Bringing home your newborn baby is an exciting and joyous time, but it can also be filled with uncertainty and questions, especially when it comes to your baby’s first bath.
I remember when we brought Ollie home from the hospital, he hadn’t had his first bath yet (he was one month old since he was a preemie), and we fussed over how, and when, to bathe him… after all, babies lose calories when you bathe them, and with our baby weighing 2lb9oz (1150 grams) at birth, we were especially worried about the weight he might lose.
Turns out, it was easier than we thought, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As Ollie grew, and we shared our experiences with others, we found out that many new parents (preemie parents or not) find themselves worrying about everything bath-related: when to bathe their newborn, how often to do it, and how to ensure their baby’s safety during bath time.
I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about bathing a newborn, from the ideal timing to the step-by-step process.
So, let’s dive in and make bath time a breeze for you and your little one!
When to Give Baby’s First Bath: Expert Recommendations
As with everything baby-related, the timing of your baby’s first bath has evolved over the years, while it used to be common practice for hospitals to bathe newborns immediately after birth, the World Health Organization (WHO) now advises waiting at least 24 hours before giving your baby their first bath.
By waiting, you’ll allow for several benefits, including reduced rates of hypothermia and hypoglycemia. However, there is an exception, if your baby has been exposed to certain pathogens during birth, such as HSV, HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, doctors and nurses should bathe him immediately after birth.
Newborns are especially sensitive to cold, so delaying the baby’s first bath will also help decrease cold-induced stress, which could cause blood sugar levels to drop. Furthermore, newborns are born with a protective waxy coating on their skin called vernix, which helps retain heat and acts as a barrier against infections. Delaying the first bath allows the vernix to continue providing these benefits to your baby.
That delay can also have a positive impact on breastfeeding success. According to this 2013 research published in Neonatal Health, waiting at least 12 hours after birth before bathing the baby led to increased breastfeeding rates from 32.7% to 40.2%, since it allowed more time for skin-to-skin bonding between the mother and baby.
When it comes to giving your baby their first bath at home, there is no set timetable. Some moms are so exhausted from birth that they’d rather wait a few weeks, while others (like yours truly) have special circumstances surrounding their baby’s birth that make bathing the baby counterproductive until they reach a certain weight.
There is nothing set in stone, while some families are eager to give their baby a bath as soon as they arrive home, pediatricians suggest waiting a few days is perfectly fine.
There’s no rush, and it’s important to remember that newborns don’t get dirty easily. Many parents find that topping and tailing, which involves cleaning the face, neck, hands, and bottom with a warm washcloth, is sufficient in the early days.
So, trust your instincts and choose a time that feels right for you and your baby.
How Often Should You Bathe a Newborn?
Now that you know when to have that baby’s first bath, you might be wondering how often you should bathe them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends bathing your newborn one to three times a week. Enough to keep your baby clean without drying out their delicate skin. In fact, newborns don’t really get dirty, so there’s no need for daily baths.
However, if your baby enjoys bath time, and it has become a part of their bedtime routine, you can certainly bathe them more frequently. Just remember to use gentle, baby-safe products and ensure the water is warm and comfortable for your little one.
How to Bathe a Newborn: Step-by-Step Guide
Bathing a newborn may seem intimidating at first, but with a little preparation and the right approach, it can become a stress-free and enjoyable experience for both you and your baby.
So, let’s break down the process step-by-step to ensure you have all the information you need:
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
It may seem obvious, but before you begin the bathing process, make sure you’ve gathered all the necessary supplies.
You’ll want your baby’s skin exposed to the cold as little as possible, and you won’t want to separate from your baby once they are in the water.
So here’s a checklist to ensure you’ll have everything within arm’s reach:
- Baby bathtub or clean washing-up bowl
- Warm water, keep the temperature at around 100° Fahrenheit (F) or 37.8° Celsius (C)
- 2 soft towels (one for drying and one to keep your baby warm)
- Cotton wool or a soft washcloth
- Mild baby soap or cleanser (optional)
- Clean diaper & diaper cream
- Fresh clothes
Having everything prepared beforehand will help you stay organized and ensure you don’t need to leave your baby unattended during bath time.
Step 2: Prepare the Bathing Area
Choose a warm and comfortable area in your home for bathing your baby.
You can use a baby bathtub, sink, or even a clean washing-up bowl filled with warm water.
If you’re using a baby bathtub, make sure it’s stable and secure. Place a towel at the bottom of the tub or sink to provide a soft surface for your baby to lie on.
Fill the tub or sink with warm water, making sure it’s not too hot.
To test the water temperature, use your wrist or elbow, if it burns after a few seconds it’s too hot. Aim for a temperature between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 38 degrees Celsius).
Don’t forget to mix the water well to avoid hot and cold spots.
