A Baby’s first bath can fill a new parent with trepidation. You’re still not entirely comfortable handling this tiny person, and it feels strange covering her body in water. But soon enough, you’ll master the sponge-bathing process—and you’ll get a squeaky clean infant on the way!
Your Baby’s first bath is not only one of the earliest milestones but also a moment to treasure. Although bathing a slippery, squirming, and sometimes screaming Baby takes some practice, it will get easier with every bath.
Here’s everything you need to know about bathing your newborn.
How Often to Give Your Newborn a Bath
A bath 2-3 times a week is enough to keep your newborn clean. But if your Baby likes baths, your Baby can bathe once a day. You are washing more than this can dry out your Baby’s skin.
You can keep your Baby’s genitals clean between baths by using warm water and cotton wool.
About 5-10 minutes is long enough for a newborn bath. This is especially important if your baby has dry or sensitive skin.
A ‘top and tail’ bath is when you use cotton wool and warm water for your Baby’s eyes and face and a washcloth for their hands and bottom. ‘Topping and tailing’ mean you can concentrate on the areas that need a wash, and your Baby can keep most of their clothes on while you do it.
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When to Give Your Newborn a Bath
If you give birth in a hospital, nurses will probably bathe your Baby within a few hours of delivery.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting 24 hours for your newborn’s first bath.
WHO claims this delay regulates blood sugar and body temperature, promotes bonding, improves breastfeeding success, and keeps Baby’s skin drying out.
Your Baby won’t be ready for the infant tub until the umbilical cord stump falls off (and the circumcision has healed if your son had the procedure).
This usually takes about two weeks or longer. In the meantime, you’ll be giving your newborn a sponge bath.
You can bathe your baby at any time of the day. However, it’s a good idea to pick a time when you’re relaxed and won’t be interrupted.
And it’s best to avoid bathing your Baby when the Baby is hungry or straight after a feed.
If bathing relaxes your Baby, you can use it as a way to settle your Baby for sleep in the evening.
Where to Bathe Your Newborn
You can bathe your newborn in a small plastic bath or even in the kitchen sink.
The kitchen sink might be most accessible in the first few weeks. Likewise, a plastic baby bath is probably more accessible once your Baby gets bigger.
You can bath your Baby in any room that’s warm, safe and clean – it doesn’t have to be a bathroom.
You can also shower with your Baby. Keep your Baby’s face away from the pouring water, and make sure to use warm, not hot, water.
Baby Bath: Getting Ready
The first bath will be a sponge bath. First, pick a warm room with a flat surface, like a bathroom or kitchen counter, a changing table, or a bed.
Cover the surface with a thick towel. Make sure the room temperature is at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit because babies chill easily.
Assemble all the baby bath products you will need:
- Baby bath sponge or clean washcloth (double-rinsed)
- Clean blanket or bath towel (a hooded one is nice)
- Clean diaper
- Clean clothes
- Vaseline and gauze (if you have a circumcised boy)
- Warm water (not hot)
Necessary: Never leave your baby alone in a bath — not even for a moment. If you must get to the phone, the stove, or whatever, take the Baby with you.
Baby Bath: Time for a Sponge Bath
To be safe, gather all your supplies before you begin. You should never take your hands off your baby while you’re bathing them, or you risk a dangerous accident.
Here’s what you need for a newborn a sponge bath:
- Baby body wash (often can double as shampoo)
- Two washcloths
- A towel
- A bowl of warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Several cotton balls
- A diaper
- An outfit change
Follow these step-by-step guidelines for bathing your Baby:
Line a sink or baby bathtub with a towel, and fill it about 2 inches full of warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit)—test it with your elbow or the inside of your wrist to make sure it’s not too hot.
While supporting your Baby’s head with your non-dominant hand, use your other hand to guide him into the water feet first.
You’ll want to do this swiftly so he doesn’t get cold, and you’ll want to make sure his head and most of his body are above the water level.
Wash his body from top to bottom with clear water and, if you prefer, a mild baby soap. Next, keep him warm by pouring warm water over his body using a cup. Finally, use a soft cloth to wash his face.
