Everything You Need to Know About How to Bathe a Newborn

No matter how it went down, bringing a baby into the world is a herculean task and pretty much the pinnacle of badassery. And now that you have childbirth under your belt, you can do anything, nothing can faze you, you are superwoman…right? Sure, but then why do all the little things feel so daunting all time?

Take, for instance, the act of giving your newborn her very first bath. On the one hand, aren’t babies inherently pretty clean? On the other, you just got back from the hospital and that stain on your duvet definitely isn’t mustard. If you fear you passed Newborn Care 101 with flying colors, but none of it is coming back to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s hard, we get it. And as for those bathtime questions: We can help. So read on for everything you need to know about bathing your newborn, then get back to googling “duvet spot cleaning.”

baby feet in a bath
mrs/getty images

To Bathe Or Not To Bathe?

Maybe you’ve had cold feet when it comes to bathing your newborn. Good news: You don’t need to feel bad, because it’s actually not all that urgent. In fact, there are some compelling reasons to hold off on bathtime in the beginning.

According to American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP, author of The New Baby Blueprint.

“Babies don't need baths in the first few weeks of life. They just don't get that dirty. We should obviously clean their bottoms when they poop and spot clean their skin if they get spit-up in their crevices, but otherwise, letting a baby's skin acclimate to the outside world for a few weeks without a bath is better. It promotes umbilical cord healing and reduces contact with potential irritants. I advise my patients to wait for a full bath until several days after the umbilical cord falls off, usually around the one to two-week mark.”

Comforting, right? Plus, if you’re reading this in those first few weeks, there’s a good chance you need the scrub down more than your baby. So give yourself a real shower, take a relaxing bubble bath and use all the soaps and lotions. As for your newborn, keep it simple by skipping the bath, but wiping your babe thoroughly at every diaper change. Once a day, use a warm, damp washcloth (no soap necessary) to gently clean those impressive neck folds and both sets of cheeks. This second part you might opt to do before bed, because it’s never too soon to start building a soothing bedtime routine (you will want to have it on lockdown by toddlerhood).

If this spot cleaning approach doesn’t quite do it for you and you want to go the extra mile, you could consider a sponge bath, which has all the bells and whistles of a regular bath (there’s more water involved, every body part gets washed), while still respecting the cardinal rule of newbie-bathing: don’t submerge that umbilical cord stump! Just remember that though the sponge bath might appeal to your overachieving tendencies (we see you, Virgo), it should not be done more than three times a week, as newborn skin is delicate and prone to dryness and irritation.

newborn baby getting a spongebath
d3sign/Getty Images

How Do I Give A Sponge Bath?

1. Pick your location

Designate your work space—you want your baby to be lying on a flat but comfortable surface in a warm room. (Most experts agree that the ideal temperature for a baby’s room is between 68 and 72 degrees.) You can fill your kitchen sink with water and use the countertop, but even newborns can squirm their way off elevated surfaces, so you’ll need to keep one hand on your baby’s body throughout the process. Not sure you possess that degree of dexterity at the moment? Forget the sink and opt for a basin of water instead—a changing pad or extra thick blanket on the floor will do just fine for baby and make things easier for you.

2. Prepare the bath

Fill your sink or water basin with soap-free, warm water. Keep in mind that your baby’s skin is extremely sensitive, so warm really means tepid in this case. When you test the water, do so with your elbow instead of your hand—if it’s neither hot nor cold, it’s just right. (Yup, Goldilocks.) Still panicked about getting the right temp? You can buy a bathtub thermometer to ensure the water stays in the 100 degree zone.

3. Stock your station

Now that your water is ready, you just need to gather a few other items and make sure they are all within arm’s reach:

  • A soft washcloth or sponge, for your water basin
  • Two towels: One for drying your baby, and the second in case you accidentally soak the first
  • A diaper, optional (You just gave your first sponge bath, and an unexpected bowel movement could really take the wind out of your sails.)

4. Bathe the baby

Once you undress your newborn, wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm throughout the process and lay him down on your chosen bathing surface. Begin by washing your baby’s face—just be sure to thoroughly wring out the washcloth or sponge so no water gets in his nose, eyes or mouth—and use the towel to gently pat him dry. Move the blanket down so that his upper body is exposed but lower body still bundled and warm. Now you can wash his neck, torso and arms. Pat dry and wrap his upper body in the blanket before moving on to the genitals, bottom and legs. Once the bathing part is done (remember, no soap!), give your baby another round of gentle towel drying, focusing mostly on creases and skin folds where rashes like yeast tend to develop when left wet.

baby wrapped in a towel
Towfiqu Photography/getty images

How Often Should I Bathe My Baby?

Once you’ve mastered the sponge bath (or maybe you skipped it entirely) and the umbilical cord has healed, you may be wondering how often you should bathe your child. The good news? Your infant’s bathing needs actually aren’t much different than they were at one week old. Indeed, the dominant opinion is that a baby does not need more than three baths per week for the first year of life.

newborn baby getting a bath
Sasiistock/getty images

What Do I Need To Know About The First Regular Bath?

The Basics:

When you’re ready to give your baby a real bath--typically around one month old—make sure you have the right tub for the job. An infant tub is very useful (we love the Boon 2-Position Tub, which folds down for easy storage in small spaces), but you can also use a sink. Unless you are getting in too, avoid using a full-size bathtub. When you fill the tub, stick with soap-free water, and follow the temperature guidelines laid out for a sponge bath. Water can be pretty exciting, so even in an infant tub, you will need to keep one hand on your baby--whether he’s kicking his legs with glee or protesting heartily, there will be a moment when a stabilizing hand is required.

Setting the mood:

Beyond that, just enjoy watching your baby’s reaction to his first full bath experience and remember that you really don’t need to enhance it with any extra entertainment. After all, everything is so new and strange and stimulating right now (the newborn stage is basically a crazy acid trip everyone has but no one remembers) and your best bet is to create a calm, neutral environment for his first dip in the tub. You’re literally testing the waters, so keep the baths short and sweet, and if your baby gets upset at first, there’s no need to force it. Get the sense he isn’t all that into it? Try getting in the tub with him next time for some extra bonding and comfort while he adjusts to the experience.

giving a baby a bath
stock_colors/getty images

Bathtime Dos

  • Do: avoid soap for the first month
  • Do: create a calm and quiet mood during bathtime
  • Do: keep baby warm before and after getting in the water
  • Do: dry skin creases and folds thoroughly
  • Do: enjoy skin to skin time before and/or after baths
  • Do: bathe with your baby for extra bonding
  • Do: stick to spot-cleaning and sponge baths for the first three weeks
  • Do: keep the umbilical cord area dry after sponge baths and contact a pediatrician if you notice signs of infection (redness, swelling, discharge)

Bathtime Don’ts

  • Don’t: submerge your baby in water before the umbilical cord area has healed
  • Don’t: bathe your baby within two days of circumcision, or before the approval of your doctor
  • Don’t: leave your baby unattended in a bath, no matter how shallow, for even a moment
  • Don’t: bathe your newborn more than three times a week
  • Don’t: use baby lotion or baby powder (your mother means well and you turned out fine, but baby powder can be a respiratory irritant and lotions may cause adverse skin reactions)

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Emma Singer

Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...
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