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Adding bath time to baby's routine is something you can begin shortly after your baby is born.
Some pediatricians recommend delaying a baby's first bath until they are a few days old. That's because after birth your baby is covered in vernix, which is a waxy substance on the skin that protects baby from germs in the environment.
If you have a hospital delivery, hospital nurses or staff will clean off the amniotic fluid and blood after your baby is born. But you'll likely have the option to tell them to leave excess vernix if you choose.
Once you bring your baby home, you can give them a sponge bath. You can clean their head, body, and diaper area. This is the safest way to bathe your baby until their umbilical cord falls off.
Once the cord has fallen off on its own, you can begin bathing your baby by submerging their body in a shallow bath.
Read on to learn how to bathe your baby and other things you need to know about bath time.
Your newborn should be bathed with a sponge bath for the first few weeks of life. This is the simplest way to clean your baby before the umbilical cord falls off.
Sponge baths are also the best way to bathe boys who were circumcised while the circumcision site heals.
You can also give your baby a sponge bath anytime you want to wash one part or all of their body without getting them soaking wet.
Before giving your baby a sponge bath, make sure you have all the supplies you need within easy reach. You’ll also want to warm up the room to keep your baby comfortable.
- padding for hard surfaces, such as a blanket or towel
- bowl of warm, not hot, water
- mild baby soap
- clean diaper
- baby towel
Once you've gathered your supplies, follow these steps:
- Choose a warm room, around 75°F (23.8°C) for the bath, remove your baby's clothes and diaper, and wrap them in a towel.
- Lay your baby on a flat surface, such as the floor, changing table, counter next to a sink, or your bed. If your baby is off the ground, use a safety strap or keep one hand on them at all times to make sure they don’t fall.
- Unwrap the towel one part at a time to expose only the area of the body you're washing.
- Start at your baby’s face and top of their head: First dip the clean cloth in the warm water. Use only warm water without soap for this step to avoid getting soap in your baby’s eyes or mouth. Wipe the top of the head and around the outer ears, chin, neck folds, and eyes.
- Add a drop or two of soap into the warm water. Dip the washcloth in the soapy water and wring it out.
- Use the soapy water to clean around the rest of the body and diaper area. You’ll want to clean under the arms and around the genital area. If your baby was circumcised, avoid cleaning the penis to keep the wound dry unless otherwise directed by your baby's doctor.
- Dry your baby off, including drying between skin folds. Put on a clean diaper. You can use a towel with a built-in hood to keep their head warm while they dry off, too.
If you have a newborn boy who was circumcised, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully for keeping the area clean or dry until it has healed. This usually takes about a week to heal.
After your infant’s umbilical cord falls off, you can bathe them in a baby bathtub. Follow these steps to safely bathe your baby:
- Fill the tub with a small amount of water. Usually, 2 to 3 inches of water is enough. Some tubs can be placed in the sink or regular bathtub, depending on the model you have.
- After undressing your baby, place them in the water right away so they don’t get cold.
- Use one hand to support your baby’s head and the other to place them feet first into the tub. Their head and neck should be well above water at all times for safety.
- You can gently splash or pour warm water over your baby to keep them warm in the tub.
- Use a washcloth to clean their face and hair, and shampoo their scalp one to two times per week.
- Wash the rest of their body from the top down, using warm water or a wet washcloth.
- Gently lift your baby out and pat them dry with a towel. Be sure to also dry the creases in their skin.
Remember to never leave a baby unattended in a tub, even for a second. They can quickly drown, even in a shallow amount of water.
There are sink inserts available to bathe a newborn. This can be a good option if you're traveling or short on space in your home. Follow the bathtub steps above for giving your baby a bath in the sink, but take care that the water coming from the sink faucet isn’t too hot.
When your baby is able to sit up on their own (usually around 6 months), you can use the full bathtub. Fill the tub with only a few inches of water and supervise them at all times, making sure their head and neck stay well above water.
You can use mild baby soap or baby wash while bathing your newborn. Avoid using regular soap because it can be too harsh and can dry out your baby’s delicate skin. Your newborn’s skin also doesn’t need moisturizer.
Plan to wash your baby’s scalp or hair twice a week. To wash your baby’s scalp or hair, gently massage a baby shampoo into their hair, if they have any, or directly onto their scalp. Rinse it out by dabbing with a wet washcloth.
In a baby tub, you can also gently tip your baby’s head back and keep one hand over their forehead while you pour on some warm water. The water will spill over the sides of their head to rinse out the shampoo.
Gently washing your baby’s hair will not hurt a soft spot, but talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns. If your baby has cradle cap, you can gently brush your baby’s hair and scalp. But take care not to pick or scrape at their scalp.
The water temperature to bathe your baby should be warm, never hot. The ideal temperature is 98.6°F (between 37°C and 38°C). You can use a bath thermometer to monitor the temperature, or check the water with your wrist or elbow to confirm it's warm and not hot.
Also, check different sides of the tub or baby bath to confirm there are no hot spots. If using a tub or basin, turn on the cold water first and then the hot water to fill it.
If you live in a house, you can also adjust the water heater to ensure it doesn’t go above 120°F (48.8°C), which can badly scald your baby’s skin. You likely can't adjust the water heater if you live in an apartment complex or condo.
In your baby's first year, they may only need about three baths a week. This is usually frequent enough if you wash the diaper area thoroughly every time you change your baby.
Bathing once a day or every other day is also OK, but any more frequently than that could dry out your baby’s skin. That’s especially the case if you use soap or other baby wash.
Your baby should be supervised at all times while bathing. Never leave a newborn unattended around water.
If your newborn cries or doesn’t enjoy bath time, make sure the room is warm enough, the water isn’t too hot, and you're keeping them wrapped in a towel (during a sponge bath) to keep them comfortable.
When your baby is sitting up on their own, you can bathe them in the full bathtub. Bath toys or books can help baby enjoy bathtime, but use caution with bubbles, since frequent bubble baths can dry out baby's skin.