Babies need sponge baths until their umbilical cords fall off. Here’s how to give a newborn a bath, with tips on keeping the routine safe. 

By Jessie Wohlgemuth and Nicole Harris
Updated December 17, 2019
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Baby Sponge Bath
Credit: Illustration by Natasha Nicholson/Getty Images

Baby's first bath can fill a new parent with trepidation. You're still not entirely comfortable handling this tiny person, and it feels strange covering her body in water. But soon enough you'll master the sponge-bathing process—and you'll get a squeaky clean infant on the way! Here's everything you need to know about bathing your newborn. 

Baby’s First Bath: When Should It Happen?

If you give birth in a hospital, nurses will probably bathe your baby within a few hours of delivery. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting 24 hours for your newborn's first bath. WHO claims this delay regulates blood sugar and body temperature, promotes bonding, improves breastfeeding success, and keeps Baby's skin from drying out. 

Your baby won't be ready for the infant tub until the umbilical cord stump falls off (and the circumcision has healed, if your son had the procedure). This usually takes about two weeks or longer. In the meantime, you'll be giving your newborn a sponge bath. 

Newborn Sponge Bath Supplies

To be safe, gather all your supplies before you begin. You should never take your hands off your baby while you're bathing them, or you risk a dangerous accident. Here's what you need for a newborn a sponge bath: 

  • Baby body wash (often can double as shampoo)
  • Two washcloths
  • A towel
  • A bowl of warm water (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Several cotton balls
  • Lotion
  • A diaper
  • An outfit change

How to Give a Newborn a Bath

Once you have all of the supplies, you're ready to go. Keep in mind that your baby will probably not be happy about her first bath, and they may express their annoyance rather loudly.

Eventually, though, they'll warm up to this familiar ritual. Here's how to sponge bathe a newborn. 

Wash your baby's face.

Wash your baby's face before you take off any of their clothing because some babies freak out when they're naked and cold. Dampen a cotton ball or a washcloth, and wipe their eyelids from the inside corner out. Use one cotton ball for each eye. With another damp cotton ball, clean around their nose. You don't need to use soap on their face. Always keep one hand on Baby when dipping the washcloth in the sink, and don't soak it completely in order to minimize drips. 

Clean their ears.

To clean outside of Baby's ears, use a damp cotton swab or washcloth. Don't clean inside the ears; using a swab could puncture their eardrum.

Wash their hair.

To shampoo, support Baby's spine and hold their head back slightly. Sprinkle their head with warm water and squeeze on a drop or two of soap. Lather, scrub gently, and rinse with a wet washcloth. Finish by drying your little one's head with a towel.

Start the sponge bath.

Now you can undress your baby and lay them flat. Put some mild baby wash on a soft washcloth—but don't overdo it, since newborn skin is prone to irritation. "Look for products that don't have added perfume or dyes, which can irritate sensitive skin," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., founder and CEO of 411 Pediatrics in Austin, Texas.

Wash their neck and scalp, then work your way down the front of their body. Make sure to clean between the folds of skin. Rinse the soap off with a second damp cloth, drying and rewrapping your baby with a towel as you go. Don't wash the umbilical stump, and try to keep it dry.

Flip Baby over onto their belly with their head turned to one side. Repeat the washing, rinsing and drying. Wash their bottom and genitals last. If your son hasn't been circumcised, don't try to push back the foreskin.

Dry off and apply lotion.

Newborns get cold quickly. Try to dry and cover with a towel the areas you just washed to keep your baby as warm as possible. Make sure you get into the creases with the towel. You may also apply lotion after the bath, especially if Baby is prone to eczema, before putting on clothes and a diaper. 

How Often to Bathe a Newborn

Your baby doesn't need a bath every day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, three times a week is fine as long as you clean their face, neck, hands, and diaper area daily.

You'll only need to give your baby sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump comes off (usually no later than 3 or 4 weeks), then you can move on to baths in his baby tub

American Baby