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How to Bathe Your Baby

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Make the most of baby bath time.

What are the scariest, but also the best moments with your new bundle of joy? Bath times, of course!

Most new parents find the first bath intimidating. And no wonder. A newborn is tiny and fragile, so you want to make sure everything is perfect.

Babies also tend to be wiggly. Mix that with soap and water and you may feel like you have a recipe for disaster.

You want your baby to love bath time. This will make future baths a lot easier! Let’s go through the steps to make bath time the best time for you and your baby.

The First Weeks

A good old sponge bath is the best way to clean your baby during the first few weeks. Your baby will likely still have its umbilical cord stump, which we need to care for the best we can.

While this area is healing, keep it as dry as possible. That means no tub bath if you can avoid it. Even if you dry it after a tub bath, it may remain moist, prolonging the healing process.

Take Note

The umbilical cord stump typically drops off after one or two weeks. However, it can stay as long as three weeks. Hold off on tub baths until the stump is off, and the area is healed (1).

How to Give Baby a Sponge Bath

Make sure you have everything you’ll need before getting started. You don’t want to be standing with a naked baby while trying to grab things out of your reach.

Here’s a list of everything you need:

  • Mild, baby-safe soap, maybe even shampoo (optional).
  • Large bowl or basin to hold water.
  • Clean clothes and a diaper.
  • Warm water.
  • Baby lotion.
  • A changing pad or a soft blanket.
  • Two or three washcloths.
  • Cotton balls.
  • Plastic cup.
  • Two towels, preferably one of them with a hood.

1. Prepare The Sponge Bath

Begin by placing the changing pad or soft blanket on a flat, warm surface. Some parents like to use the changing table; others prefer a bed or even the kitchen counter.

Always keep a hand on baby! Even though newborns don’t roll, they can still wiggle themselves into unwanted situations.

You need one cloth to start wiping baby with clean water. If you choose to use soap, you will need a separate one. Finally, you need another for the diaper area.

2. Undress Baby Carefully

Take off everything except the diaper. Leave this to the end as babies are unpredictable when it comes to bowel movements and urination.

Wrap your baby in a soft towel. Communicate with baby softly. Tell them what you’re doing and how much you love those chubby thighs.

3. Wipe Baby Gently

Dip the first cloth in the water, and wring out the excess. It shouldn’t be dripping wet, just damp.

Start by wiping baby’s face. Gently remove any crust from the eye area and clean around the mouth and chin to get rid of dried milk. Move down to the neck and carefully wipe all around, and make sure you get between those folds in your baby’s multiple, chubby chins.

Some prefer to use cotton balls to clean around the baby’s eyes. If you do, remember to squeeze out excess water, leaving the cotton soft but not too wet.

Move down to the chest. Uncover the top part and clean, remembering to dip the cloth in water regularly.

If you want to use a mild soap, first wet the cloth, then add a tiny amount of soap. Sponge the area and repeat with a clean, moist cloth, to remove any residue.


Keep baby warm throughout the bath. Every time you switch to another area, cover the previous, leaving only the area being cleaned exposed.

Check fingers and toes for any hair wrapped around. These can cut off blood flow, or harm baby’s sensitive skin. Also, check baby’s neck for loose hairs.

4. Remove The Diaper

Once baby is clean, it’s time to uncover the diaper area. It is crucial to clean this area carefully. Diaper rashes often occur due to undiscovered poop in the tiny folds of the skin.

Wipe all folds and cracks (literally speaking). You shouldn’t use soap in the genital area. If you have a boy who has been circumcised, especially avoid using soap until the area is completely healed.

5. Shampoo — Or Not?

Shampooing a newborn’s hair is not necessary, even though some babies are born with a full head of hair.

If you choose to shampoo, lay baby close to the bowl or basin. Gently lift their head over the bowl, carrying them in a football hold across your hand and lower arm. Your hand should be supporting their neck.

