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Baby’s First Bath, Tips for Bathing a Newborn

There are a lot of firsts when it comes to a newborn, such as their first feeding and their first diaper change. But one of the firsts that can make some parents a tad bit nervous is the first bath.

The thought of handling a slippery, squirmy little baby can be a bit anxiety provoking. You may also have lots of questions: When should you bathe them for the first time? How often should you bathe them? Where should you bathe them—tub or sink? And so on and so forth.

Have no fear! Here are some helpful tips to make bath time lots of fun and stress-free.

Preparing for baby’s first bath

1. The longer you wait for baby’s first bath, the better.

While many institutions used to bathe babies within an hour or two of birth, many have now changed their policies. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends delaying your baby’s first bath at least 24 hours after birth. If this is not possible due to cultural reasons, bathing should be delayed for at least 6 hours.

“There are benefits to delaying baby's first bath, roughly 24 hours or several days, in order to maintain the smell of baby's first environment,” said Sarah Weinstein, a certified nurse-midwife at Banner - University Medical Center South Campus Multispecialty Services in Tucson, AZ. “This is thought to be soothing, and it also allows a more natural transition to the extra-uterine environment.”

Newborns don’t come out clean and ready to snuggle, but that creamy, white coating, called the vernix, has amazing benefits for baby and helps keep their skin moist. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, the vernix is especially important for preemies, whose skin is highly prone to injury.

2. Sponge baths are best until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off.

Until your baby’s tiny umbilical cord stump falls off, stick to a sponge or damp cloth bath. There are several reasons for this, but one of the biggest is to prevent infection.

“We want to avoid submerging baby in water until this takes place,” Weinstein said. “This allows for the normal healing process whereby the umbilical cord stump dries and falls off.”

Stick to regular wipe downs of the face, hands and genitals and give “sponge baths” once to twice weekly until the cord stump falls off.

3. Plan on bathing baby 1 to 3 times a week.

There’s nothing quite like that freshly bathed baby smell, but it’s best to keep bath time to one to three times a week. “Remember, they were just living in water, so too much bathing can be drying and irritating to baby's skin,” Weinstein advised.

You’ll want to find a “sweet spot” time of the day when your baby is well-rested and not hungry. Some parents like to give baths in the early evening, an hour or so after they’ve been fed. The warm water has a calming, relaxing effect and can ease them into bedtime.

4. Choose natural, unscented and simple products.

Look for products that contain natural, plant-based ingredients, and steer clear of products with harsh chemicals that could irritate your baby’s skin. These include parabens, phthalates, dyes, sulfates and added perfumes and fragrances. You should also look for products that are tear-free and are formulated for sensitive skin.

“You can use natural, food-grade oils on baby's skin, but try to avoid harsh chemicals – their skin absorbs everything,” Weinstein said.

5. Gather all your supplies so they are within arm’s reach.

Before starting your baby’s bath, make sure you have everything ready to go. This includes a well-cushioned and supported baby tub (such as a Tummy Tub or Blooming Bath Lotus), warm water in the tub or sink, bottles open and ready to pour and washcloths and towels at the ready. Placing a bath pad, towel or pillow can help keep your slippery little one in one spot.

It’s also a great idea to have someone else on hand to help until you get the hang of bath time. A helper can assist if baby becomes fussy, if you forgot any items or to take photos to commemorate the occasion.

It’s bath time!

6. Fill the baby tub or sink with a few inches of warm water.

You want to fill the tub or sink with just enough warm water to cover the bottom of your baby’s body. Never put them in while the water is running. To ensure the water is the right temperature, use the inside of your wrist or elbow to gauge the temp. It should feel warm, not hot (around 100℉).

When it comes to a baby tub or bathing in the sink, it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with. However, if you use a baby tub, make sure you have it placed on a flat surface.

7. Keep baby covered during bath.

Even in a warm bath, your baby can lose body heat quickly. You may want to keep them covered with a warm washcloth and swap them out as needed.

8. Go slow and stay calm.

“Go slow, take your time,” Weinstein said. “Help baby feel relaxed by feeling calm yourself. Make sure your setup feels safe and secure to both of you.”

Expect your baby to cry the first few times you bathe them. Talk to them softly and sing to them if they are a little fussy.

Important reminder: Part of remaining and staying calm is ensuring you have your hands on them at all times. This is where having an extra set of hands can help.

9. Start with baby’s face then the rest of the body.

Use a warm washcloth and gently clean around your baby’s face, especially around their mouth, behind their ears and under their chin where milk and drool can hide in their cute little folds. Rinse the washcloth and wash the rest of their body. Pay special attention to creases and folds, under their arms and between their fingers and toes.

When it comes to their private parts, wash girls’ genitals front to back and between their skin folds. For boys, uncircumcised or not, wipe their penis clean.

Once you’re done, make sure you use warm, clean water for a final rinse cycle.

10. Skip the lotions and powders unless advised.

When baby is done with their bath, wrap them in a warm towel and cuddle them close. While it may be tempting to lather them up with baby lotion, newborns are born with soft, supple skin so they don’t need lotion. That said, if your baby’s health care provider has a good reason to recommend (i.e., eczema) a hypoallergenic lotion or oil, warm these between your hands and gently rub them over the affected areas. Powders should be avoided as well unless otherwise recommended by your baby’s health care provider.

[Also see “Rashes on Children: When I Should Worry.”]

Remember …

There’s certainly a lot to think about when it comes to your baby’s first bath, but soon it’ll be a breeze.

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