Bathing Your Newborn

Many new parents find the task of bathing a newborn infant to be daunting. The thought of a squirming, wiggly baby and slippery sudsy water can seem to be a scary combination. With preparation and extra care you can put your fears behind so that bathing your newborn can be a special time for you and your baby.

Sponge Bathing

Until your newborn’s umbilical cord falls off, you will need to sponge bathe your baby. Most parents will do this in the kitchen or bathroom where they have easy, quick access to water. Personally, I found the best place for sponge-bathing my babies was in the changer on their playpen because it was a soft, water-resistant surface and felt more secure than placing them on a counter or table. If you have one of these or a changing table, place large bath towels on top and have something nearby where you can place your essentials and a basin or pan for the water on that is easily within arm’s reach. No matter where you are bathing your infant, it is important that you ALWAYS keep one hand on the baby at all times for safety. An infant tub that has a newborn sling or hammock works well too, just remember you won’t be submerging your baby in water just yet.

What You Will Need:

  • A safe place or surface for bathing your newborn in a warm room. If you have a ceiling fan on where you plan to bathe baby, be sure to turn it off before undressing so your baby doesn’t become cold.
  • A container for warm water (if you are using an infant tub, I don’t advise putting water in it to use for sponge bathing because if your baby happens to have a bowel movement during his bath you will have to dump the water out and use fresh water before continuing the bath – you don’t want to leave your newborn naked too long especially wet because they lose heat quickly.
  • 2 washcloths – one for washing and one for rinsing
  • sterile cotton balls for cleaning baby’s eyes
  • Mild baby wash and/or shampoo
  • A soft towel to dry baby with, preferably a hooded baby towel that keeps their head warm
  • A fresh diaper and clean clothes
  • The above items are listed here (Amazon)

You may also want to keep baby care items close at hand if you choose to apply lotion afterwards or baby powder.

Washing

The first thing you want to do when bathing your newborn is clean the eyes. Using sterile cotton balls (or a soft washcloth that has been washed with a baby-safe detergent) you will clean the eyes from the inner corner out. Be sure to use a clean cotton ball for each eye or if using a washcloth use a different part of the cloth than you cleaned the first eye with. Next you will clean the rest of the face using just warm water. Afterwards you can work your way down from the neck, chest, arms, hands, legs and feet using soap being careful not to get the umbilical cord wet. Next, you are going to wash baby’s head before washing the genital area. With newborns, be sure to support baby’s head while washing their hair. Dampen the head with your washcloth and dab a tiny amount of baby wash or shampoo (or more as needed for babies with a lot of hair) and gently massage the scalp using your finger tips. Rinse with the second wash cloth or a use a cup to pour water over your baby’s head being careful not to let soap get in baby’s eyes.

After your baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, you can begin bathing your newborn in an infant tub following the same procedures as above, washing the face first and bottom last. Be sure the water is warm and not hot. You may want to pour water over your baby using a small cup or just squeezing water from the washcloth during the bath to keep your baby from getting cold. For newborn babies I always prefer an infant tub that has foam pads to help keep baby from sliding around too much. If your infant tub doesn’t have these you can use an extra baby towel to put in the tub.

For boys, if you have had your baby circumcised your doctor will give you special care instructions regarding cleaning and bathing. Typically, you will avoid getting the area wet so you will most likely have to sponge-bathe your baby until it has completely healed. See also Circumcision Care.

How Often to Bathe Baby

Unless your baby has a really messy bowel movement or spit up, bathing your newborn 3-4 times a week should be sufficient.  A newborn’s delicate skin can dry out very easily and the more often you bathe them, the faster their skin will dry out. Once your baby’s cord falls off and they are taking regular baths, a bath before bedtime can be a great night time routine for calming a fussy baby.

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