Babies are slippery little things—especially when they’re wet—so bathing your newborn can be a bit daunting at first. And it doesn’t help if your baby screams the whole time either!
But don’t stress—firstly, babies don’t need a full bath every day and with practice you’ll grow in confidence. Soon enough your baby will learn to love bath time.
It is important to know that babies aren’t just having a bath to get clean. Bathing a baby is a wonderful way to bond with your little one, it helps with their learning and development, it can soothe a cranky baby and it can also help get a baby off to sleep! And don’t we all want that!
Tips on bathing a newborn baby
When to start and how often to bath a newborn baby
It is recommended that you don’t bath your baby for the first day of life as this helps them get all the benefits of skin-to-skin, get breastfeeding off to a good start and helps you bond with your baby. Bathing can also make your baby very cold and can lower their blood sugar.
Many baby’s still have vernix, a waxy white substance on their skin and in their skin folds, for the first day or two. This is a natural lubricant. Don’t try to wash it off. It will gradually absorb into your babies skin and help to moisturise them.
You don’t have to wait until the cord stump falls off—but remember newborns don’t need daily baths. Some days all you’ll need is a ‘top and tail’ wash.
How to do a ‘top and tail’ wash on baby
‘Top’ means washing your baby’s face, neck and hands. ‘Tail’ is washing their bottom and genitals—like you do at each nappy change. You can do a top and tail wash with a face cloth or wet cotton wool balls. It is a good way to bath baby especially when the weather is cold and sometimes it is easier to do a top and tail (or even just a top) wash before you put baby in the bath for the full wash.
- Make sure you have everything you need: bowl of warm water, face washer/flannel, clean clothes, clean nappy and nappy changing equipment.
- Place baby on a change mat or towel with everything you need within reach.
- Start by washing your baby’s eyes. Wet a corner of the face washer or use a cotton wool ball to carefully wipe their eye starting from near their nose.
- Use another corner of the face washer to wipe the other eye.
- Wipe over and behind baby’s ears.
- Wipe baby’s face and neck—try to get in the creases as this is where moisture from any positing can build up.
- Make sure their face is dry—paying careful attention to their ears and the creases in their neck.
- Wipe baby’s hands clean with the face washer. This can be easier said than done as babies like to clench their fists. Uncurl their fist to clean—you might be surprised at the amount of fluff that has accumulated there! Dry your baby’s hands.
- Remove the bottom half of baby’s clothes and take off the nappy (if they’re dirty, use your wipes to clean away the mess). Wash baby’s bottom and genitals with the face washer. Remember NOT to try to pull back a boy’s foreskin (until they are two years old) and only wash the outside of a girl’s genitals. No need to poke around too much. It is normal for little girls to have some secretions, you don’t need to wipe too vigorously.
- Dry the area thoroughly and maybe let baby have a little kick before putting on clothes and a new nappy!
How to bath a newborn baby
Before you start bathing your baby, wash your hands and gather together everything that you’ll need— you must not leave your baby alone in the bath, even for a second. Make sure you’ve chosen a time where you won’t be interrupted and when baby is happy—not too sleepy nor hungry.
What you will need:
- baby bath (on the kitchen bench is a good working height for your back). The sink or normal bath is fine too, as long as they’re clean. You will just have to lean over more.
- a clean towel or two
- a face washer or two (one for face, one for rest of body)
- change mat or suitable flat surface
- clean nappy
- clean clothes
- you don’t need any product to put in the bath water as this often dries your baby’s skin out or may cause irritation.
If using a baby bath, place the bath in an area out the breeze and at a height that is comfortable for you (maybe the kitchen bench or table!). Some baby baths come with their own stands and plugs for easy emptying.
If it makes it easier you can place a towel at the bottom of the tub to help stop a newborn from slipping. You can buy anti-slip devices or bath seats etc but they are not an essential baby item and they can lull you into a false sense of security thinking that you can leave your baby alone in the bath. You cannot leave your baby for even one second—even if you are leaving an older sibling in the room.
- Once you’ve got the bath set-up, fill with warm water—a temperature that would be comfortable for you is a good guide. Test the water with the inside of your wrist or your elbow and if in any doubt, err on the cooler side rather than risk scalding baby’s skin. If you have a water thermometer, a good guide to a maximum water temperature is 38 degrees celcius.Babies tend to like the bath more if it deep enough for them to get a floaty feeling. Try a depth where they are just resting their bottom on the bottom of the bath but most of their body is covered in water except for the top half of their chest and, obviously, their head!
- Undress your baby and, if you prefer, do a top and tail wash before popping baby in the bath (cover with a towel so they don’t get cold). Sometimes this is easier as they can get very slippery in water!
- Undress your baby completely (if their nappy is dirty, clean it as usual) and lower baby carefully into the water. Support their head and shoulders with one arm and use the other to pour water gently over your baby’s body during the bath to keep them from getting cold.
- Wipe baby’s face, ears and eyes with a clean washer (if you haven’t already).
- Gently splash some water over their head to wash their hair. Babies don’t need shampoo.
- Use another washer for the rest of the body, making sure to clean carefully around the umbilical cord stump, and get into all the skin folds. This might be easier out of the bath, but in the bath they can have a good soak.
- Carefully support your baby as your remove them from the bath using two hands, one holding tightly onto their legs and the other supporting their upper body. Dry baby thoroughly paying careful attention to all baby’s folds and creases.
- Pop baby’s nappy on and dress baby.
Make sure you care for your newborn baby’s skin by not using soap. Soap can remove the natural oils from a baby’s skin. Use a mild, non-soap based cleanser occasionally if you think baby needs more than just warm water but avoid cleansers that contain unnecessary perfumes or chemicals.
You will need to consider bathing your baby more often once they start getting messy with solid food and when they’re crawling around on the floor. Babies can get hot in the summer, so you might wish to consider giving cooling baths on a more regular basis at that time of year.