How to Give a Newborn a Bath

Many parents look forward to their baby's first bath; others are less sure. Learn how to give a newborn a bath, with tips on keeping the routine safe and fun. 

Baby Sponge Bath
Photo: Illustration by Natasha Nicholson/Getty Images

A baby's first bath can fill a new parent with excitement, trepidation, or both. In many cases, parents are still not entirely comfortable handling this tiny person, and it may feel strange covering their body in water. But soon enough you'll master the sponge-bathing process—and you'll get a sweet-smelling, squeaky-clean infant along 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 unless you specify otherwise. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting 24 hours for your newborn's first bath. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains that this delay regulates blood sugar and body temperature, promotes bonding, improves breastfeeding success, and keeps your 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 baby 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 sponge bath:

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

How to Give a Newborn a Bath

Once you have all of the supplies, you're ready to go. Remember that a bath will be a new experience for your baby, and they may not be unhappy about it. Some babies love the experience, while others express their annoyance rather loudly.

Step 1: Wash your baby's face

Wash your baby's face before you take off any of their clothing because some babies become easily agitated when they're naked and cold (wouldn't you be?). To get started, dampen a cotton ball or a washcloth in clean water. Don't soak it completely to minimize drops and excess water. You don't need to use soap on their face.

First, wipe your baby's eyelids from the inside corner out. Use one cotton ball for each eye. With another damp cotton ball, clean around their nose. If using a washcloth, use a fresh corner of the cloth for each eye and around the nose to avoid contamination.

Always keep one hand on your baby when dipping the washcloth in the sink.

Step 2: Clean their ears

Use a damp cotton swab or washcloth to clean the outside of their ears. Don't clean inside the ears because that could puncture their eardrum or cause an infection. You won't have to worry too much about ear wax since it will come out on its own.

Step 3: Wash their scalp and hair

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

Some parents feel nervous about washing, brushing, or touching a baby's soft spot—that small gap between the skull's bones that haven't closed. Rest assured, you won't hurt your child by washing their soft spot.

Step 4: Wash their body

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 Ari Brown. M.D., founder and CEO of 411 Pediatrics in Austin, Texas.

Work your way down the front of their body. Make sure to clean between the folds of the skin paying special attention to the folds of the neck where dribbled milk and formula tend to accumulate. 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 your 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 baby has a penis and hasn't been circumcised, don't try to push back the foreskin.

Step 5: Dry off and apply lotion

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

How Often to Bathe a Newborn

Your baby doesn't need a bath every day. According to the AAP, 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 their baby tub.

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