Baby's First Bath: How To Bathe Your Newborn

January is Bath Safety Month. How to safely bathe your newborn? Today, we'll cover everything you need to know about baby's first sponge bath. Plus, discover how to know when they're ready for a bath in the baby tub, and how to keep them safe during this exciting time.

One exciting early milestone for baby is when they get their first bath! But how to wash your newborn baby safely? When are they ready for a bath in a baby tub? And what else should you know about giving baby their first baths? We've gathered up everything you need to know.

When is baby ready for their first bath?

Baby's first bath won't involve them sudsing up and splashing in a baby tub. Instead, it will be a sponge bath. 

Gentle sponge baths are the safest option to bathe your little one until their umbilical cord stump falls off (which usually happens when baby is one week to three weeks old). 

Until the stump is gone, avoid bathing baby in the tub, and stick to the sponge bath. 

When should this first sponge bath happen, though? Ideally, it should happen before baby turns one week old.

Other than that, it's up to you when you decide to give baby their first bath. 

It can be given at almost any time of day. 

But the best and safest time for both of you is when:

  • You and baby are fully awake (Don't bathe baby when they are overtired)
  • It's been a bit since baby last ate (Don't bathe them right after feeding --- let the breastmilk or formula settle in baby's body first)
  • Baby is happy (not hungry, irritated or feeling upset in the tummy)
  • You won't feel like you need to rush through the sponge bath
  • You won't have any interruptions during the bath time

It's also best to establish a routine around the bath, to help baby set their body clock. For example, you could bathe baby in the evening, to associate bath time with bedtime.

How to give your newborn a sponge bath?

Once you've decided to give your baby their first sponge bath, here's how to do it safely and create the best experience for them. 

Getting ready for a sponge bath

First, gather all your supplies before you start. After all, you must never leave baby unattended during bath time (even without them being in a tub). And walking around with a wet, slippery baby isn't fun at all! So, you'll need everything on hand.

 You will need:

  • A towel for baby to lay on
  • A second towel to cover baby and keep them warm
  • Three washcloths (yes, it's called a sponge bath, but you'll be using washcloths and not a sponge)
  • A bowl of comfortably warm (not hot) water 
  • Gentle, mild baby soap
  • Baby shampoo, if baby has hair
  • Cotton balls to wash baby's eyes
  • A blanket or fluffier towel for comfort (especially important if bathing baby on a hard surface)
  • Clean baby clothes and a clean diaper

When you're ready to give the sponge bath, follow the steps below.

Getting baby situated

  • Choose a flat surface to bathe baby on. 
    • Many parents use the bathroom floor, but you could also use a changing table, a clean and flat counter area, or even a bed. 
  • Place the blanket or fluffy towel on the surface to cushion it (especially vital if using a hard surface).
    • Have all the bath items within reach.
  • Place one of the standard towels on top of the blanket or fluffy towel, and lay baby on it.
  • Wrap baby in the second towel to keep them warm.
    •  You'll uncover different their parts of their body as you bathe them.
  • Always keep hold of baby during the bath process --- especially important if baby is on an elevated surface.
    • Support baby's head and neck during the bath with your non-dominant hand, and be ready to clean baby with your dominant hand.
    • Or, have your partner support baby's head and neck while you clean baby.

Nurse Dani of Intermountain Moms shares more on giving baby a sponge bath, including how to support baby during the process and how to wash baby's back: 

Washing baby during a sponge bath

Start with baby's face --- and wash their eyes first. 

  • Dip a clean cotton ball in the water bowl (don't use soap). 
  • Gently use the cotton ball to wipe baby's eye from the inner corner (closest to the nose) out. 
  • Then repeat the process with a different clean cotton ball, to wash the other eye.

Gently wash around their mouth, and the rest of their face, next.

  • Use a wet washcloth for this.
  • Start by gently washing around their mouth with water only (no soap). 
  • Then, you can wash the rest of their face with a tiny bit of soap --- or just use water, that's up to you.
  • Pay special attention to the chin areas, as lots of drool usually builds up.
  • Also pay special attention to the areas behind the ears, as spit-up can easily collect there. 
  • Gently wash the scalp and neck areas with the washcloth and a bit of soap.
    • If baby has hair, use a little bit of tear-free baby shampoo on their hair and scalp. 
      • Gently massage it in (including over the soft spots), then rinse.

Wash the rest of baby's body in any order (but save their private parts for last). 

  • Wash the hands, arms, feet, legs, back, and torso with water and a bit of soap. 
    • Uncover each part as you wash, then cover it back up as you finish.
  • Use gentle strokes --- don't scrub hard.
  • Pay special attention to skin creases and folds, including under the arms.
    • Also be sure to gently wash in between the fingers and toes.
  • Carefully wash the area around the cord stump. 
    • You can clean off crustiness in this area, but be gentle.

