Splish Splash, Time For Baby's Bath
Most people don't think much about the ins and outs of how to bathe a baby before they bring their own home. But, when you're holding a tiny, squirming newborn in your arms, the prospect of soaping them up and scrubbing them down can suddenly feel overwhelming. From the mechanics of how to get it done safely, to which soap to choose, to how to keep them comfortable as you get them clean, we've got you covered. So, read on to learn everything you need to know about how to bathe a baby.
- Nathan Dumlao
- Written By
- Julia Pelly, MPH
Why It's Important to Bathe Your Baby
While babies don't tend to get dirty the way ice-cream-eating toddlers do, bath time offers several important benefits. Most babies tend to dribble milk as they nurse or bottle feed, and it can start to sour pretty quickly when it gets in their (adorable) rolls. Bathing them regularly helps keep the sour-milk smell at bay and helps their skin stay healthy and clean.
Bathtime also offers an opportunity for parents and babies to connect and bond. Looking into their eyes and talking or singing to them as you wipe them down with a warm washcloth or trickle warm water down their cheeks can help ensure the experience is pleasant for both of you.
How Often Should You Bathe A Baby?
Newborn babies don't need to be bathed very often. Usually, offering a bath once per week is more than enough. Once they graduate from the newborn stage, you may want to offer baths more frequently if they enjoy the experience or if you'd like to start establishing an evening routine. Once a baby begins eating solids, crawling, and getting dirty, you'll likely find they need a bath (or at least a good wipe down) most days.
How to Bathe a Newborn
A baby's first bath is a sweet milestone that many parents look forward to, but your newborn won't be hopping right in the soaker tub. Until their umbilical cord stump falls off, you'll want to stick strictly to sponge baths since their soon-to-be belly button area should be kept dry.
Soon after birth, your care provider may use a baby blanket or hand towel to wipe amniotic fluid or blood from your baby's skin, but you'll want to encourage them not to wipe away any vernix that may be present. This white, waxy substance covers babies' skin in utero and helps protect their newborn skin from infection and overdrying. Once the vernix disappears (usually in a day or two), you can use a lukewarm, wet washcloth to gently wipe them down every so often.
Choose a soft wash cloth and run your tap until the water is warm but not hot. Next, wet the washcloth and work it gently down your baby's body, starting with their head and neck and ending with their bottom area. You don't need to use any soap, but if you'd like to, choose one free of scents and dyes and made from natural ingredients. After a few weeks, you can move from sponge baths to sink or tub baths (more on that below).
How to Give a Baby a Bath
Once your baby has lost their umbilical cord stump, you can begin to offer them more traditional baths. In general, there are three methods to bathe a baby; solo-sink baths, solo-tub baths, and parent-child baths.
To give your baby a solo sink bath, you'll want to choose a sink insert designed to make the area safe and comfortable or simply line your sink with a towel or two to achieve the same effect. Fill the sink until the point at which your resting baby's body will be partially submerged. In general, you'll want the water to cover enough of their body to stay warm but not so deep that it's difficult to hold onto them or their face to slip under the water. You can lay a wet washcloth over any of their tummy above the water to help keep them warm.
Gently lay them in the sink and use a small cup or washcloth to dribble water over their head and neck. Next, use a washcloth or your hand to rub your soap-of-choice across their head, face, and body, again being mindful to start at the top and end with their bottom. Once they're soapy, use the same cup or washcloth to rinse them off and then remove them from the skin with two hands and wrap them in a warm, soft towel.
To give your baby a solo tub bath, you'll want to follow most of the same steps as you would for a solo-sink bath, but you'll need to purchase a baby bath seat that allows them to recline safely in the tub.
If you'd prefer to hop in the tub with your baby for a parent-child bath, you won't need any sort of baby bathtub or bath seat. Instead, simply run a warm but not hot bath to a depth you're comfortable with and hop in with your baby. Hold them close as you wash them, and be sure to have several soft, dry towels within reach should you find you need to dry your hands quickly. This sort of bath can be especially bonding or calming for a sick or fussy baby. To make it extra special, you can light a scented candle, put on some special music, and give the baby a nice long nursing session in the bath.
As babies get older, you'll want to start adding in some fun. Choose bath toys that are soft and easy to clean. Things like cups to pour with, boats that float, and sponges that can be wrung out will grow with your baby as they transform into a toddler.
What is a Safe Baby Bath Temperature?
As a rule of thumb, your baby's bath water should be warm but never hot. If you're a stickler for exact numbers, babies are generally most comfortable in baths that are between 98.6 and 100.4 degrees.
Bath Safety Tips
While bathing a baby is pretty straightforward, some safety rules will help ensure your baby stays safe as they get clean.
- Never leave a baby alone in the bath.
Even if your baby seems stable in the tub, never leave them alone. As a best practice, keep one hand on the baby at all times as you reach for shampoo, a washcloth, or baby's towel with the other.
- Keep dry towels nearby.
Wet, soapy babies are slippery. Keeping a dry towel nearby makes it easy to quickly dry your hands if you need to make things less slippery.
- Test the temperature first.
Never put your baby in the bath before you run the water, as it may get too hot or too cold very quickly. Instead, to ensure the bath is at a safe temperature, fill your tub as much as you plan to and test the temperature using a portable thermometer.
- Choose gentle baby skincare products.
Your baby's skin doesn't need a lot of extras. Choose a soap or shampoo option specially formulated for babies to be fragrance, dye, and irritant-free.
Julia Pelly, MPH is a writer, birth and postpartum doula, La Leche League leader, and founder of Your Postpartum Plan. As an expert in maternal and child health, she helps parents plan and prepare for all the big things parenthood will ask of them. Julia lives in North Carolina with her partner and four young children.