New Parents’ Guide On How To Bathe A Newborn

how to bathe a newborn for the first time

Bathing a newborn is an essential process that every parent must do. However, when it comes to baby baths, many new parents are unsure when to bathe their child, how frequently they should do it, how to do it safely, et cetera…

To address any concerns young parents may have about how to bathe a newborn baby, we will answer the most common questions parents ask to give you all the information you need to make bath time easy for yourself and comfortable and safe for your baby.

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How To Bathe a Newborn: Baby’s First Bath

A baby’s first bath is a truly special occasion. Shortly after birth, newborns are generally bathed in the hospital. However, as delayed bathing is essential to the newborn’s transition to the outside world, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises to delay the baby’s first bath until 24 hours following birth.

The WHO argues that this delay is important because it encourages bonding, improves breastfeeding outcomes, alleviates skin problems such as drying out, and modulates body temperature and blood sugar.

The Main Benefits of Postponing Your Baby’s First Bath

Let’s look at the potential benefits of postponing your baby’s first bath in more detail:

  • It can strengthen the bond between mother and child. If you bathe your baby too soon, you can interrupt the essential processes of breastfeeding and mother-child bonding. However, postponing the first bath can make the newborn feel more at ease and start the bonding process more quickly by not interfering with any early skin-to-skin contact between mother and child.
  • It helps your baby’s immune system. Babies are born with a vernix. A vernix is a protective layer on the skin, made up of sebaceous secretions and shed skin cells, which protects the skin against infections and makes your baby’s skin soft. If the baby gets a bath too early, the vernix could be washed off, so delaying the first bath can ensure that the vernix helps protect your newborn against infections.

How Can I Give My Baby a Sponge Bath?

sponge bath

Until your baby is ready to be bathed in an infant tub, they will need to be given a sponge bath, which you can give them as soon as you bring them home.

Your baby will only be ready to be bathed in the infant tub when their umbilical cord stump has fallen off. If your child has been circumcised, then they will not be ready until the circumcision has healed – usually not for two weeks at least.

When giving your baby a sponge bath, you can clean their nappy area, body, and head. This is the safest and most effective way to give your baby a sponge bath until their umbilical cord falls off [1].

Supply List For a Sponge Bath

Here is what you need to give your baby a sponge bath:

  • Clothes to change into
  • A bowl of warm water
  • A washcloth
  • Mild baby soap
  • Baby wipes
  • A baby towel
  • A clean diaper
  • Something soft, such as a towel, to pad hard or rough surfaces

Follow The Next STEPS to Safely Give Your Baby a Sponge Bath:

  1. Get together everything you need in advance [2].
  2. Make sure the room you have chosen for the bath is warm (75°F/23.8°C).
  3. Take off your baby’s clothes and diaper before wrapping your baby securely in a soft towel.
  4. Put your baby down on a flat surface, such as a changing table, on a bed, or on the floor. If the surface is high up, like on a table, keep one hand on your baby to make sure they don’t fall, or use a safety strap.
  5. Ensuring that your baby is kept warm, peel off one section of the towel at a time and wash underneath, making sure the rest of the body is kept under the towel.
  6. If you need to leave the room for any reason, wrap your baby in a soft towel and take them with you. NEVER take your hands off the baby or leave them alone.
  7. Start by washing their face and the top of their head by dipping the clean cloth into warm water. Wipe the scalp and around the ears, making sure to also clean the chin, neck, and around the eyes. When cleaning their face, make sure to only use water to avoid getting soap in their mouth or eyes.
  8. Now you should bathe the rest of the body. To do this, add a small dollop of baby soap onto the washcloth, and gently bathe the rest of their body starting from the neck, peeling the towel back from only one area at a time to clean underneath. Make sure to wash the hidden or creased areas, such as around the neck, the elbow, under the knee, behind the ears, and the genital area (especially if the baby is a girl).
  9. After this, rinse your baby with a small cup of warm water, making sure the umbilical cord is kept dry.
  10. With a towel, dry your baby thoroughly, including between skin folds.
  11. Change them into a clean diaper.

Don’t be surprised if your baby cries. It is a new experience for them, so they’re bound to be emotionally overwhelmed, but they’ll soon come to love it.

How To Wash Your Newborn In a Tub

How to wash your newborn in a bathtub

After the umbilical area has healed, and (if applicable) the circumcision has healed, the baby can be put directly in a bathtub.

What Resources Do I Need For Bathing In a Tub?

