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How to Bathe a Newborn Baby
Q: What should we know about giving our soon-to-be-born baby a bath? Do babies need to have a tub bath every day or is a sponge bath enough? What should we expect and what should we avoid?
Danny and Olivia Newton
A: Danny and Olivia, it's great that both of you are thinking ahead about sharing in the care of your baby. Bathtime can be a wonderful opportunity for moms and dads to bond with your baby. Remember that bathtime is not just about getting clean. It's a chance to talk with, sing to, play with, caress and comfort your baby.

Tips for bathing your baby:

Bathe your baby two to three times a week. Many people think that babies need to have a bath every day, but that can dry out your baby's skin. If you clean your baby's bottom well during diaper changes, bathing two to three times a week is enough.

Have supplies on hand:
  • A basin, plastic bathing tub, or sink
  • Warm water (To prevent burning your baby, check the temperature on your wrist or elbow to make sure it's not too hot.)
  • Mild baby soap (Don't use adult soaps with perfumes, deodorants or antiperspirants, which can irritate a baby's skin.)
  • Baby shampoo
  • A washcloth or soft sponge
  • A cup for scooping water
  • Towels (Baby towels with hoods are good to keep their head warm and dry.)

For a newborn, start with sponge baths. This is necessary to keep the umbilical cord dry until it falls off. For most babies, this happens within the first three weeks of life. You can sponge bathe your baby in a basin, plastic bathing tub or sink. Place a towel or sponge cushion underneath your baby to pad the hard surface and prevent him from slipping. Since newborns are often sensitive to their skin being exposed, bathe him in a warm room and keep him wrapped in a towel, exposing parts of his body as you wash them.

Once the cord falls off, you can place your baby in the water for a bath. At first, keep tub baths brief. If your baby seems unhappy in the water, continue sponge baths until your baby is ready. Over time, your baby will enjoy spending more time playing and splashing in the bath.

More safety and hygiene tips:
  • To prevent burns, mix hot and cold water and check its temperature before setting your baby in the water.
  • To prevent drowning, always hold your baby with at least one hand, and keep her face and chest above the water. If you need to leave the room to get something or answer the phone or door, wrap your baby in a towel and take her with you. Never leave your baby alone in the bath.
  • Many people wash their babies' faces and hair first, their bodies second and finally their bottoms. This ensures that the water and washcloth used for the face doesn't have germs from the stool. But if your baby is uncomfortable when you wash her face and hair, consider washing them at the end with a clean, damp washcloth.
  • To prevent shampoo getting in your baby's eyes when rinsing his hair, tip his head backward and cup your hand over his forehead so the water drains to the side.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician