Bathing your baby too frequently can zap her skin of moisture and worsen conditions like eczema. Then again, not bathing her often enough can also aggravate eczema, plus lead to other infections.
“It’s a delicate balance,” says Scott Grant, M.D., MPH, FAAP, at Detroit Medical Center’s Children's Hospital of Michigan.
“The bathing itself is probably not the entire problem,” Dr. Grant explains. “The use of bath products, including lotions that contain dyes or fragrances, can react with babies’ skin to make eczema worse even if there isn’t a ‘bath.’”
According to the American Acadamy of Pediatrics (AAP), newborn babies shouldn’t get their first bath until after their umbilical cord stump falls off—usually in their first or second week of life. After that, the AAP recommends bathing your infant three times a week until their first birthday.
“Obviously there are unique messes that babies can find themselves in as they get older and more mobile that may require an extra bath from time to time,” says Dr. Grant, “but in general, this rule is sufficient as long as the diaper area is cleaned appropriately at each diaper change.”
Making certain rituals part of bathtime can help your little one’s skin stay healthy. Dr. Grant recommends focusing on cleaning the “rolls” that often develop around babies’ necks, arms, and legs. Dirt and dead skin cells tend to accumulate in these areas, which can irritate skin and lead to infections like cellulitis or the worsening of conditions like eczema.
Once she’s clean, pat your baby dry. “Too much time exposed to the air after the bath can cause the evaporation of the moisture from the skin,” Dr. Grant explains.
Then, apply a thick, dye- and fragrance-free hypoallergenic lotion to lock in your infant’s much-needed moisture. A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that daily application of moisturizing lotion in the first 32 weeks of life can reduce the risk of eczema in babies.
Just as you’d still apply deodorant when forgoing your own shower, certain baby parts need attention daily whether they’re getting a full-on bath or not.
“Be sure that you’re cleaning the diaper area well, especially following stool or ‘poopy’ diapers, in between skin folds,” Dr. Grant advises. For baby boys, gently retract the foreskin to clean the area underneath. For girls, the area around the vagina has similar folds that should be cleaned well.
Don’t skimp on the lotion, either. “Daily application can help prevent eczema outbreaks, so this might be a useful replacement for bathtime in the bedtime routine,” says Dr. Grant. “This is especially important for babies who have already shown signs of eczema or have siblings or parents with eczema.”
To recap, bathing your baby no more than three times a week is perfectly healthy, given that you wipe the diaper area thoroughly at each changing and apply moisturizer daily.