Bathing Your Newborn

Bathing Your Newborn

If you’ve just brought your new baby home for the first time, you may be wondering how and how often you should bathe him. Bathing a newborn for the first time can be a daunting task as you navigate how to get all his tiny parts clean and keep him warm, all while supporting his head and body. With a little preparation and a gentle approach, bath time can become an enjoyable time for both you and your baby. Continue reading to learn more about how to safely and comfortably bath your newborn baby.

Frequency: For the first year of life, it is not necessary to bathe your baby more than a few times per week. Not only will they not get dirty enough to necessitate daily baths but bathing too frequently can actually cause drying of their sensitive skin. Two to three baths per week is plenty to keep your little one clean as long as you are taking care to clean him thoroughly after diaper changes. 

Sponge Baths: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only sponge bathing your baby until the umbilical cord has fallen off and the circumcision site has healed. This will help prevent any infections that could be caused by extra moisture at these incision sites. To prepare for a sponge bath you will need the following items:

  • A warm and flat surface such as a counter or changing table covered in a blanket or towel
  • A plastic basin for warm water
  • A soft blanket or towel to wrap baby during washing
  • 2 wash cloths
  • A hooded towel
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Mild hypoallergenic baby-safe shampoo or moisturizing soap
  • A clean diaper
  • A fresh change of clothing

When giving baby a sponge bath, wrap baby snuggly in a warm towel and only expose the area of the body that you are washing. Begin by wiping baby’s face gently with a warm, wet washcloth. Do not use soap on your baby’s face. Soap is actually not necessary when bathing a newborn but if you choose to use soap, be sure it is mild and free of dyes and perfumes for their sensitive skin. When washing your baby’s body, be sure to clean in all the skin folds, under the arms and neck, behind the ears, between the fingers and toes, and around the diaper area. Use cotton balls with a few drops of water on them to clean the creases of baby’s eyes. Always keep one hand on your baby, especially if they are on a surface where falling is a risk.

Tub Bathing: When your baby graduates from sponge baths to real baths there are a number of options for tubs. You can purchase a plastic baby tub with an infant sling or an inflatable infant tub. You can also simply use the kitchen or bathroom sink lined with a towel or rubber mat.

Gather the same supplies as you would for a sponge bath and fill the tub with 2-3 inches of water. It is also helpful to have a cup on hand for rinsing. You can pour warm water over baby throughout the bath to keep him warm. The water temperature should be about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Always check the temperature with your hand or elbow before emerging baby in the water. Also, it’s a good idea to set your home water heater to 120 degrees max to prevent incidents of accidental scalding.

Once you have your tub filled and all your supplies in reach, use one hand to support baby’s head and the other to guide his body into the water, feet first. Continue to support baby by placing your arm under his back and head throughout the bath. As with sponge bathing, start by wiping baby’s face with a warm, wet wash cloth and move from there to dirtier areas of the body. If you choose to shampoo baby’s hair, gently massage a drop of shampoo onto baby’s head. It is not necessary to use any special precautions over baby fontanels (soft spots). Rinse baby’s head with a clean damp wash cloth or using your cup of warm water. Be sure to cup you hand at baby’s forehead to prevent soap from getting in his eyes. You can lean baby forward on your arm to clean his back and buttocks. 

Once you have finished washing all of baby’s parts, use your cup to rinse him thoroughly or a clean, wet wash cloth. Remove baby from the tub carefully and wrap him in a warm, dry towel with a hood. Pat him dry rather than rubbing to prevent irritation of the skin. No lotion or talcum powders are necessary for a newborn after a bath.

Special Instructions for Baby Girls and Baby Boys:

Girls: When cleaning your baby girl’s genital area, be sure to wipe gently between the labia and vulva to remove any diaper cream that has collected. Always wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Boys: When cleaning your baby boy’s genital area, gently wash around the base of the penis and beneath the scrotum. Use care if your son was recently circumcised not to rub or irritate the incision site. Do not retract the skin of the penis if your baby is not circumcised.

Safety Precautions for Baths:

  • Make sure you have all the supplies you need before beginning bath time so you do not need to leave to get a forgotten item
  • If you do discover you have forgotten something, take baby with you to retrieve it
  • NEVER leave baby unattended in the bath
  • Always keep one hand supporting baby in the bath
  • Always test the water temperature before emerging baby in the bath
  • The water temperature should be about 100 degrees. Set your water heater to a max of 120 degrees to prevent scalding

With time and practice, bathing your baby will likely become an enjoyable part of the day for both you and your little one. Many babies find the warm water to be calming making a bath a great transitionary activity before bed time. If your baby does not seem to enjoy tub baths, you can always return to sponge bathing for a few weeks and then try again when he is a little older. For all questions about caring for your newborn baby or anything related to pregnancy or birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of our Birth Center.