This is not a request, this is a directive. We’re trying to be nice about it but also want to be very clear: NO MORE BABY SHAMPOO IN OUR VAGINAS.
At this point, some of you may be wondering, “Why in the world would someone want to put baby shampoo in a person’s vagina?!”, and that is a very good question. Occasionally, as a doula, I’ll be supporting a laboring person and when the baby is coming under the pubic bone and starting to crown, either the nurse, doctor, or midwife (yes, even midwives) will bust out some sample-size bottles of baby shampoo, pour it onto their hands, reach inside the person’s vagina, and slather it all over the baby’s head and the surrounding tissue.
From whence does this practice spring? That’s another great question, but this time with no clear answer. There’s no literature or evidence that supports this practice so I can only assume this is just how people were taught, personal preference, or the culture of some hospitals. I’ve heard a few different reasons why providers turn to baby shampoo and they all tend to be variations on these three themes:
- it cleans the baby’s head,
- it cleans the vagina, and/or
- it lubricates the perineum.
Let’s just go ahead and dispell these myths.
- There’s some good junk - mainly microbes and vernix - all over your baby’s head, and it needs to be there. Save the bath for the day after they’re born.
- Your vagina is fine. Perfect. Beautiful as is. Healthy and wonderful and doing an excellent job and doesn’t need to be washed out with sudsing, scented shampoo. Ever. EVER.
- Shampoo is not a lubricant. Shampoo is soap. Would you ever cosider using soap as a lubricant during intercourse? No? Me either! It’s made to suds oil away in its thousands of tiny little bubbes, not lubricate. Soap will actually have the opposite effect as a good lubricant, drying and irritating sensitive vaginal tissue.
There is some evidence that warm compresses, perineal massage, and lubricant can help to reduce tearing during pushing/birth, but more research into these options needs to be done. We encourage providers to choose something other than baby shampoo to get the job done. There are many good alternatives to choose from, some of the most common being:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Mineral Oil
- KY Jelly or lubricant
The KY Jelly is often the most readily available in labor and delivery units since it is used during cervical exams. Mineral Oil is also a strong option because hospitals regularly stock it for other patients. Olive oil can be purchased in large bottles and poured into basins as needed, bought in "single-serving" packets, or, some hospitals have olive oil loaded into plastic syringes and individually packaged for ease of use.
There are other known ways to prevent tearing during childbirth:
- Get us off our backs. Encourage laboring women and people to find the position that is most comfortable for them. Some great pushing positions include side-lying, hands & knees, semi-reclined, standing, or kneeling.
- No forced, closed-glottis pushing or "purple-pushing" to the count of ten.
- Allow baby's head to "rest" on the perineum through a couple of contractions to help stretch the perineum.
- Encourage the birthing person to slowly, gently ease the baby's head out rather than forcefully pushing.
During childbirth, our vaginas and perineums work super hard to bring our babies out into the world. They contract, stretch, open, and naturally lubricate themselves, just as nature designed. Just like the rest of our bodies, our vaginas should be treated with respect and honored for their hard work. Filling them with soapy, perfumed chemicals is not a respectful practice, and needs to stop ASAP. Thank you!