Your baby’s first baths should be as quick and as comfortable as possible. To ensure this, the following items (which are easy to procure) are necessary:

  • Non-slip mat or pad
  • Baby bathtub
  • Bath thermometer (optional)
  • A washcloth
  • A soft towel
  • Baby shampoo or soap that will not irritate your baby’s skin
  • Clean diaper 
  • Clean  clothes

How To Give Your Newborn a Bath

Once you have everything you need, you can get started cleaning your baby. Follow the steps below to bathe your newborn quickly, safely and easily!

  1. After making sure all the resources you need are handy, and after putting them in a secure place, fill the bathtub with 2-3 inches of warm water. ALWAYS test the temperature of the water before bathing your baby. Using a thermometer to test the temperature is preferred, and you should always check the temperature of the bathwater with your elbows.
  2. Take off your baby’s clothes and diaper.
  3. Supporting your baby’s back, head and neck with one arm, place them into the bathwater very gently, making sure you still support them with your arm as you bathe them.
  4. Whilst bathing them, always keep an eye on your baby at all times, and NEVER leave them alone, as they can drown in even shallow water in just a few seconds. Always be right next to them.
  5. When bathing your baby, you should start with washing their head and face using a washcloth, cotton balls, or clean hands. This is to ensure that the water you use on their face isn’t too soapy, because otherwise you might get soap in their eyes or mouth. No-one wants that!
  6. After washing their face, wash your baby’s torso, arms and legs.
  7. Don’t forget to wash all the hidden places, such as their folds and rolls (neck, elbows, knees, wrists, under their feet, in between their fingers and toes, behind their ears etc.).
  8. Lastly, using only water, wash your baby’s buttocks and genitals.
  9. Keeping them warm by pouring cups of warm water over them, allow your baby to enjoy being in the water for a while.
  10. Supporting their head, and wrapping both hands under their arms and around their chest, take them out of the bath before wrapping them in a towel.
  11. Dry your baby, making sure to dry all the creases. Too much moisture can irritate the skin, so you need to be thorough.

Initially, bathing your newborn might be tough, as neither of you will be used to it. However, after a few weeks, this process will be easy and bathing your baby will become second nature!

Remember that bath time is supposed to be a fun experience, so try to relax and play with your little one. If your baby seems to enjoy being in the bath, let them have some extra time to play and splash around – the longer they spend in the water, the more used to it they’ll get, making them less afraid.

If your child is unhappy, or crying too much, don’t make them spend any more time in the water than necessary. They will come to like baths on their own terms. 

Common Questions From Young Parents About Bathing Newborns

New parents have so many questions about bathing their newborns, and we want to give you the answers to the most relevant and important ones.

1. When Is It Better To Bathe My Baby? In The Morning Or At Night?

This  depends on the characteristics of a particular child. Bathing invigorates some babies, so these babies should be bathed in the morning to get them ready for the day.

For other newborns, spending time in the bathroom is a way to calm down and relax – some babies even fall asleep in warm water. Of course, in this case, it is better to wash the baby in the evening, before going to bed.

Compare your child’s reactions to water in different conditions and at specific times of the day, and plan a bath time accordingly.

Also we recommend bathing your baby in between meals, so she’s neither hungry nor full, and for you to choose a time when you’re not rushed or likely to be interrupted to bathe your child.

2. Where Should I Bathe My Baby?

You can bathe your baby in any room that’s clean, warm, and safe. However, for the first few weeks, it would be best to bathe your baby in the kitchen sink, as long as the sink is cleaned thoroughly before and after bathing. Sinks are ideal to bathe your baby in for the first few weeks, as they’re the perfect size to wash your baby and they can prevent water wastage. When your baby gets older, a plastic bath will most likely be the easier option.

3. How Frequently Should I Bathe My Baby?

The AAP suggests that you should bathe your baby three times a week until they turn one year of age. Babies’ skin is incredibly sensitive and babies don’t get dirty the way that older children and adults do, and because of this too much bathing can harm your baby, so you don’t need to bathe your baby every day. Research suggests that changing your baby’s diapers quickly and making sure their face, neck and diaper areas are clean will make more bathing unnecessary.

4. How Long Should My Baby’s Bath Be?

We asked pediatricians and mothers with experience about how much time babies need to be bathed for depending on their age. And so we got the following approx timings:

Baby AGETIME for bathing
After birth and up to 3 months5-10 minutes
From 3 months to 6 months15-20 minutes
From 6 months to 12 months30 minutes
From the first year of life40 minutes

As you can see in the table above, the baby’s first baths should be short – only between 5-10 minutes.

As they get older, and start to enjoy being bathed more (e.g. they start splashing around, playing with toys, getting excited to be in the bath, etc.), you can let them spend more time in the bath.