If he has hair, it’s enough to shampoo once or twice a week. When you do, massage a drop of mild baby shampoo into his scalp, even the soft spots (fontanelles) of his head.
Be careful not to get any soap suds or shampoo in his eyes—cup your hands over his forehead when rinsing his head.
If some soap or shampoo does get into his eyes, go ahead and wipe them using a cloth dampened with clear water.
After bathing and towelling off your Baby, it’s a good idea to moisturise his skin with a fragrance-free hypoallergenic lotion. This step can help prevent dry skin or even eczema.
If your baby has a cradle cap, a skin condition on the scalp that results in scaly skin, bath time is an excellent opportunity to brush his scalp while shampooing his hair.
Remember, during bath time, if by chance you forget something, don’t leave your baby unattended in the bathwater. Instead, lift him out of the sink or tub and take him with you.
How to Give a Newborn a Bath
Get everything ready before you start your Baby’s bath:
Ensure that all the supplies you need like shampoo, soap, a hooded towel, and a cup for rinsing are within arm’s reach—never leave your baby unattended in the bath, so make sure you have everything you need on hand, including your Baby’s new change of clothes.
Make sure the room is warm before undressing your baby.
Once you have all of the supplies, you’re ready to go. Keep in mind that your baby will probably not be happy about her first bath, and they may express their annoyance rather loudly.
Eventually, though, they’ll warm up to this familiar ritual. Here’s how to sponge bathe a newborn.
Wash Your Baby’s Face.
Wash your Baby’s face before you take off any of their clothing because some babies freak out when they’re naked and cold.
Dampen a cotton ball or a washcloth, and wipe their eyelids from the inside corner out. Use one cotton ball for each eye.
With another wet cotton ball, clean around their nose. You don’t need to use soap on their face.
Always keep one hand on Baby when dipping the washcloth in the sink, and don’t soak it thoroughly to minimise drips.
Clean Their Ears.
To clean outside of Baby’s ears, use a damp cotton swab or washcloth. Don’t clean inside the ears; using a swab could puncture their eardrum.
Wash Their Hair.
To shampoo, support the Baby’s spine and hold their head back slightly. Then, sprinkle their head with warm water and squeeze on a drop or two of soap.
Lather, scrub gently and rinse with a wet washcloth. Finish by drying your little one’s head with a towel.
Start the Sponge Bath.
Now you can undress your Baby and lay them flat. Next, put some mild baby wash on a soft washcloth—but don’t overdo it since newborn skin is prone to irritation.
Look for products that don’t have added perfume or dyes, which can irritate sensitive skin.
Wash their neck and scalp, then work your way down the front of their body. Make sure to clean between the folds of skin.
Rinse the soap off with a second damp cloth, drying and rewrapping your Baby with a towel as you go. Please don’t wash the umbilical stump, and try to keep it dry.
Flip Baby over onto their belly with their head turned to one side. Repeat the washing, rinsing and drying.
Wash their bottom and genitals last. If your son hasn’t been circumcised, don’t try to push back the foreskin.
Dry Off and Apply Lotion.
Newborns get cold quickly. Try to dry and cover the areas you just washed with a towel to keep your baby as warm as possible.
Make sure you get into the creases with the towel. Before putting on clothes and a diaper, you may also apply lotion after the bath, especially if Baby is prone to eczema.
Baby Bath: Tub Time
Once the umbilical cord falls off, and the circumcision and the navel are entirely healed, it’s time to try a tub bath.
Not all babies like the transition, so if your baby gets fussy, go back to sponge baths for a week or so, then try again.
Bathing a baby is a process — an adjustment for both Baby and parent.
Find a baby bathtub made of thick plastic that is the right size for your Baby. An insert for young babies is ideal — and keeps Baby’s head out of the water.
A slip-resistant backing on the tub will keep it from moving during bath time.
Don’t try to use bath seats or bath rings. These are for older babies who can sit up on their own — not for newborns.
