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How to Bathe Your Baby

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

Most new parents find the first bath intimidating. And it’s no wonder. A newborn is tiny, fragile, and wiggly, so you want to ensure they are safe at bathtime.

Between all of us moms on the team at Mom Loves Best, we’ve bathed a LOT of babies! We’ve gained confidence in the process and are here to share our tips.

We’ll give you the play-by-play on how to bathe your baby, and we’ll answer the most common questions about the process so you can bathe your little one with confidence and enjoy those sweet bonding moments.


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 their 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 gone and the area has healed (1).

How to Give Your Baby a Sponge Bath

Make sure you have everything you 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 the supplies you’ll need:

  • Mild, baby-safe soap and 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 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 your baby! Even though newborns don’t roll, they can still wiggle themselves into unwanted situations.

You need one cloth to start wiping your 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 Your Baby Carefully

Take off everything except the diaper. Leave this until the end, as we all know how unpredictable babies can be with their bodily functions.

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

3. Wipe Your 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 your 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, ensuring you get between those folds in your baby’s multiple chubby chins.

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

Uncover the upper part of the chest and clean it, remembering to dip the cloth in the warm 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.

Remember

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

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

4. Remove the Diaper

Once your 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. You shouldn’t use soap in the genital area. If you have a circumcised boy, avoid using soap until the area is completely healed.

5. To Shampoo — Or Not?

It’s not necessary to shampoo a newborn’s hair, even though some babies are born with a full head of hair.

If you choose to use shampoo, lay your 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 support their neck.

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

6. Dry Your Baby Carefully

Once you’ve finished the sponge bath, wrap your bundle of joy in the hooded towel. Lightly pat your baby dry.

Newborns sometimes have a significant amount of dead skin, but don’t try to remove it by rubbing with a towel. Instead, use a small amount of baby lotion on these areas. This keeps the skin moist while it slowly sheds 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 your 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 Should You Bathe Your Baby?

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

Bathing Your Baby in a Tub

Once the umbilical cord stump is off and the area has 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. It can be challenging to open a tub or bottle while holding a baby.

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 your baby from sliding around, softens any edges, and protects them from the cold surfaces.

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

2. Getting Your Baby Into the Tub

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

Go slowly; you don’t want to surprise your baby. Support your baby’s head and neck the whole time with a tub support or your hand.

3. Body Wash

Once they’re in the tub, use your hand or a plastic cup to slowly pour warm water over their body. 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 your 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 to wipe your baby’s face. Never pour water onto the face, as this will startle your baby.

4. Shampoo Time

Support your baby’s head and neck while slowly pouring water over their hair. Try to sweep off excess water and prevent it from running down their face. If this is not possible, put a clean washcloth on your baby’s forehead, ensuring their eyes remain uncovered.

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 your 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 to do this.

6. After-Bath Care

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

Pat them dry, and apply lotion or oil to prevent their skin from drying out.

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Help Your Baby Enjoy Bathtime

Bathtime should be relaxing and enjoyable. But we know this is not always the case. If your baby loves bathtime, you’re one of the lucky ones.

If not, we have a few tips to make bathtime a happy time:

Baby Bathing FAQs

What’s the Best Baby Tub?

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 the tub themselves while holding their baby in their lap.

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

If you live in a home with limited storage, a plastic tub might not be the best choice. Consider using an inflatable or flexible baby tub that fits in the sink.

Some plastic tubs have a sling to cradle the baby; you can adjust or remove this as your baby grows.

How Much Water Should I Use?

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

Remember

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

Babies who like bathtime 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 bathtime, try a different tactic.

What’s the Best Bath Temperature?

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

Should I Buy a Thermometer?

A baby bath thermometer is more of an accessory than a necessity. It’s useful if you have 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 a warmer bath, while others like it cooler.

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

How Often Should You Bathe Your Baby?

Some parents bathe their babies every day, but that is more than what’s necessary. 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 your baby’s skin is getting dry, you could be bathing them too often.

Can I Feed My Baby Before a Bath?

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

Why Is Bathtime So Important?

Bonding

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

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

Stimulation

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. Your baby will also learn about water — the sounds it makes and what it feels like. Show them how to make a splash at bathtime!

Easier Bedtimes

As much as we moms love our 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 sleep deprivation.

As your 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 When Bathing Your 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 on your 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 your baby.
  • Never turn your back: If you’ve forgotten something or need to leave the bathing area, take your baby with you.

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran licensed 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.