personal care products – from cleansers to ointments – are at a pH of neutral (pH of 7) or higher. For example, castile soaps have a pH of almost 9. A sure way to set baby’s skin up for trouble is to throw off the pH right out of the gate.
Beyond birth, as baby ages, select skincare products that are specifically designed for, and pH balanced for, baby skin. Nearly every baby will have some form of dermatitis in the first year – from Diaper Rash to Eczema – and in nearly every case the skin pH is off and the micro-flora is out of balance where dermatitis is identified. There are myriad potential baby skin problems that could be prevented and solved with a healthy personal care routine – paying close attention to the balance between pH levels and micro-flora.