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Bathing a Baby: the First Tub Bath
Make the first tub baths quick ones. First, fill the tub with only 2 or 3 inches of warm — not hot — water. Next, use one hand to support Baby’s head, then slowly lower them.
Using a washcloth or baby bath sponge, wash the face and hair. When rinsing, protect your Baby’s eyes with your hand across the forehead. Then, gently clean the rest of the Baby with water and a small amount of soap.
Use water or a cleanser designed for babies. As hair grows, try gentle baby shampoo.
To keep the Baby warm during the bath, cup your hand to let handfuls of water wash over Baby’s chest.
Gently pat the Baby dry. Then, apply baby lotion all over to seal in moisture.
Now it’s time for a fresh diaper. But, first, apply diaper ointment to protect against irritation.
When bath time is over, wrap the Baby in a towel right away, covering Baby’s head for warmth. Congratulations on a successful bath!
When Will, Your Baby, Be Ready for His First Tub Bath?
After your Baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off, you can transition from sponge baths to actual baths in a sink or a baby bathtub.
His first bath in a tub should be gentle and quick; however, you might need to go back to sponge baths if your Baby fusses a lot and doesn’t like this new activity.
Can You Bathe Your Baby While the Umbilical Cord Stump Is Still Attached?
While the umbilical cord stump is still attached during your Baby’s first few weeks, you should only give sponge baths.
A sponge bath is as simple as wrapping your Baby in a towel and wiping her with a damp washcloth and soapy water.
You’ll want to do this on a comfortable surface such as a changing table. Keep your baby wrapped in the towel, bathing one part at a time.
The umbilical cord stump typically falls off in a few weeks. However, if it stays on longer than that, you might want to check with your Baby’s healthcare provider.
You’ll want the umbilical cord stump to dry up and fall off on its own, which is why only sponge baths are recommended until that time.
Drying and Dressing Your Newborn After a Bath: Steps
Here’s how to take your newborn out of the bath, ready for drying and dressing:
Supporting your Baby’s head and neck, lift your baby out of the bath, then place them on their back on a clean, dry, soft towel.
If possible, dry your Baby on the floor so they can’t fall. If you’re changing your baby on a raised surface like a table, keep one hand on your baby at all times.
Wrap your baby in a soft towel and pat the Baby dry. Dry Baby’s skin creases, including armpits, groin, under the chin, around the neck and behind the ears.
If your Baby’s skin is dry, apply a non-perfumed cream or ointment to your Baby’s skin. If your baby has a nappy rash, apply a thick barrier cream like zinc paste to the nappy area.
Dress your Baby, putting their nappy on first. Place your baby in a safe place, like a cot or bassinet. Empty the bathwater.
Bathing your Baby takes practice, so try to relax and take your time. You might like to start by cleaning your Baby when someone else is around to help.
If you’re worried about losing your grip on your Baby, you can make the bath less slippery by lining it with a clean cloth nappy or towel.
When Is the Best Time of Day to bath Your Baby?
There is no one perfect time to bathe your Baby—it’s your decision. Choose a time when you’re least likely to be interrupted and when your baby is calm.
You may like to bathe your baby in the daytime because she’ll naturally be more alert. Or, you may clean your Baby at nighttime as part of her bedtime routine.
If you plan to bathe your Baby after feeding her, wait a while to ensure her tummy has had a chance to settle.
Can You Give Your Baby Bath Toys?
Keep in mind that for infants, you don’t need any bath toys at all, as splashing around in the water will be enough entertainment.
You can add floating baby toys or even waterproof books to keep him occupied as your Baby gets older.
Eventually, your baby will start to enjoy baths, and at some point, it will become more like playtime than bath time.
When she’s more significant, let your little one splash around and have some fun in the water.
Helping Baby Enjoy Bath Time
To help your baby enjoy bath time, you can try placing your hand gently on their tummy. You can also set a warm wet washcloth on their chest and abdomen. This can help your baby feel safe and secure in the bath.
If your baby doesn’t like baths, give them a ‘top and tail’ bath one day and a proper bath the next. Generally, babies get used to baths by around three months.
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