Bathing and Body Care

Newborn Bathing Tips

Bath time can be an intimidating undertaking for new moms and dads. Many young babies are frightened of the water and cry the whole time and handling a squirming, slippery baby can cause the most confident parent to break out in a nervous sweat. But with a little preparation, practice, and patience, bath time can become one of those treasured routines of raising a baby.

You should stick with sponge baths for the first several weeks after birth, or until the umbilical stump has fallen off and the area has healed, and (if applicable) the circumcision site has healed. You can sponge-bathe your baby anywhere that is convenient, but it’s best to choose somewhere warm and free from drafts so your baby doesn’t get cold. You can also keep your baby’s clothes on any part of him you’re not washing, and put them back on as soon as each area is cleaned and dried. Simply use a warm, damp washcloth to wash your baby all over, paying special attention to the folds of skin on the neck and knees, her fingers and toes, and the diaper area.

Once the umbilical stump and circumcision sites have healed, it’s time for your baby’s first real bath. Until babies start crawling and getting into messes, they really don’t need more than one or two baths a week; however, many parents give their baby a bath everyday because they and their baby enjoy the special time. Some babies love the water, while others wail until it’s over. If your baby is content in the water, take your time and let him play; but if he’s scared and crying, wash him and get him dried and dressed as soon as possible.

The big adult bathtub may be uncomfortable and awkward for you to maneuver in and overwhelming for your baby, so you may want to try the kitchen sink as a baby bath or buy a special baby tub. A baby sponge will also help contain and cushion your baby, which can be a great help as wet, wiggling babies are slippery. If you use a sponge, make sure it dries out after each use to prevent the growth of germs, and if you line the tub with a towel, make sure you wash and dry it after each use.

Before you begin, collect all the items you will need for the bath: dry towel, baby wash, baby shampoo, washcloth, baby lotion, clean diaper, and clothes.

Fill the tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm, but not hot, water (about 90 degrees F is comfortable and safe). Always test the water with your elbow or wrist before submerging your baby. It’s a good idea to turn down your home’s water heater to 120 degrees F as part of your baby-proofing process – a child can get third-degree burns in less than one minute in 140 degree water. Click here to read more about baby-proofing your home.

Once you have everything ready, bring your baby to the bath and undress him. If he doesn’t like the bath, try leaving his diaper on at first; this may give him a greater sense of security.

Gradually lower your baby into the water, feet first. Sing songs or talk to him if he seems to be scared, and pour cupfuls of water over him often during the bath to keep him warm.

Never leave your baby unattended in the bath, even for a second. A baby can drown in as little as one inch of water, in less than 60 seconds. If the phone or doorbell rings during the bath, wrap your baby in a towel and take him with you, or let the answering machine pick it up. Bath seats and bath rings should only be used with children who are able to sit up without assistance. These items will give your child added support while in the tub, but they will not protect him from injury or drowning.

Use a mild baby soap, if you use any at all. Young babies really don’t get that dirty and water is usually sufficient. Gently wash your baby with the washcloth from top to bottom, front to back. Be sure to pay special attention to creases and folds of skin where oil and dirt can build up, such as around the neck, behind the ears, behind the knees, etc. Use a small amount of baby shampoo to wash your baby’s scalp and hair. Do not use adult shampoo on your baby – the detergents are too abrasive and will irritate your baby’s delicate skin. To avoid getting soapy water in your baby’s eyes when rinsing his head, tip his head back a bit, or try holding a folded washcloth on his forehead to catch any drops.

Be extra gentle when washing your baby’s diaper area. For little girls, wash from front to back and be sure to gently clean between the folds of skin; for little boys, do not retract or pull back the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis.

Rinse your baby well at the end of the bath – any residual soap can irritate her skin. To lift your baby out of the tub, support her head and neck with one hand, while supporting her bottom with the other, with your fingers around one thigh (just in case your slippery wiggle worm slips free).

Gently pat your baby dry, making sure her diaper area is completely dry to avoid developing diaper rash. If your baby’s skin is dry and flakey, use a little baby lotion.

Once you get the hang of bathing your baby, it’s a good idea to keep a camera handy during bath time for all those adorable and tender moments you’ll want to remember forever.