A tub bath is off-limits for the first two weeks or so, until baby's umbilical-cord stump has fallen off and healed. To sponge bathe baby, choose a warm, draft-free room, since newborns get cold easily.
To start, place baby on a waterproof pad, changing mat, or towel. To help him stay warm, keep his undershirt on or cover him loosely with a towel. Another strategy is to undress each part of his body as you're ready to wash it. To prevent accidents, don't take the diaper off until it's time to wash his bottom.
Assemble what you'll need before you begin:
- Sterile cotton balls
- 3 washcloths (one for soaping, one for washing with just water, one for rinsing)
- 2 soft towels
- Changing pad
- Baby soap or cleansing lotion
- Baby shampoo
- Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, and cotton swabs (for the umbilical-cord stump)
- Bowl of warm water
- Clean diaper and clothing
Gently wipe baby's face and neck folds, nose, and outer ears with a washcloth or cotton ball moistened with warm water. Never clean inside baby's ears (even if you spy some wax), because you could damage his eardrum. Wipe baby's face dry, paying special attention to his neck creases, where moisture can cause irritation.
Carefully wipe baby's eyes from the inner corner outward with two clean, moistened cotton balls. Use a fresh cotton ball for each eye to prevent the spread of infection.
Wash baby's arms and hands. Be sure to rinse his hands of soap since they're one of baby's favorite sucking toys. Gently wash his torso and clean the umbilical stump.
Wash baby's hair by holding his head as he's lying back on the towel or by sitting him up, supporting his back, and reclining his head slightly. With your free hand, rub lightly to lather, and then rinse with a wet washcloth; gently towel-dry. Baby's hair just needs a drop of shampoo once or twice a week. Don't shy away from washing baby's soft spots (fontanels) -- they're tougher than you think.
If you have a girl, wash her genital area from front to back. Don't use soap there -- it can cause irritation or infection. Wash her buttocks with soap, and also make sure to clean in the creases of her thighs. If your baby boy is circumcised, don't wash his penis with soap until the wound heals. If he's uncircumcised, use soap, but don't attempt to pull back the foreskin -- it will remain attached for several more years. Dry baby well.
Until the umbilical stump heals, keep the area dry by exposing it to air (turn the front of baby's diaper down, or use diapers that have a special cutout). To prevent infection, clean the stump well with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, using a cotton swab. If the area around the navel turns red, swollen, or oozes, call your pediatrician.