Finally, gently wash the private area.

  • Use a clean washcloth, different from the one you used for the rest of baby's body.
  • Use lukewarm water and gentle soap.
  • If baby's a girl, gently wash her private area front to back. Pay special attention to folds and creases.
  • If baby's a boy and circumcised,  gently wash his penis with water only (no soap) until it heals.
  • If baby's a boy and uncircumcised, it's fine to wash his penis with gentle soap.
  • Finish by washing baby's bottom.

Rinsing and drying after a sponge bath

Rinse baby off, one area at a time, using another clean washcloth. Uncover each area as you rinse. Then, pat baby dry using the towel they were laying on. Don't miss the creases and folds of skin! Put on a clean diaper and clean clothes. Congratulations --- you've given baby their first bath!

How often to sponge bathe?

Only sponge bathe your newborn 1-2 times per week.

  • If you bathe them too often, it could dry out their sensitive skin.
    • Plus, newborns don't need daily baths as frequently as we do. They don't move around much and don't pick up much dirt.

How to give your baby their first baths in a baby tub?

After baby loses their umbilical cord stump and is ready to move into the baby tub, here's how to keep bath time safe and enjoyable for you both.

Getting ready for a baby tub bath

Select a plastic baby tub that meets current safety standards.

  • It should have a sloped (contoured) design and textured surfaces, designed to keep baby from slipping.
  • An included sling or cushion, that can keep baby from sliding, may also help.

Keep the bathroom at a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so baby won't lose body heat too quickly.

  • You can also have a warm washcloth ready to help keep baby's exposed tummy warm while in the bath.

Before placing baby in the tub, fill the baby tub with about 2 inches of warm (not hot) water. This should be just enough to cover the bottom of their body.

  • Never fill the tub with baby inside!

The water should be comfortably warm --- not hot, so it doesn't burn baby

  • Make sure the water isn't too hot by testing it with your elbow or the inside of your wrist.

Gather all your supplies, and set them up within arm's reach.

  • You'll need the same supplies you used for the sponge bath, minus the blanket and extra towel. 
  • Grab a cup to rinse off baby, instead of the bowl.

Situating and supervising baby

To place baby in the bath, gently slide them into the baby tub, feet first.

  • As you slide baby in, hold them securely.
  •  One arm should provide support under their head, and that hand should grasp baby under their underarm.
  • The other arm should support baby's bottom.

Never leave baby alone in the bath, not even for a second. 

  • There's a high risk of drowning if baby is left unsupervised in the tub.
  • As the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions, babies can drown in as little as 1-2 inches of water.
  • And over half of bathtub deaths involve children under one year of age.

Never leave baby in the bath with only another child watching them, either. Babies need close adult supervision in the bath.

If you need to leave the bath area for any reason, you must take baby with you!

Keep one hand on baby at all times during the bath --- use "touch supervision" to keep them safe.

  • Ideally, use one arm to cradle baby’s head while you bathe them with the other hand.

Washing and rinsing baby in the baby tub

Wash baby with a washcloth and a bit of soap, using a similar process to the sponge bath.

  • Remember: babies don't need much soap!

You can also use the cup to wet baby with the warm water, as you bathe them.

Doulas Jessica and Kristi from Helping Hands Doula share more on bathing your little one in the baby tub:  

 

End the bath when the water in the baby tub starts to get too cold.

Then, rinse baby with a cup of clean, warm water.

  • Cradle the back of baby's head in one hand and drape their body over your arm. Hold their head over the baby tub.
  • Slowly pour the water on their head.
  • Next, hold their body over the baby tub. Slowly pour water over their body parts, making sure all the soap is rinsed off.

After the bath in the baby tub

After rinsing, immediately wrap baby in the towel, and pat baby dry. This way, baby won't lose too much body heat.

  • Don't miss the creases and folds of skin!
  • Only apply moisturizer after the bath if baby has eczema, or if baby's doctor recommends it for another reason. 

Dress baby in a clean diaper and clean clothes.

What else to know about newborn baby tub baths?

Bathe baby 2-3 times per week in  the baby tub.

  • The youngest babies don't need a daily bath, unless they have eczema.

If baby is upset about the tub bath, don't worry.

  •  Transition back to the sponge bath for a few times, then try the baby tub again.

And remember: closely supervise baby at all times when you bathe them --- no matter what type of bath you give!

For more essential ways to keep baby safe in the bath --- as a newborn and beyond --- don't miss our previous article on bath safety tips.

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