However, whilst the above advice may help a lot of parents, it’s important to take your baby’s emotions into account. No-one knows your baby as much as you do, so trust your intuition; if the baby is unhappy, you can take them out of the bath to calm them down.

5. What Should The Water’s Temperature Be?

The water should be warm – it should NEVER be hot. The ideal temperature should be 98.6°F (between 37°C and 38°C), and you can test the water’s temperature with your elbow or with a bath thermometer.

You should also make sure that the room is warm enough, as a wet baby can get cold pretty quickly.

6. How Much Water Should I Fill The Tub With?

Research suggests that you should put 2 inches of warm water into the tub. However, other research suggests that you can use more water, up to your baby’s shoulders, to keep your baby calm and warm.

If your baby gets cold, you can pour a cup of warm water over their body. Whilst bathing your child, it is incredibly important to ensure that you hold your baby properly, utilizing a hand to support their neck and head at all times.

7. How Should I Hold My Baby In The Bath?

The best way to hold your baby in the tub is to use your non-dominant arm to support your baby’s neck and head and your dominant arm to hold your baby and guide them into the water feet first. As you bathe them, continue to hold your baby. It may be necessary to reach behind your baby and hold their opposite arm as you bathe them..

8. Should I Use Soap?

When cleaning your baby, you don’t need to use cleanser or soap, except to clean their skin folds and their bottom, as soap can irritate your newborn’s skin.

If you need to use a cleanser for your baby’s especially dirty areas, use only a mild, additive-free neutral-pH soap, and rinse it off the skin immediately.

9. How Should I Wash My Baby’s Scalp And Hair?

Use a soft cloth to clean your baby’s hair. You should gently massage the whole scalp, being careful not to rub too aggressively and making sure to clean the soft spots of their scalp. Apply shampoo and massage carefully. Rinse the shampoo off with warm water. When rinsing the shampoo off, make sure you put your hand over their eyes across the forehead so that the soapy water runs away from the eyes. If any shampoo gets in their eyes, use a washcloth soaked in regular warm water.

10. Do Babies Need Toys In The Bath?

Young babies don’t need bath toys as they enjoy being in the water a lot. Toys are only really necessary once a baby is old enough for the tub.

After A Bath

How to dry and dress your baby after bathing

After cleaning your baby from head to toes, you might think your job is done. But it’s not over yet. There are other things you must do after cleaning your newborn to ensure that they are happy, healthy, and safe.

How To Dry And Dress Your Baby After Bathing

After bathing your newborn, you need to take them out of the bath safely before drying and dressing them. Here’s how you do it, step-by-step:

  1. When bath time is over, take your baby out of the bath and lay them on their back on a soft towel, ensuring that the towel is clean and dry, and making sure that your newborn’s head is supported as they are being lifted out of the water. Make sure you constantly keep one hand on your baby if you are changing their nappy on something high like a table.
  2. Wrap your newborn in a towel and then carefully dry them. Pat dry the baby’s skin creases, including the neck, groin, armpits, behind the ears, and underneath the baby’s chin.
  3. Use a cream if your baby’s skin is dry.
  4. Apply a barrier cream such as zinc paste to soothe your baby’s nappy rash, if necessary.
  5. Put their nappy on and then dress your baby.
  6. Gently put your baby in a safe, secure place, such as a cot or bassinet.
  7. Drain the water from the bath.

The Most Important Safety Rules To Follow When Bathing Your Baby:

  1. Never leave a baby in a bath unattended, even for just a second.  Most home drownings involving children happen in bathtubs, and more than half of child drownings involve babies.
  2. Before bathing your baby, always make sure to check the water’s temperature. The preferred temperature of the water is 98.6°F (between 37°C and 38°C).
  3. Make sure your baby is warm: the room’s temperature should be about 75°F.
  4. Be gentle. Do not put cotton swabs into your baby’s nose or ears, as this could hurt them. 

If you follow these rules, your baby will gradually get used to bathing and will respond positively to it.

The Bottom Line

Bathing your newborn is not all about making them clean, because a newborn baby does not need to be cleaned that much.

For a baby, bathing is about so much more than being clean – the aquatic environment of the bath reminds them of their days in the womb and soothes them.

In addition, water improves the immune system and relaxes the baby’s muscles, helping them feel comfortable during bath time. As the sensation of the water feels so familiar to the baby, they have a natural affinity for water, and often make reflexive movements whilst in it that can transform into swimming skills later in life. As such, bath time can help bolster the positive emotional and physical development of the baby on multiple levels.