Updated on February 1st, 2024 // by Katie Griffin
Giving your baby a bath is a great way to help them relax, play, and get all those baby folds squeaky clean. 🙂 But until you get used to it, bathing a baby can be tricky. Here we’ll answer some common questions and share some tips to help make your newborn’s first bath a comfortable, relaxing, and joyful experience for you and your baby.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
- When Should a Newborn Have Their First Bath?
- Is One Bath a Week Enough for a Newborn?
- How Do I Give my Newborn His First Sponge Bath?
- How Do I Give My Newborn a Bath in the Tub?
- Extra Bath Time Tips:
When Should a Newborn Have Their First Bath?
Your baby will likely be washed for the very first time while in the hospital. But how do you know when you should start bathing your little one once you’ve arrived home? Watch your baby’s body for the answer to that question.
Your baby should not be immersed in water until after the umbilical cord falls off (1) — keeping it clean and dry is part of helping it heal properly. The umbilical cord usually falls off in one to three weeks; until that time, stick to a gentle sponge baths. (We explain how to give a sponge bath and a tub bath below.)
Is One Bath a Week Enough for a Newborn?
Your little one’s skin is sensitive and may dry out if he or she is bathed too frequently, so a daily bath is definitely not necessary. However, he or she does still have a diaper area where urine and feces touch the skin, and may get milk in places like the folds of the neck, so once a week may not be quite enough. For the first year or so, three baths a week should be a good balance. In between baths, make sure to keep the diaper area clean and dry, and use a damp washcloth to clean any spit-up, milk, etc off of baby’s skin.
How Do I Give my Newborn His First Sponge Bath?
Preparing for the Sponge Bath
- Choose a Warm, Comfortable Room: Ensure the room is comfortably warm (about 75°F) to prevent your baby from getting cold.
- Gather Your Supplies: Have everything ready beforehand – a baby bathtub, basin or clean sink, lukewarm water, a soft washcloth, mild baby soap, a towel (preferably with a hood), a clean diaper, and fresh baby clothes. Keep all of your supplies within reach so you can always keep one hand on your baby.
- Test the Water Temperature: The water should be warm, not hot. Test it with your wrist or elbow – it should feel comfortable, around 98°F.
- Pad the Surface: Make sure the surface you will lay your baby on is comfortable. If you use a hard surface such as a counter or floor, pad it with a blanket or towel.
The Sponge Bath Process
- Undress Your Baby: Keep your baby wrapped in a towel, exposing only the parts of the body you are washing to keep them warm. As soon as you’re done washing that area, dry it and wrap it back up.
- Start with the Face: Wet the washcloth and gently wipe your baby’s face. No soap is needed for the face. We always start with the cleanest body part first (the face) and finish with the dirtiest body part (genitals).
- Hair and Scalp: If your baby has hair, you can use a bit of baby soap to gently massage their scalp. Rinse carefully, ensuring no soap gets into their eyes.
- Clean Those Folds: Be sure to clean all the folds and creases, especially behind the ears and around the neck, under the arms, and around the genitals. When washing the head, take care to gently massage the entire scalp, including the soft spots.
- Rinse Thoroughly: Make sure all soap is rinsed off, as leftover soap can cause irritation.
- Gentle With Genitals: Keeping your baby’s genitals clean is so important. Baby girls need to be washed by wiping from front to back to avoid infection. When washing an uncircumcised boy’s genitals, never force the foreskin back. Always wash gently and pat dry.
Post-Sponge Bath Care:
- After your baby is washed, pat him or her dry with a towel and immediately put a clean diaper and clothes back on.
- You may want to swaddle and/or feed your baby afterward. This can help soothe them if they are fussy and warm them back up if they have gotten cold.
How Do I Give My Newborn a Bath in the Tub?
- There are many types of tubs that can be used to bathe your baby. While infant tubs are often used, some parents just use a plastic tub with a towel or bathe their babies in a sink lined with a towel. (The towel makes the surface less slippery.)
- Whichever option you decide on, make sure that the area is clean and safe. Be aware of potential safety risks such as hard and/or slippery surfaces and objects in sinks and tubs, such as handles and faucets. Know that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of bath seats, citing that they can easily tip over and cause a child to drown.
- Always keep at least one hand on your baby during the entire duration of the bath. Never leave your baby alone, even for an instant. According to the AAP most child drownings inside the home occur in bathtubs and more than half of bathtub deaths involve children under the age of one.
- Check the water temperature. Use the inside of your wrist or your elbow to check the water temperature before filling the tub with just a couple inches of warm, not hot, water. To avoid scalding yourself or your child with tap water, the AAP recommends adjusting your hot water settings to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Washing Baby In The Tub:
- Fill the tub with about 2-3 inches of water
- Slowly lower your baby into the water feet first. Most of your baby’s body and face should be above the water, so pouring water over his or her body frequently is necessary to keep them warm and comfortable.
- Wash baby’s face and hair with a gentle soap and/or shampoo and use it sparingly. Anything you use on your baby should be mild, neutral-pH and without additives. Use a washcloth to lightly massage the entire scalp, including the soft spots.
- After washing, rinse and soap off of the body and hair immediately. When rinsing the head and hair, cup your hand across your baby’s forehead so the suds don’t run into the eyes. If they do, use a wet washcloth to wipe them with clean water.
- Proceed with the rest of baby’s body. Remember to wash from the top down. Face first, then head, body, and genitals.
- Lift Your Baby Out Safely: Carefully lift your baby out of the tub, supporting their head and neck. It’s normal for babies to be slippery when wet, so maintain a secure but gentle grip.
- Wrap and Dry: Immediately wrap your baby in a towel, covering their head with the hood. Gently pat them dry, making sure to dry between all the folds.
- Diaper and Clothes: Once dry, put on a fresh diaper and dress your baby in clean clothes.
Extra Bath Time Tips:
- Bath time can be a special time to bond with your baby. Remember that they can pick up on your mood and attitude, so try to stay calm and enjoy this new experience together.
- If your baby hates the tub, there is no need to push it. You can return to sponge bathing until you’re ready to give the tub another try.
- Safety is paramount. Always keep one hand on your baby and never leave them alone in the water, not even for a second.
- Keep it quick. Newborns don’t need long baths, and you can get the job done in just a few minutes.
Remember, things may not go exactly like you imagine, but no matter what happens, the most important thing is that your baby is safe and comfortable. Bathing your newborn is about more than just cleanliness; it’s a time for interaction and bonding. Enjoy these moments, and remember, each bath is an opportunity to deepen your connection with your precious little one.
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- Bathing Your Baby. HealthyChildren.org. (n.d.). https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/bathing-skin-care/Pages/Bathing-Your-Newborn.aspx.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, November 5). Infant Water Safety: Protect Your New Baby From Drowning. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Infant-Water-Safety.aspx