Newborn (0-6 Months)
How to Bathe Your Newborn
Bathing your newborn can seem incredibly daunting. They look so small and vulnerable naked, and can be so slippery and seemingly impossible to get into the tub. Before placing your newborn in the tub, you’ll want to make sure everything is ready for washing, playing, and drying.
- A baby bath tub with a sling or mat to prevent the newborn from being immersed in water (not necessary for sponge bathing, but useful). There are infant tubs which support little heads and necks (like the Washpod, which purportedly mimics the womb experience) or bath positioners you can use in your tub. Before your baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off, you won’t be submerging her or him in water, so you’ll want supplies for a sponge bath. Using any plastic container full of warm water or putting a small amount of water in your infant tub should be enough.
- A baby bath towel washed in appropriate baby detergent. Hooded towels help you keep your baby’s head warm when coming out of the bath – and they are some of the cutest things you’ve ever seen.
- Sterile cotton balls to clean his or her eyes. Cotton balls and Q-tips are also convenient for cleaning behind ears, under arms or anywhere that needs closer attention or is still covered in vernix, the layer of cheese-like coating found on baby’s skin at birth.
- At least two soft washcloths – one for soaping and one for rinsing. It’s not necessary to buy washcloths specifically for baby (though they are typically smaller in size, cuter, and can potentially match your towels or baby d’cor).
- Fresh diapers and ointment for diaper rash and/or circumcision if necessary.
- Rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs if needed for umbilical cord.
- Access to warm water or a bucket filled with warm water.
- Clean clothes
- Gentle soap and/or shampoo. At the very beginning, simply wash your baby with warm water. When the weather is very hot or humid or when baby’s had a bad spit-up or bowel movement, you may decide that a gentle baby soap would be best. If you do use soap, use it toward the end of the bath, so baby doesn’t wade too long in soapy water. It can be very drying to your newborn’s delicate skin.
- Brush and comb. When your newborn has more hair, you might like a brush or brush and comb set.
- Baby skin care. Beyond a gentle soap, you don’t need much, but many parents use sweet smelling lotions, cleansing cloths, powders or other goodies. Just make sureto always check for any skin reactions. Your newborn’s delicate skin can respond differently than adult skin to fragrances.
- Additional items: You may want a few more items to make baths easier or more fun.
- A thermometer to make sure bathwater isn’t too hot.
- Bath toys
- A spout cover to protect baby’s head
- Tub treads to keep a tub in place on the bathtub surface
- A container for bath toys.
How Much Water
Until the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, only sponge-bathe your newborn. Once it’s fallen off and your newborn is ready for the tiny tub, you still won’t be fully submerging your baby. For newborns you need only fill the baby tub with a couple of inches of lukewarm water.
Babies don’t like baths as hot as adults do, so testing the water is very important.
- Make the water warm but not hot. A lukewarm tub is perfect for your newborn, anywhere between 90°F and 100°F.
- Your hands are tougher than your newborn’s skin and therefore won’t feel heat like a baby’s bum will.
- Test the tub by dipping your elbow into the water; it’s more sensitive than your hands.
- Mix the water around with your hands or a cup to ensure there are no scalding spots.
- Intermittently (and carefully) pour small cups of water over baby to keep him from getting cold.
How Often and When
For the first couple of weeks, sponge-bathe your new baby until the umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the circumcision, if one was had, has healed. Newborns only need to be cleaned three or four times a week, but a nighttime bath can be an excellent bedtime ritual.
Holding and Positions
Getting the positions just right can take some time. It’s very important to always keep at least one hand on your newborn as they can be slippery and wiggly in bath water.
- After undressing your baby, place him very gently in the tub feet-first, always making sure you keep one hand supporting his head, neck and back.
- Some baby tubs come with built-in head and neck supports, but still make sure you keep a hand on your baby.
- Wash your baby with your free hand.
- Be careful lifting your baby from the bath. Again, make sure to support the head and neck with one hand and hold their tiny tush and thigh with the other. This is often referred to as the “safety hold.”
- Start with the face. Use one sterile cotton ball for each eye, gently wiping from the inner eye outward. For the rest of the face, wash using just water.
- Then move to the chest and neck. Continue to use only water unless the baby is particularly dirty for some reason. Do the same for the arms, legs and back. Make sure you clean in all of those adorable folds.
- Lastly, wash the baby’s genitals. Follow the care for circumcision instructions for boys, but for girls, wash front to back with water. You might notice a normal vaginal discharge.
- To wash the hair, wrap your baby in a dry towel and hold him in a football hold over a sink. Use a cup to pour warm water over the scalp, and then wash the hair with just water or with a small amount of shampoo.
- Hands and feet will need a small dab of baby soap, but make sure to rinse thoroughly as they’ll most likely be in your baby’s mouth in no time.
Bath time is a perfect time to bond with your newborn. By forming rituals with your children, bath-time can become something you all look forward to.
- Start with a toy, maybe giving a favorite ducky a name or making a puppet washcloth talk.
- Schedule a bath time and be consistent. Some parents prefer morning baths as they can be invigorating for baby, but most parents seem to agree that evening is the best time, as baths can be quite calming and help give baby a good night’s rest. But there is no wrong time of day, so find the time that works for you.
- Making your own rituals will happen naturally. Whether it’s singing a certain song or climbing in too, bath time can be fun. Enjoy it!
Baby’s post-bath routine can take just as long as the actual bath, but it’s important not to miss anything, especially if baby’s next stop is bed.
- Dry your baby well and apply any needed cream for diaper rash or healing ointment for circumcision before diapering, clothing and swaddling.
- Find clothes with snaps or zipper closures and wide openings for the neck. Now is not the time to be fumbling with buttons. Also, onesies with built-in mittens are great to protect your baby from her surprisingly sharp fingernails.
- Take the opportunity to sing and talk to your little one, both for distraction and bonding. Explain what color the shirt and pants are, count how many snaps you’re fastening, and label each body part as you kiss them.
- Instead of trying to shimmy sleeves and pants over uncooperative limbs, try reaching into the openings and pulling his or her extremities through.
- Don’t overbundle babies at night, as instinctive as that seems. Believe it or not, babies are comfortable in 61°F to 67°F. Dress your newborn in light pajamas and a sleeper or swaddling blanket. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, overheating increases a baby’s risk of SIDS.
Find more helpful bathing tips and gear: Baby Essentials Guide