Use the plastic cup, or your free hand, to pour small amounts of water over baby’s head. Pour the water from front to back, ensuring it doesn’t spill down the face.

Apply a small drop of shampoo and softly lather it into the hair; never rub hard! Use the cup or your hand to rinse out the shampoo afterward. Make sure no soapy water goes over baby’s face.

6. Dry Off Baby Carefully

Once the sponge bath is done, wrap your bundle of joy in the hooded towel. Lightly pat baby dry.

Newborns sometimes have a significant amount of dead skin, but don’t try to remove it by rubbing with the towel. Instead, use a small amount of baby lotion on these areas. This keeps the skin moist while slowly getting rid of the excess skin.

7. Care For The Cord Stump

With a clean, damp washcloth, carefully pat the area around the cord. Gently lift the clip to reach all sides, never pulling or tugging on it.

In the summer, dress baby in a diaper and loose T-shirt. This ensures nothing is pulling at the cord. It also allows airflow, keeping the area dry and possibly accelerating the stump’s removal (2).

How Often To Bathe Baby

Giving your baby a sponge bath every two or three days is more than enough. However, wipe some areas, such as face and hands frequently. Clean the diaper area at every change.

Bathing Baby In A Tub

Once the umbilical cord stump is off and the area is healed, you can begin tub baths.

Bathing your baby in a tub is not the same for all parents. Some babies love the feel of the water, while others will scream until you take them out.

You will need a few items when bathing your baby. As with a sponge bath, gather everything before you start.

Pro Tip

Open soap or shampoo bottles and place them close to the tub before you begin. Trying to open up a tub or bottle while holding baby can be a challenge.

Here’s what you need:

  • A baby bathtub, washbasin, or sink.
  • Two towels.
  • A washcloth or sponge.
  • A flat, secure location.
  • Soap and shampoo.
  • Plastic cup.
  • Bowl or basin with clean water.

1. Preparing The Bath

Use a plastic tub or sink large enough to hold your baby. If the tub doesn’t have a non-slip surface, line it with a clean towel. This prevents baby from sliding around, softens any edges, and protects baby from cold surfaces.

Ensure everything you need is within reach. Add a couple of inches of water to the tub.

2. Getting Baby Into The Tub

Undress them with care. Remember to remove all other clothing first, leaving the diaper until last. Support the baby’s head and neck with one arm and use the other to guide the feet into the water.

Go slow, you don’t want to surprise the baby. Keep baby’s head and neck supported the whole time, either by a support in the tub, or with your hand.

3. Body Wash

Once they’re in the tub, use your hand or a plastic cup to pour warm water over their body slowly. Gently wipe with a washcloth. Maintain eye contact, speak softly and smile to assure them everything is fine.

If you want to use a mild soap (optional), wet a sponge or cloth. Add a small amount of soap and begin to lather baby carefully. Get into all those lovely, hidden folds, especially in the underarm, neck, and diaper area.

Use a clean, moist cloth, or cotton balls (as above) to wipe baby’s face. Never pour water onto the face, as this will startle the baby.

4. Shampoo Time

Support baby’s head and neck while slowly pouring water on the hair. Try to sweep off excess water and prevent it from running down the face. If this is not possible, put a clean washcloth on baby’s forehead — make sure not to cover the eyes though.

Use a small drop of shampoo and lather the hair. When rinsing out the shampoo, use the same technique of pouring water and sweeping. Even though baby shampoo is mild and safe, it can still be uncomfortable if it gets in baby’s eyes.

5. Rinse Away the Bubbles

Before taking your baby out of the tub, use the clean water from the bowl or basin to rinse off any soap. You can use the plastic cup or a clean washcloth.

6. After Bath Care

As soon as you’ve finished, wrap baby in a warm towel. Place them on a flat surface or changing table.

Pat them dry and apply lotion or oil to prevent the skin from drying.

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Help Your Baby Enjoy Bath Time

Bath time should be relaxing and enjoyable. But this is not always the case. If your baby loves bath time, feel free to skip this section.

