Parents often say they treasure bath time with their newborn. It’s a special bonding experience as your baby enjoys the sensation of their skin being in warm water. The first time though, even the thought about how to handle a slippery, wriggly newborn might make you worry about how to do it well. We’ll outline some steps to bathing a newborn below, followed by some facts that might be of interest to you as a new parent. New skills take time to develop but soon you’ll be washing with confidence!
Newborn bathing steps
- It is best to bath baby when they are calm and not hungry. It is also important not to wash them after they’ve just been fed (as it can cause their tummy to get upset). It is best for you to bath baby when you also feel calm and aren’t going to be distracted.
- Place everything you need for the bath within easy reach and ensure you’re free of distractions (for example, turn off your phone or the television). Leaving your baby unattended on the change table or even in shallow water is life threatening to baby, so always ensure you’re holding them. If the doorbell rings for instance, ensure you wrap baby in a towel and take them with you.
- Choose a location that ensures you’re comfortable and can maintain a good posture, and not have to over-reach.
- Fill the bath with enough water to cover baby’s shoulders and neck so they stay warm. It’s also okay for baby’s ears to go under the water, as the sensation of having a warm bottom and cold torso may lead to overstimulation.
- Mix the water well with your hand so the warmth is evenly distributed. Use your wrist (it’s more sensitive than a hand or elbow) to check the water temperature is comfortable and not too hot or cold (37-38 degrees Celsius is ideal).
- Support your baby’s neck and head with one arm. With the other gently wash your baby with cotton wool or a soft washer, starting on their face, behind their ears, and the rest of the body, ensuring you move into all their soft folds and creases. Gently, do the genitals last.
- If they’re enjoying the water (most babies do after their first few baths), you may even support them to float in the bath if they are calm and content. If they enjoy the water floating can even help them relax, which is great if they’re soon going to sleep.
- Place baby on a towel and ensure they stay warm as you pat baby dry, being careful to also dry baby’s skin folds. Dress your baby in a fresh nappy and some clean clothes. Baby’s skin is often sensitive and can be dry from baths, so this time offers a great chance for further bonding by moisturising them with a fragrance-free mild moisturiser, or giving them a gentle massage with baby oil.
- Here is a really helpful baby newborn bathing video by Mater Mothers (4:59 mins): https://www.matermothers.org.au/journey/baby-care/bathing-your-newborn
- When your baby is safely and securely happy away from the bath, empty the bath. If you’re using a portable bath, protect your back by using a jug to empty.
When should I give my baby their first bath?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends delaying baby’s first bath until 24 hours after birth or waiting six hours if a full day isn’t possible for cultural reasons.
Some reasons why include:
- Babies who are bathed straight away are likely to get cold and develop hypothermia, which in turn can cause their blood sugar to drop.
- Bathing straight away can interrupt mother and baby skin-to-skin contact which is key for bonding and early breastfeeding success.
- Vernix, the wax white substance that coats your baby’s skin acts as a natural moisturiser and is thought to have anti-bacterial properties. This coating helps prevent their skin from drying out.
How often do babies need a bath?
Newborns don’t need a bath every day as they don’t get dirty enough. Bathing them too regularly can also make their delicate and sensitive skin dry out. When bathing, mild baby-friendly soaps (follow instructions on them) are okay, but you might like to use them very sparingly and in the first few weeks or you could just use water and a soft cloth.
Aim for three baths a week, and you can “spot or sponge” bath in between. Many parents sponge bath their newborns until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off and heals (this happens naturally usually by two weeks of age).
Baby sponge bath tips:
- Get supplies ready before beginning, including a bowl or basin of water, a damp washcloth rinsed in soap free water, a dry towel, and anything else you might need.
- Lay your baby on a flat surface (padded) and always ensure they can not fall.
- Use dampened cloth to gently wash face, then rinse cloth in water before doing areas of the body and finally, the nappy area.
- Keep baby warm during the sponge bath, by keeping baby in a dry towel and only uncovering the parts of the body you’re washing and drying as you go.
Don’t forget to soak up all the special moments that come with bathing or spot bathing your newborn.
Here are some useful links for further reading (not linked above):
- Raising Children have a useful picture guide for bathing a newborn here
- Raising Children – detailed information & fear of baths
- Mater Mothers
- Health Direct