Step 3: Undress Your Baby
Pretty straightforward, of course you’ll want to undress your baby before placing them in the water.
Again, stating the obvious, but if your baby has a dirty diaper, you’ll need to clean it as you normally would before they take a bath.
This is a good bonding moment for baby and parent, you can sing songs or gently massage their back and tummy as you undress them.
Step 4: Clean Your Baby’s Face and Hair
Begin their bath by using a soft washcloth dampened with warm water to gently clean your baby’s face. Start from the forehead and work your way down.
Pay extra attention to their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Remember to use a different part of the washcloth for each area to avoid spreading any germs.
Once their face is clean, it’s time to wash your baby’s hair.
You can either support their head over the tub or sink, or use a separate basin for rinsing.
Wet their hair with warm water and apply a small amount of mild baby shampoo (if needed, Ollie for instance was practically bald when he was born, so we used none during the baby’s first bath and in the following months).
Gently massage their scalp with your fingertips or a soft brush, and rinse thoroughly.
Step 5: Clean the Rest of Your Baby’s Body
Now that your baby’s face and hair are clean, it’s time to move on to the rest of their body.
Using a soft washcloth or cotton wool, gently wash each part of their body, paying attention to their neck, armpits, hands, feet, and genital area.
For girls, remember to clean from front to back to prevent any risk of infection.
If you choose to use a mild baby soap or cleanser, make sure it’s suitable for newborns and rinse thoroughly to remove any residue.
Keep in mind that in the baby’s first bath and their first month, plain water is sufficient for cleaning your baby’s delicate skin.
Step 6: Rinse and Dry Your Baby
After you have finished washing your baby’s body, rinse off any soap or cleanser.
You can use a small plastic cup or a clean washcloth to gently pour warm water over your baby’s body. Take care to keep their head elevated and avoid getting water in their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Once your baby is rinsed, carefully lift them out of the tub or sink and wrap them in a warm towel.
Pat their skin gently to dry them, paying extra attention to those cute creases and folds where moisture can accumulate.
You can also take this opportunity to give your baby a soothing massage, which can help them relax and sleep better.
Step 7: Post-Bath Care
Is your baby bathed and dried? Bath time doesn’t end here!
Apply a moisturizing lotion or baby oil to keep their skin hydrated, especially if they have dry patches. Be sure to choose a product that is specifically designed for babies and free from harsh chemicals or fragrances.
Once you have moisturized your baby’s skin, dress them in a clean diaper and fresh clothes. Take your time to ensure the diaper is snug but not too tight, and the clothes are comfortable for your baby.
Safety Tips for Bathing a Newborn
Bathing a newborn requires extra care and attention to ensure their safety. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind:
- Never leave your baby unattended in the bath, even for a second. It’s crucial to stay with them at all times to prevent any accidents or drowning. Babies and small children can drown in one or two inches of water, and it can happen quickly and silently.
- Avoid distractions during bath time, such as phone calls or attending to other tasks. Focus solely on your baby’s safety.
- Keep the water temperature warm, but not too hot. Use your wrist or elbow to test the water before placing your baby in it. Remember, babies have sensitive skin and can easily get burned by hot water.
- Use non-slip mats or grips in the bathtub or sink to prevent any accidents caused by slippery surfaces.
- Be gentle and supportive when handling your baby in the water. Use one hand to support their head and neck while using the other hand to wash them.
- If you’re bathing your baby in a regular bathtub, never leave them alone in a bath seat or bath ring. These devices can be unstable and increase the risk of accidents and drowning.
By following these safety tips and staying vigilant throughout bath time, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and your baby.
Building a Bathing Routine from Your Baby’s First Bath: The Benefits of Consistency
Establishing a bathing routine can provide comfort and familiarity for your baby (which, let’s face it, translates to mental sanity for you).
Bath time can become an enjoyable part of their daily routine, signaling relaxation and preparation for bed. As your baby grows, they may even start to look forward to bath time as a fun and engaging activity.
In addition to the physical benefits of cleanliness, bath time can also offer sensory stimulation and promote bonding between you and your baby.
The warm water, gentle touch, and soothing environment can create a sense of calm and security, helping your baby feel loved and nurtured.
That’s a Wrap: Embrace the Joy of Bathing Your Newborn
Bathing your newborn can be a wonderful experience filled with bonding, relaxation, and joy.
It’s an opportunity to connect with your baby and provide them with the care and love they need. Remember to follow expert recommendations, ensure your baby’s safety, and create a routine that works for you and your little one.
As you embark on this journey of parenthood, know that every parent faces challenges and questions along the way. Embrace the learning process, trust your instincts, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support from healthcare professionals, family, and friends. You’re not alone, and together we can navigate the beautiful and sometimes messy adventure of raising a newborn.
So, take a deep breath, gather your supplies, and let the joy of bathing your newborn begin!