Newborn bath

Your baby's first bath is a real milestone. But when to give it, not to mention how and where, are questions every new parent has. Cleaning a slippery, squirming, and sometimes screaming infant takes practice. So relax; it will get easier every time, and your baby will soon come to love splashing in the water.

How Often Do Babies Need Baths?

For a newborn, having a bath two or three times a week is probably enough, as long as you keep your little one's diaper area well cleaned and wash her hands and face several times a day. Unless they've spit up or soiled themselves, newborns just don't get that dirty.

The older your baby is, the more regular bathing she'll need, particularly after she's started crawling and eating her first foods. By the time your baby's a toddler, you'll need to give her a bath almost every night — if not to wash off a busy day's worth of grime, then at least to help calm her down before bedtime.

Sponge Bathing Your Newborn Baby

Before your baby's umbilical cord stump falls off (between 10 days and three weeks after birth), it's best to sponge-bathe her to avoid getting the cord stump wet. Here's how:

  • Lay your baby on a soft, flat surface (on top of a clean towel works well). Have a basin of warm water and a sponge or washcloth handy.

  • Keeping your baby warmly wrapped, expose one limb at a time and gently wash it.

  • Pat the area dry and start on the next limb.

  • If you accidentally get the cord stump wet, simply use the towel to gently pat it dry. (See our article on cord care.)

The Big Bath

Once the cord stump has fallen off, your baby is ready for a real bath in the sink or a baby bathtub. Whichever you use, pad the bottom with a towel to make it softer. You also might want to have a partner nearby to help you hold on to your slippery little one. Assemble everything you'll need beforehand so you won't have to scramble during the bath. Here's a sample list:

  • A large, hooded towel

  • A soft washcloth or sponge

  • Cotton balls

  • Soap or bath wash made especially for babies

  • A baby brush or comb

You'll only need about 2 inches of warm water to give your baby an effective bath. Try placing a warm washcloth over his belly to keep him from getting chilled.

These early baths don't need to be long or involved, but they do need to get the job done. Hold your baby firmly and gently wash away any debris or loose skin that's accumulated. You'll have to cradle your newborn's head and back as you wash him. As you wash, pay particular attention to:

  • The genital and diaper areas.

  • The hands and feet. Check between the fingers and toes as well.

  • The folds at the backs of the knees, the neck, and the thighs.

  • Armpits — fuzz from sleepers can accumulate here.

  • The face. If debris has accumulated around his eyes, use a cotton ball to swab it away, using a gentle outward motion.

  • Behind the ears.

Newborn Hair and Scalp Care

Not every baby is blessed with a full head of hair at birth, but if your baby was, wash it with a gentle baby shampoo as needed. Simply apply a dab of shampoo to his hair, gently massage it in, and let it sit for a short while before rinsing it out. Wash your baby's hair last so he doesn't have to sit in soapy water.

Baby Bath Water Temperature

Your baby's skin is more sensitive than yours. As a result, bath water that feels comfortable to you will be too hot for him. Before you put your baby anywhere near the water, test it with the back of your wrist or your elbow: These areas are more sensitive to heat than your hand. The water should feel warm — but not hot!

Finally, don't be surprised if your baby cries during his first few baths. He's just reacting to an unfamiliar sensation. Keep the room temperature warm and the bath water comfortable. Soothe him by caressing and singing to him. He'll soon learn to love bath time.