Giving your newborn baby a bath can feel a bit intimidating, but if you follow some easy steps to bathing a newborn, those first baths can be not only safe but also calming, memorable, and even fun.
Giving your newborn baby a bath can feel a bit intimidating, but if you follow some easy steps to bathing a newborn, those first baths can be not only safe but also calming, memorable, and even fun.

Bringing home a new baby is an exciting time for many families. Especially for first-time parents, there can be lots of questions about how to best care for a newborn baby. Along with learning to change diapers, feed, and dress a newborn, it's important to know how to bathe a newborn. 

Giving your newborn baby a bath can feel a bit intimidating, but if you follow some easy steps to bathing a newborn, those first baths can be not only safe but also calming, memorable, and even fun.

When should a newborn have their first bath?

Many hospitals used to bathe newborn babies right away, often within an hour or two of birth. In the past few years, the recommendations of when a newborn baby should have their first bath have changed. The World Health Organization says that it's best to wait at least 24 hours after babies are born to give them their first bath.

There are a few reasons that professionals suggest waiting 24 hours before your baby's first bath:

Keeping the baby warm and blood sugar levels stable. Newborns who are bathed right away can get cold, which can lead to hypothermia or cause stress that triggers a baby's blood sugar to drop.

Preventing dry skin. Babies are born with a special waxy coating on their skin called vernix. It acts as a natural barrier to the air and protects the moisture in your baby's skin.

Breastfeeding and bonding with parent(s). Research has shown that skin-to-skin contact and very early breastfeeding can help the mother/baby bond and make breastfeeding more successful overall.

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Giving a newborn baby a sponge bath

Newborn babies have a scab-like stump on their belly button where the umbilical cord was attached before birth. The stump lasts for around a week or two before falling off. Until it does fall off, you can't give your baby a regular bath because of the risk of infection. Experts recommend giving your newborn baby a sponge bath until a normal bath is safe.

Follow these steps to give your newborn baby a sponge bath:

  • Collect all of your supplies before getting your baby naked. Get a basin of warm (not hot) water, a damp washcloth, a dry towel, and other things you may need within reach before you start.
  • Take off your baby's clothes, and lay your baby on a safe, stable surface. You can use a changing table, the floor, a bed, or a counter near the sink — just be sure to stay with your baby at all times to prevent falls. If the surface is hard, you can pad it with a towel or blanket.
  • Using the damp washcloth without soap, gently wipe down your baby's face. Be careful not to get water into their eyes or mouth.
  • Continue down the rest of their body with a small amount of soap on the washcloth. After washing, rinse the area with water. Avoid getting their umbilical cord wet.
  • If you're going to shampoo their hair, make it the last step to keep them from getting cold. Be sure to keep the shampoo out of their eyes, and rinse their scalp thoroughly.
  • Warm and dry your baby as soon as you're finished. To keep your baby from getting cold during the sponge bath, you can cover them in a towel and only uncover the part of their body that you're washing. Be sure not to miss the creases in their arms, neck, and behind their ears.

Bathing a newborn baby in a bathtub

Once your baby's umbilical stump falls off, it is safe to give them a regular tub bath. There are some easy ways to make sure that your newborn's first bath is both safe and enjoyable. To help your baby relax and enjoy their bathtub experience, it may help to sing or talk softly to them.

The easiest and safest way to give your newborn baby a bath is using a baby bathtub.

There are a few steps to safely bathe a newborn baby:

  • Place the tub on a safe, stable surface away from breakable objects and electrical appliances.
  • Make sure the room is warm (around 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and isn't drafty.
  • Fill the tub with warm water and check the temperature using a thermometer. It should be just above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Gently place your baby in the water, and use a washcloth to gently clean your baby's skin. Pay special attention to creases around their arms and neck, as well as their diaper area. Follow the same steps as giving them a sponge bath.
  • Never remove your hands from your baby or step away from them. Soapy skin can be slippery, and making sure your baby doesn't fall or drown is very important.
  • Dry and dress your baby right away when bathtime is over to help keep them from getting too cold.
  • Clean the bathtub after each use so it does not grow any mold.

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Common questions about bathing a newborn baby

How often should I bathe my baby? Babies don't need a bath every day. In fact, too many baths can dry out your baby's sensitive skin. Experts recommend bathing a newborn two or three times per week.

What kind of soap should I use for my newborn baby's bath? Pediatricians recommend using bath products and skin care products that are made especially for babies, since their skin is very delicate. Most baby products are designed to be gentle and not irritate a newborn's skin. They don't contain the same intense fragrances that adult soaps and shampoos do.

What if my baby doesn't like the bath? While some babies love the sensation of being in the bath, some don't like it much. If your baby gets upset or cries during a bath, don't worry — that's normal, too. A few things you can try to help calm them down include gently massaging their arms and legs, singing a song or speaking softly while bathing them, or giving them a bath toy. Usually, once they get used to bathtime, they'll start to enjoy it.

If you have any questions or concerns, it's always good to reach out to your baby's doctor. They can offer guidance on umbilical stump care, any rashes or bumps that you notice, or any other questions that arise when you're learning to give your newborn baby a bath.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2021
References

?American Academy of Pediatrics: "Bathing Your Baby."

Beaumont: "Newborn Bathing And Skin Care."

Breastfeeding Medicine: "Delaying the bath and in-hospital breastfeeding rates."

Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Neonatal Nursing: "Effects of Delayed Newborn Bathing on Breastfeeding, Hypothermia, and Hypoglycemia."

KidsHealth: "Choosing Safe Baby Products: Bathtubs."

Nationwide Children's: "Bathing Your Baby."

Seattle Children's: "Umbilical Cord Symptoms."

World Health Organization: "Postnatal Care for Mothers and Newborns."