Baby Genital Care 101: What Parents Need to Know

Cleaning and caring for your baby's genital area is easier than you might think. We connected with three pediatricians to answer all of your questions.

newborn crying during diaper change

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Caring for your new baby can be exciting, but it can also be confusing and bewildering. You may be unsure of the best way to clean and care for your baby's diaper area, for example. You know that infants have sensitive skin and it's important to keep them clean, but you may be unsure how to do that. You also may feel uncertain about the different changes that a baby's genitals go through in the early days after birth, and what they mean.

Never fear: Cleaning and caring for your baby's genital area is easier than you might think. We connected with three pediatricians to answer all of your questions about baby's genital care, from how to clean the area to how to know if and when something isn't quite right.

General Cleaning Tips

When it comes to cleaning your baby's genital area, it's all about simplicity, says Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, M.D., FAAP, chair, department of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital. "Although there are a myriad of products such as wipes and specialized creams, the majority of newborn genital care can be accomplished with the use of plain water and a washcloth," she says. "That's it!"

Dr. Buetti-Sgouros says that using a little soap is fine, but she recommends washing off any soap residue. Whether it be baby wipes or soaps, you want to stay away from anything that is scented, perfumed, or full of harsh chemicals, as these can be irritating to a newborn's delicate skin.

How Should You Clean Your Baby's Penis?

If your baby was born with a penis, you likely have questions about how best to clean it, and how to care for the area, especially if your child has been circumcised. Again, the general rule is gentleness and simplicity. Denise Kerut, M.D., pediatrician at Children's Hospital New Orleans says that when cleaning the penis area in the bath, you should use warm water and a mild soap. Baby wipes can be used to clean after a bowel movement.

In fact, thorough cleaning after a bowel movement is important, says Dr. Kerut. "Always try to keep stool away from urethra," she says. "Stool contains bacteria and they can go into the bladder through the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection which can damage your kidneys. You want to avoid this, whenever possible."

Circumsised penises

The best way to clean a newly circumcised penis is with a washcloth and warm water, says Dr. Buetti-Sgouros. Wipe from front to back to avoid fecal contamination of the urinary tract. "The gentlest hand should be used to clean the circumcised penis as it is healing during the first two weeks after the procedure," she says. She notes that as the circumcision heals, it may look a little swollen and discolored—that's normal. There may also be a little yellow material at the site of the circumcision itself, which is also normal.

Dr. Buetti-Sgouros suggests applying a little petroleum jelly on a circumcised penis to prevent it from sticking to the diaper. "Keep it simple; there is no need to excessively manipulate the area to spread it around," she says. "The circumcised penis will heal fully by around two weeks of life."

Uncircumcised penises

Uncircumcised penises do not need any special kind of care, says Dr. Buetti-Sgouros. Additionally, you should never pull back your baby's foreskin, she warns. "Keep it simple and leave it alone," she says. Cleaning with a wet washcloth works well. Sometimes you may notice a white, thick material in the foreskin area. "This material known as smegma, is common and can be left alone," Dr. Buetti-Sgouros.

How Should You Clean Your Baby's Labia?

Sometimes parents feel a little anxious about cleaning the labial area of an infant, says Leah Alexander, M.D., pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best. But she says it's important to clean around the labial folds. "This prevents irritation from urine as well as any stool that may become 'trapped' in the skin folds," Dr. Alexandra describes. "The vulva, labia, and perivaginal area can be wiped with a moist, soft washcloth during diaper changes and at bathtime," she recommends.

Is Redness and Genital Swelling Normal?

As Dr. Buetti-Sgouros points out, a bit of swelling is normal after your child is circumcised, but that shouldn't endure past the two week healing period. In babies born with female genitalia, a little swelling around the genital area is common, Dr. Buetti-Sgouros adds. This happens because estrogen from the birthing person can cause certain effects on the newborn's body.

In addition to genital swelling, estrogen from the pregnant person can cause a bit of vaginal bleeding. This is common and okay, Dr. Buetti-Sgouros assures. "Nothing like a mini newborn period to frighten a new unassuming parent," she says. "All normal… breathe!"

What About Discharge?

Discharge may be normal in some cases, says Dr. Alexander. It's typical for babies born with female genitalia to have small amounts of white discharge during the first two weeks of life. Sometimes this discharge may be tinged with blood (again, due to hormones from the birthing parent). "This is no cause for concern, and it self-resolves," Dr. Alexander says. However, if the discharge is yellow in color or persits for a long period of time, you may want to consult your child's pediatrician.

What Are the Signs Something Is Wrong?

Although diaper rashes are common, they are something you should probably talk to your pediatrician about, especially if over-the-counter diaper creams aren't helping. "If a rash develops satellite lesions, which are red, round spots scattered over area, it is likely a yeast infection and needs Nystatin cream which is a prescription from your doctor," says Dr. Kerut "Yeast like dark wet areas, so try to keep diaper area dry and open to air as much as possible. You should also change diapers often."

In rare cases, a medical problem may arise in your baby's genital area, but Dr. Buetti-Sgouros notes these are generally exceptions to the rule.

Signs There May Be a Problem With Baby's Genitals

  • Persistent bleeding at the circumcision site
  • Delayed healing at the circumcision site
  • Signs of discomfort with urination
  • A fever over 100.4F
  • A rash that is getting progressively worse

If your child is experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms and/or you are worried something seems amiss, contact their pediatrician. Your child's doctor will be happy to help, and you'll be relieved, too.

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