Bath time for newborn babies

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How to effectively make bath time easier for your newborn. Information on giving a newborn baby a sponge bath is provided, as well as safety tips.

Key points

  • A newborn baby only needs a sponge bath two or three times per week.
  • Always make sure to hold your baby when they are in the bathtub and never leave them alone or in the care of another child while they are being bathed.

When it comes to normal newborn baby care, some parents find bath time scary. Don’t worry about putting baby in a tub for the first couple of weeks, until the umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the navel area has healed. During these early days, a sponge bath will do.

The sponge bath

A newborn baby only needs a sponge bath two or three times per week. When you prepare to sponge bath your newborn baby, make sure that the room is warm, because newborn babies hate the feeling of cold air on their naked bodies. You can warm up a bathroom by letting a hot shower run for a few minutes beforehand. Make sure that you have a change pad, a small basin of lukewarm water, a damp washcloth, some cotton balls, some baby soap, baby shampoo, and an extra towel or small blanket on hand. Keep these items close where you can easily reach them, as you never want to take both hands off of baby while they are bathing. Remove any rings or other jewelry from your hands before bath time, as these might scratch your baby.

Spread out a change pad to catch any leaks, and cover that with a towel for comfort. As you begin washing one part of your newborn baby’s body, keep the other parts of their body nice and warm by covering them with the other towel or blanket.

Start by cleaning from head to toe, cleaning the face first, and bum and genitals last. Clean your baby’s eyes with a fresh, slightly damp soft cloth. Continue to clean the rest of your baby’s face. You do not need to use soap to do this.

Wash the rest of baby’s body with mild soap. Clean under all your baby’s body creases, such as under their armpits, and behind their ears. Make sure to wash the diaper area last, cleaning from front to back. There is no need to clean any of your baby’s inner orifices, such as inside their ears, because they are self-cleaning. Make sure to rinse off any body areas that you cleaned with soap.

Shampoo your baby’s hair once or twice a week at most. To do this, cradle your baby with your arm in a football hold, with your hand supporting their head. Hold their head over the sink and use your hand to gently splash lukewarm water over their head. Do not put your baby’s head directly under the tap. Lather with a small amount of baby shampoo, rinse well, and towel dry immediately.  

When your newborn baby’s sponge bath is done, gently wrap them in a towel and pat them dry.

The baby tub

After your newborn baby’s umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the area has healed, you can start to put them into the baby tub or sink for baths. Your baby will not be ready to use the "big" bathtub until they are able to sit steadily without support from an adult.

Some parents like to use a small plastic tub; others like to use a sink. If you buy a baby tub, try to get one that has a hole in the bottom, so that you can easily drain the water after bath time is over. There are even baby tubs that are made to fit into the kitchen sink.

When preparing for your baby’s bath, make sure the room is sufficiently warm, and remove any rings or other jewelry from your hands. Keep a cup, a baby washcloth, mild soap, baby shampoo, and a soft towel within reach. Use the cup to fill the bathtub with 5 to 7 cm (2 to 3 inches) of lukewarm water. Test the temperature of the water with the inside of your wrist, or your elbow.

Gently lower your baby into the water, making sure to support their head and neck with one of your hands. Use the washcloth without soap to wash your baby’s face. Then soap up and rinse their body. Your baby will enjoy their bath if you continually pour warm water over their body to keep them warm.

Wash your baby’s hair with mild shampoo, and massage it into their entire scalp. Rinse the shampoo with your hands or a cup.

When you are finished washing your baby, wrap them in a towel and gently pat them dry. For babies with dry skin or eczema, moisturizer is applied after the bath.

Safety considerations

Always make sure to hold your baby when they are in the bathtub. Never leave them alone or in the care of another child while they are being bathed. Bath rings and bath seats are not recommended as babies can quickly slip out.

Last but not least, always remember that hot bath water can burn your baby’s fragile skin. Make sure the water is warm, not hot, before you put your baby into the bathtub. Do not bathe your baby in flowing water, as the temperature can fluctuate and cause scalds. If you are able to adjust the maximum water temperature in your home, set it to 49˚C (120˚F) to prevent scalds for babies and children.

Last updated: May 24th 2024