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Best Tips for Giving Your Newborn Baby a Bath

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
small baby in bathtub held by adult arms

A newborn’s skin is soft and delicate. Proper skin care and bathing can help maintain the health and texture of your baby’s skin while providing a pleasant experience for both of you.

So what does it mean to provide proper skin care?

“Contrary to popular thought, most babies don’t need a bath every single day,” says pediatrician Linda Orosz, MD, of UH Rainbow Kids First. “With all the diaper changes and wiping of the mouth and nose after feedings, most babies really just need to be bathed two or three times a week or every other day.”

Baths can be given any time of day, Dr. Orosz says.

"Before a feeding often works well. Many parents also like to bathe their baby in the evening, as part of the bedtime ritual, especially if bath time is relaxing and soothing for the baby,” she says.

Dr. Orosz offers this additional guidance for keeping your little one comfortable and clean, starting with what you’ll need to have on hand for this important job.

Start with Sponge Baths

The first baths you should give your baby should be sponge baths to prevent infection. Wait to bathe your baby in a tub of water until the umbilical cord stump falls off, and if your baby is a boy, after the circumcision heals. 

“Expect your baby to cry the first few times you bathe them,” Dr. Orosz says. “Usually, this is just because a bath is a new experience.

Supplies needed for a sponge bath include:

  • Thick towels or a sponge-type bath cushion
  • Soft washcloths
  • Basin or clean sink
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Non-irritating baby shampoo and baby soap
  • Towel or hooded towel
  • Clean diaper and clothing

How To Give Your Newborn a Sponge Bath

Make sure the room is warm, without drafts. This means a room temperature of about 75 degrees. Then, gather all equipment and supplies in advance.

One very important thing is to never take your hands off your baby.

“Never take your hands off the baby, even for a moment,” Dr. Orosz says. “If you have forgotten something, wrap up your baby in a towel and take them with you.”

To give the sponge bath:

  • Add warm water to a clean sink or basin (warm to the inside of your wrist or elbow).
  • Place the baby on a bath cushion or thick towels on a surface that is comfortable for you.
  • Keep the baby covered with a towel or blanket.
  • Start with the baby’s face. Use a moistened, clean washcloth or cotton ball to wipe each eye, starting at the bridge of the nose then wiping out to the corner of the eye.
  • Wash the rest of the baby’s face with a soft, moist washcloth without soap.
  • Clean the outside folds of the ears with a soft washcloth. Don’t insert a cotton swab into the baby’s ear canal because of the risk of damage to the ear drum.
  • Add a small amount of baby soap to the water or washcloth and gently bathe the rest of the baby from the neck down. Uncover only one area at a time. Rinse with a clean washcloth or a small cup of water. Be sure to avoid getting the umbilical cord stump wet.
  • Once the baby’s body is clean, you can wrap them in a warm towel before washing the hair.
  • Wash the baby’s head last with shampoo on a washcloth. Rinse, being careful not to let water run over the baby’s face. Holding the baby firmly with your arm under their back and your wrist and hand supporting their neck, you can use a high faucet to rinse the hair. If you are using a spray attachment with the faucet, first be sure the water in the sprayer is warm. 
  • Scrubbing is not needed, but most babies enjoy having their arms and legs massaged with gentle strokes during a bath.
  • Wrap the baby in a towel and cuddle your clean baby close.
  • Follow cord care instructions given by your baby’s healthcare provider.
  • Use a soft baby brush to comb out your baby’s hair. Don’t use a hair dryer on hot to dry a baby's hair. This can cause burns.

Moving From Sponge Baths To Tub Baths

Once your baby’s umbilical cord stump has fallen off, and after a boy’s circumcision has healed, you can give your baby a tub bath. This can be a pleasurable experience for you and your baby. However, some babies may not like to be bathed, especially the first few times.

“Talk softly or sing and try some bath toys if your baby protests,” Dr. Orosz says.

Supplies needed for a tub bath include:

  • Baby bathtub, preferably with a bottom drain plug
  • Nonslip mat or pad
  • A bath thermometer is optional. These often have “safe” bath temperature ranges marked on them.

How To Give Your Newborn a Tub Bath

  • Clear the counter or tabletop of breakable objects and electrical appliances to prevent injury.
  • Fill the tub with warm water, making sure the water is warm, not hot. Always test the water before placing your baby into the tub. Some parents feel most comfortable using a baby bath thermometer to confirm the correct temperature of the water.
  • Follow the same general bathing instructions for a sponge bath.
  • Never take your hands off your baby or walk away, even for a moment.
  • Be sure to clean the bathtub after each use.

Skin Care for Your Newborn

A baby’s soft and delicate skin needs special care. Generally, it is best to use products made especially for babies, but your baby’s healthcare provider can advise you about other products. Products for adults may be too harsh for a baby and may contain irritants or allergens.

Many parents like to use lotions. But unless the baby’s skin is dry, lotions really are not needed.

Powders should be avoided unless they are recommended by your baby’s healthcare provider. When using any powder, put the powder in your hand and then apply it to the baby’s skin. Shaking powder into the air releases dust and talc that can harm your baby’s lungs.

Another thing Dr. Orosz says to be aware of: Many babies have rashes and bumps that are normal, while some other rashes may be a sign of a problem or infection. Diaper rash can be irritating to the baby and may need to be treated.

“If you have concerns about a rash, or your baby is uncomfortable or has a fever, call your baby's healthcare provider,” she says.

Laundry detergents may also cause irritation to a baby's delicate skin. If your baby seems sensitive to detergent, you can use a special detergent for babies with sensitive skin and give the laundry an extra rinse with plain water to remove any leftover detergent.

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to babies, children and adolescents. Learn more or find a pediatrician or pediatric practice near you.