Give your baby a sponge bath until his umbilical cord has fallen off. (If he's been circumcised, wait until that heals, too.) After that, he'll be ready for a baby bathtub. Choose one that has 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.
Fill the tub with a couple of inches of lukewarm 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, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn. Keep testing the temp as you go. When it gets too cool, bath time is over.
You decide: Some newborns find the water stimulating, so it's great to get them splashing first thing in the morning. Others mellow out in the tub, which makes it perfect right before bedtime. Your baby doesn't need a bath every day; two or three times a week is fine as long as you clean his face, neck, hands, and diaper area daily.
Use a washcloth with water and a mild baby wash. "Look for products that don't have added perfume or dyes, which can irritate sensitive skin," says Parents adviser Ari Brown, MD, coauthor of Baby 411. Work a good lather into a washcloth before you start. Cradle your newborn's head with one arm while you bathe her with the other.
If your baby's hair seems dirty, wet it down using a damp washcloth sans soap every day -- no need to bring out the tub. Once or twice a week, during his baths, use baby soap or a drop of mild, tear-free shampoo. If he's developed cradle cap (scaly patches that appear on the scalp), loosen the scales with a "soft-bristled" baby brush while you shampoo.
Set everything you'll need within arm's reach -- soap, washcloth, towel, diaper, change of clothes -- before you start so that you can keep one hand on your baby at all times. When you're done bathing her, quickly wrap her up in the towel so she doesn't lose too much body heat. Dry her thoroughly, being sure to get into the creases, before you diaper and dress her. Also, don't forget to:
Empty the tub completely immediately after each use -- a baby can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.
Learn infant CPR. And never leave your baby alone in a bathtub or in the care of another child, even for half a minute.
Keep the toilet seat and bathroom doors closed after you leave.
Use a spout cover so she doesn't hit her head on the faucet.
Place a nonskid mat beneath your baby tub to prevent it from slipping.
Set your water heater to 120 degrees F so your baby won't get scalded if she accidentally turns on the faucet.