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A bath with your baby can be the most relaxing bonding experience. Here's how to do it right.

By Julia Sullivan
Updated February 22, 2021
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An image of mom holding her baby in a bathtub.
Credit: Getty Images.

As far as memory-making moments for parents with babies goes, it doesn't get much better than bathtime. But while seeing your little one splash and squeal in the tub can be a particularly entertaining experience, bathing can also provide a quiet bonding moment when Parent and Baby do it together.

Think of it as an extension of (or expansion upon) kangaroo care—or the idea that skin-to-skin contact between Parent and Baby can be beneficial for a newborn's development. And while kangaroo care is most impactful within the first two hours after birth, additional direct contact beyond that timeframe, including bathing with Baby, can continue to provide benefits.

Of course, there are some caveats. First, your baby might not be ready to bathe—the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting 24 hours after birth for your newborn's first bath, as one study from Cleveland Clinic notes that this helps to improve breastfeeding success. You also shouldn't immerse your newborn in water until the umbilical cord area and circumcision (if Baby had one) are completely healed. Prior to that point, sponge baths should be your go-to cleaning method.

While Anna Bruckner, M.D., professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, notes that there are no definitive studies that dictate how often you should bathe a newborn, erring on the side of less is probably best. "Start off with infrequent bathing, roughly once or twice a week," she says. "You can increase the frequency as the baby gets older."

It's important to add that bathing with your little one can potentially be dangerous if not done carefully. Your best bet: Have a partner or another adult nearby to hand you Baby, and pick them up again, when you're ready to get out. If there are no other adults around to help, be sure that you can safely move your newborn in and out of the tub—just avoid standing up and stepping out of the tub with Baby in your arms.

Here are four more tips for a happy (and safe) bath-bonding experience.

Choose the Right Products

Use only sensitivity-tested, baby-specific products in the water and on your baby. "A baby's skin is very effective at absorbing whatever is placed on it," says Lawrence Frank Eichenfield, M.D., chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego.

Of course, soap is only a small part of the bathtime process—you'll need to have the right post-bath moisturizing product on hand. "Use a bland moisturizer to help prevent dryness and irritated skin," recommends Dr. Bruckner.

Keep Your Supplies Handy

Prior to drawing your bath, make sure you've gathered the right supplies and have placed them within arm's reach near the tub—never take your hands off Baby during this time. Aim to have your soap, a washcloth, and a towel ready, as well as cotton bolls, lotion, a diaper, and an outfit change once out.

Prepare the Water

"Before you place your baby in the tub, check the temperature by dipping your elbow into the water—it should be warm but not too hot," says Parents adviser Jennifer Shu, M.D., coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn. Keep testing the temp as you go. When it gets too cool, bath time is over. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your baby's bath water at roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and also ensuring the bathroom itself is warm.

Lather, Rinse, and Moisturize

As for how much soap to use, and where to apply it, Dr. Bruckner recommends keeping it minimal. "It's important to remember that the skin barrier in babies is still maturing, which makes them more sensitive to irritants and drying out," she explains. "I recommend using a scant amount of cleanser for the dirty areas, such as the diaper."

Also, be sure to cradle Baby's head with one arm while you bathe them with the other—and also ensuring you're steady in the tub as well.

Again, after rinsing off, don't step up and out of the tub with your little one in your arms. If you have a partner or another adult nearby, hand them Baby first. If you're alone, make sure you can safely remove your little one from the tub without standing up and stepping out of the bath while holding them. Finally, dry Baby thoroughly and wrap them in a towel so they retain body heat, ensuring all creases are water-free, before applying any lotion and diapering and dressing.

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