How to Give a Baby a Bath

Here's what you need to know about keeping your little one clean, from the first sponge bath to the infant tub. 

big baby in the bath
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Most newborns protest against taking baths, but before long, it will become one of your baby's favorite rituals. They'll probably perk up as soon as they hear the water running, and you'll have difficulty coaxing them out of the tub.

In the meantime, here's your reward: There's nothing more delicious than the scent (and sight) of a freshly bathed baby bundled in a towel.

Here are some tips for how to give your baby a bath from the newborn stage onward.

How to Sponge Bathe a Newborn

Your baby's umbilical cord will fall off about two weeks after delivery. Until then, parents must sponge-bathe their newborns. A sponge bath is also necessary if your baby's circumcision incision hasn't yet healed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends bathing your newborn about three times per week.

Set everything you'll need within arm's reach—soap, washcloth, cotton balls, towel, diaper, change of clothes—so you can keep all hands on your baby. When you're bathing your baby, always start with the cleanest part of the body and work your way to the dirtiest. Here are the steps for cleaning your baby:

  1. Start by cleaning the face with damp cotton balls or washcloths. Focus on the eyelids, working from the inside to the outside corner, and use a separate cotton ball for each eye.
  2. Clean the outside of the ears with a damp cotton swab (avoid sticking the swab in the ear or you risk puncturing the eardrum).
  3. Wash your baby's body with a damp washcloth and a few drops of mild soap.
  4. If your baby's hair seems dirty, wet it with a damp washcloth and the same mild soap.
  5. Wash your baby's diaper area last.

When you're done bathing, quickly wrap your baby up in the towel, so they don't lose too much body heat. Dry their skin thoroughly, being sure to get into the creases before you diaper and dress them.

How to Bathe Baby in an Infant Tub

Once the baby's umbilical cord stump has fallen off, they are ready for a bath in a mini tub. Choose an infant tub with a contoured design or an internal sling that prevents your baby from sliding. Never use a bath seat—these can tip over when the suction cups fail, trapping your child underwater.

Gather your supplies and fill the tub with a couple of inches of warm water. It should be slightly cooler than your ideal temperature, as a baby's skin is more sensitive than an adult's (aim for around 100 degrees F). Consider setting your water heater to 120 degrees F, so if your baby turns the hot water faucet handle, they won't get scalded.

Here are the steps for cleaning your baby in a mini tub:

  1. Gently lower your baby into the tub as you support their head and neck with your arm.
  2. Clean your baby's face just like you did when sponge-bathing, using mild soap and a washcloth.
  3. Don't turn your back on your baby for even a second—babies can drown in just a few inches of water.

Taking care of sensitive areas

Making certain rituals part of bathtime can help your little one's skin stay healthy. Scott Grant, M.D., MPH, FAAP, at Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital of Michigan, 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 the skin and lead to infections like cellulitis or the worsening of conditions like eczema.

After the penis has healed from circumcision, you can wash it like any other part of the body. Clean female genitals by wiping from front to back, avoiding soap in the groin area as it may cause irritation.

Once or twice a week during baths, use baby soap or a drop of mild, tear-free shampoo. If your little one has developed cradle cap (scaly patches that appear on the scalp), loosen the scales with a soft-bristle baby brush while you shampoo.

Once sparkling 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.

Finally, apply a thick, dye- and fragrance-free hypoallergenic lotion to lock in your infant's much-needed moisture. A 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.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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