Here are a few tips to make bath time a happy time:

Baby Bathing FAQs

What’s the Best Tub To Use?

Before choosing a tub, think about how you want to bathe your little one. Some parents prefer a tub or sink, while others like to sit in a tub and hold baby in their lap.

You can also choose a soft baby bathtub, usually made from foam or polyester. These easily fit into a sink or normal bathtub and will cradle your baby enough to keep them from slipping around.

If you live in a small home, a plastic tub might not be the best choice for storage reasons. Consider using an inflatable or flexible baby tub which fits in the sink.

Some plastic tubs have a sling to cradle the baby; these can be adjusted or removed as the baby grows.

How Much Water Should I Use In Baby Bath?

Some experts say it’s only necessary to fill the tub to two inches and then pour clean water from a separate bowl over baby continuously. Others say the baby’s body can be submerged in water to keep them warm.


All it takes is an inch of water to drown a baby, so do not leave them unsupervised at any point. It doesn’t matter how happy or confident they are in the water.

Babies who like bath time might prefer to float around and play. Others just need to get it over with. See what your baby prefers; if they cry a lot during bath time, try a different tactic.

What’s the Best Bath Temperature?

A simple way to tell whether the temperature is right is using your wrist. Drop some of the water on the inside of your wrist and if it feels warm, you’re good to go. If it’s too hot or even slightly hot, it will be too hot for the baby.

Should I Buy A Thermometer?

A thermometer is more of an accessory. It would be useful if you got one, but don’t feel bad if you can’t afford it.

The ideal temperature for a baby bath is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some babies may prefer their bath a little warmer while others like it cooler. What should you do if you use the thermometer to get the perfect 98.6, but baby is still crying?

Try adjusting the temperature; it could turn the frown upside down. Still, don’t amend it by more than a couple of degrees. Don’t add hot or cold water while baby is actually in the tub, either.

How Often Should You Bathe Baby?

Some parents bathe their baby every day. That might be a bit too much. Small babies usually don’t get dirty, apart from occasional (or frequent, in the case of my youngest) diaper explosions.

Until they start to crawl, bathing your baby two or three times a week should be fine. If you notice the baby’s skin is getting dry, you could be bathing them too often.

Can I Feed Baby Before a Bath?

Feeding your baby right before bath time can increase the chance of them spitting up during the bath. However, you should also avoid bathing baby when they’re hungry, unless you don’t mind a screaming baby.

Why Is Bath Time So Important?

1. Creates A Bond

As parents, we want to have the best connection with our child. We often get busy with our lives, and may lose precious bonding time.

Bath time can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes; it’s the perfect time to get to know your baby. Tell them about your day, count their toes and fingers. If you enjoy it, they’re more likely to!

2. Stimulation For Baby

Babies need to be entertained and stimulated. What better way than to splish and splash in the water? They will develop neural pathways which will only benefit them as they grow.

Bring a few toys and let them explore their bath. Baby will also learn about water — the sounds it makes, what it feels like. Show them how to make a splash at bath time!

3. Bath Time Could Make Bedtime Easier

As much as we moms love our baby (or babies!), we also love a good night’s rest. The first few months of parenthood often feel like an endless sea of dirty diapers, feedings, and no sleep.

As baby grows, start developing a bedtime routine; teach your child when it’s time to sleep. A warm, soothing bath is the best way to help your baby relax before nodding off. The ideal time to start developing a routine is around six to eight weeks (4).

What are the Risks of Bathing Baby?

When bathing a baby, drowning is, unfortunately, the biggest risk.

However, there are ways to prevent accidents and make sure you and your baby have a good time:

  • Always keep one hand and eye on baby: We can’t say this enough. Babies can drown in as little as an inch of water.
  • Fill the tub before putting baby in: The temperature from the faucet could change quickly and burn babies.
  • Never turn your back: If you’ve forgotten something or need to leave the bathing area, take baby with you.

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.