Bathing a newborn for the first time can be a little daunting. It is important to keep babies safe and cozy, especially during their first few months, and that’s tricky to do during bath time. With the right supplies and a bit of practice, bathing your child can be a fun, playful experience, and the perfect time to bond. Read on to learn how to prepare for the bath, wash your baby safely, and make him or her comfortable after you’re finished.
Prepare for Bath Time
Get everything ready in advance. Once the baby’s in the bath, you won’t be able to leave him or her for even a moment, so it’s important to set out everything you need before you begin.
Gather what you need for the bath itself, including the tub, a cup for pouring water, gentle baby soap, two washcloths, and cotton balls for cleaning the baby’s eyes and ears.
Optionally, collect a few bath toys for the baby to play with.
Lay out what you’ll need after the bath, including a towel, a brush or comb, lotion or oil, a diaper, diaper ointment and a clean set of clothes nearby.
Have rubbing alcohol on hand to clean the baby’s umbilical cord area if it is still attached.
Dress in appropriate clothes. Wear something you don’t mind getting wet and soapy. Roll up long sleeves, and remove jewelery like watches, rings, and bracelets. Make sure your clothes don’t have zippers or pins that could scratch the baby’s skin. Many caregivers like wearing a terrycloth bathrobe while bathing a baby.
Set up the tub. Most baby tubs available are shaped so as to support the infant’s neck and head. They usually have a mat or sling that prevents the baby from being completely submerged in water. Place the baby tub in a clean sink, bathtub, or on the bathroom floor, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you do not have a baby bathtub, you may use a clean kitchen sink instead. Just make sure the faucet does not come near the baby’s head. Faucet covers are available for baby-proofing your sink.
Do not use a full-size adult bathtub to bathe an infant. They are too deep, and it’s difficult to make sure the baby doesn’t slip during the bath.
If your baby bathtub doesn’t have a tread on the bottom to keep the baby from slipping, line it with a washcloth or separate bathtub tread.
Fill the tub with a few inches of warm water. Run the water and test the temperature. You may use your elbow, wrist or a special bath thermometer to make sure the water isn’t too hot or cold. The water should be comfortably warm to the touch, but not as hot as you’d prefer for your own bath or shower.
If the baby still has his or her umbilical cord, simply fill a bowl with water so you can administer a sponge bath instead.
Always test the water before placing baby in the tub.
When in doubt, err on the cooler side; your hands are rougher than a baby’s sensitive skin, so he or she will feel heat more acutely than you.
Do not fill the tub more than a couple of inches. Babies should never be submerged in water. As your baby gets a little bigger, you can add a bit more water, but never enough to come close to submerging the baby.
Bathe Your Baby
Lay your baby in the tub feet first. Keep one hand supporting the baby’s back, neck and head as you carefully lower him or her into the tub. Continue supporting the baby throughout the bath with one hand, and use the other hand to wash him or her.
Babies can be very wriggly and slippery, so be very careful once he or she becomes wet.
Begin washing the baby. Use a cup, or your cupped hand, to get the baby’s body wet. Use a soft washcloth to gently wash the baby’s face, body, arms and legs.
Use cotton balls to wipe the baby’s eyes and ears.
If you wish, you can use a safe baby soap that is very neutral, but it isn’t necessary; a gentle scrub and wash down are adequate to keep babies clean. Don’t forget to get between all the little creases and behind the ears and under the neck, where spit-up and moisture tend to collect.
Use a little baby soap on a washcloth to wash the baby’s hands and feet.
Clean the baby’s genitals last, using a dab of baby soap if you wish. If you have a baby boy who is circumcised, gently wipe him with the wet washcloth. Wash girls from front to back to prevent infection.
Wash the hair. If it is necessary to wash the baby’s hair, lean him or her back and gently massage water into the hair and scalp. Use the cup to pour clean water over the baby’s head. You can use baby shampoo if desired, but there is really no need. Babies are born with all the natural oils needed to keep the scalp healthy, and shampoos can easily spoil this balance. If you use baby shampoo, use your hand to create a “visor” to protect the baby’s eyes from the soap.
Before rinsing, check again to make sure that the temperature of the running water is not too hot.
Lift the baby from the tub. Support the baby’s head, neck, and back with one arm, and hold his or her bottom and thigh with the other. Place baby in a towel, being careful to cover his or her head.
After the Bath
Towel the baby dry. Dry the baby’s body first, making sure to dry gently behind the ears and in the skin folds, so that no excess moisture is left there. Towel-dry the hair as much as possible.
Remember that the fine hair of a baby will dry quickly. Do not use a hairdryer, as it is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Apply ointments if necessary. Dab a little ointment on the baby’s diaper rash or circumcision wound if you’ve been advised to by a doctor. It’s OK to apply baby creams, lotions, or oils if you’d like, but these aren’t necessary.
If the baby still has his or her umbilical cord, use a cotton ball to lightly dab the area with rubbing alcohol.
Diaper and clothe the baby. If you’re about to put your little one down to rest, choose an outfit that’s easy to to fit on him or her, preferably with snaps instead of buttons. You may also choose to swaddle the baby (see How to Swaddle a Baby for more information).
A bath before bedtime helps make the transition to sleep easier.
Babies who still have their umbilical cords should be sponge-bathed until it falls off.
Bath time is more than a utilitarian chore – it’s a wonderful opportunity to bond and play. Relax, take your time when possible, and let everyone enjoy the experience. It’s a great time to sing to your child. The baby will enjoy a great sensory experience, some attention, splashing, and more.
Try castile soaps, which are commonly available in natural foods or camping supply stores. These soaps are great for parents, too, are gentle on the skin, often organic, use all natural ingredients, and are useful for all sorts of household tasks.
For a real indulgence, warm the towels in the dryer.
Do not scrub the baby’s back with a scrubber or with your hand veryroughly. Instead of this, gently massage for 2 minutes. This will keep the baby’s skin soft and supple.
Babies only need to be bathed three or four times a week, but it can be an excellent nighttime ritual if you’d like to do it daily.
Never use adult bar soap on a baby; it is too drying.
Never leave a baby unattended in any amount of water.
Be careful with the products you choose to use on the baby. Although there are a lot of “Baby Bath” and “Baby Shampoos” commercially available, these can still be very harsh on delicate baby skin and even cause rashes. Use soothing, soft and harsh chemical-free products only. This means read the label – if the product is one you do not understand, do not use it on the baby.
Make sure room in which you are bathing baby is warm.
Things You’ll Need
Baby tub or clean sink
Several clean towels
Hooded towel (optional)
Clean set of baby clothes
Comfortably warm water
Gentle baby shampoo (Optional–see Tips & Warnings)
Terrycloth bathrobe or clothes you can get wet
How to Dress an Infant
How to Use a Baby Bath Tub
How to Change a Diaper
How to Soothe a Teething Baby
How to Put Shoes on a Baby
How to Get a Newborn to Sleep Through the Night
How to Easily Clean Baby’s Cradle Cap Dandruff Without Hurting the Baby
How to Give a Baby a Bath in the Sink
How to Give a Baby a Sponge Bath
How to Make Baby Soap
Sources and Citations