Giving a baby a bath doesn’t seem like it would be hard…but like so many things parenting, knowing how and when to give Baby a bath is confusing! And it’s not just mother-in-laws and social media offering outdated or conflicting bath time tips. A recent nationwide survey found that hospitals dole out an absolute mishmash of bathing advice, too. For example, researchers found that guidance on whether to use soap when washing your baby was both inconsistent and “potentially contradictory.” Yikes. But here’s the thing: Bathing your baby doesn’t have to be so fraught with anxiety and confusion! We break down everything you need to know to keep your little one clean and safe.

When should my newborn get their first bath?

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), it’s best to delay Baby’s first bath until 24 hours after birth—or wait at least six hours if holding off longer is impossible thanks to cultural reasons. Research shows that 87% of hospitals follow this advice and delay Baby’s first bath by at least six hours. That’s great news, since delaying Baby’s first bath helps to fend off hypothermia, prevents drying out Baby’s delicate skin, promotes skin-to-skin care, and bolsters early breastfeeding success, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The only exception to the wait-to-bathe rule: Babies whose moms are HIV-positive or have hepatitis should be bathed after the initial breastfeed (if nursing) to decrease risk to hospital staff and family members.

How often should I give Baby a bath?

As long as your little one’s diaper area is completely cleaned during every change, you’ll only need to give your baby a bath two to three times a week once you’re home from the hospital, notes the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

Should I give Baby a sponge bath or a regular bath?

Sponge baths are the way to go until your little one’s umbilical cord stump falls off and heals. That’s usually within 15 days after birth. And don’t hurry the process. It’s important that you resist the urge to pull it off, even if it’s dangling! Simply let the stump fall off naturally.

How do I give my baby a sponge bath?

A sponge bath means that your baby’s body should not be submerged—even partially—in a tub of water. Instead, make sure the room where you are bathing your newborn is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit without drafts, cover your baby’s umbilical cord stump with gauze, and then follow these steps:

  • Gather washcloths, a mild and fragrance-free baby cleanser and shampoo, and two dry towels. One towel is to wrap your baby in and the second is to pad a hard surface you may be bathing your baby on.

  • Fill a bowl of lukewarm water.

  • Wrap your naked baby in a towel and lay them down on a comfortable, flat surface, like a changing table or the floor. Make sure you always keep at least one hand on your bub. (Learn more bath safety tips.)

  • Dip the washcloth into the bowl of water and gently wipe your baby’s face and ears. Using the same cloth—or a moistened cotton ball—clean Baby’s eyes, starting at the bridge of their nose then wipe out to the corner of their eye. (At this point, no baby cleanser is needed.)

  • If desired, add some fragrance- and dye-fee hypoallergenic baby cleanser into the bowl of water or the washcloth and begin cleaning your baby’s neck, paying special attention to all their skin folds. (According to the AAD, you really only need to apply soap to dirty areas, such as neck creases and the diaper area.)

  • Rinse soap after cleaning each baby bit.

  • When ready, expose the part of your baby’s body that you’ll wash next. The rest of Baby should remain covered in a towel.

  • Avoid getting your little one’s umbilical cord stump wet.

  • Gently wash your baby’s body, bit by bit, making sure to rinse off the soap after cleaning each area. (The diaper area should be cleaned last.)

  • Wrap your clean baby back up in a warm towel before washing their scalp/hair.

  • Wet Baby’s head by gently pouring water over their scalp, being very careful not to let water run into their eyes.

  • Next, squeeze a pea-size amount of baby shampoo on your bub’s hair and carefully rub it in a circular motion, then rinse out the shampoo with your hands.

  • Pat your baby’s hair dry and, if needed, comb their hair with a soft baby brush. (An infant hairbrush can help clear cradle cap, too.)

  • If your baby’s skin appears dry after bathing, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer to your bub’s skin—and consider bathing less.

How do I know if my baby is ready for a regular bath?

You’re ready to start offering Baby traditional baths once their umbilical cord stump has completely fallen off and healed, which generally happens at about 2 weeks old. (If the stump is still hanging on at 2 months old, talk to your baby’s pediatrician.) But remember, just because your baby is “ready” for a traditional bath, doesn’t mean they’ll love it! if your little one fusses and cries getting a regular bath, feel free to revert to sponge baths for a bit longer.

How do I bathe my baby in a tub?

While some parents opt for bath seats, the AAP warns that they can easily tip over and should be avoided. Instead, use a plastic baby bathtub featuring a sloped, textured surface (or sling) that keeps your baby from sliding. While the good ol kitchen sink is always an option, they’re slippery and have obstacles like a protruding faucet, so be very careful! (Lining the sink or a baby bath with a clean towel can help sidestep slipperiness.) Here, more tips on how to safely wash your baby in a tub:

  • Keep the room draft-free and warm enough for a wet naked baby not to catch a chill. (Shoot for about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.)

  • Gather a washcloth, a mild and fragrance-free baby cleanser and shampoo, a small cup, and a dry towel.

  • Fill the baby tub or sink with roughly two inches of lukewarm water that feels warm to the inside of your wrist or elbow. (If you are using a thermometer, aim for bath water to be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.)

  • Once your little one is naked, use one hand to support their head and another to guide them into the water, feet first. (Because most of your baby’s body will be out of the water, you’ll need to regularly pour warm water over their body to keep them warm.)

  • Never take your hand off your baby.

  • Gently wash your baby’s face without a baby cleanser. (Follow the same directions as the sponge bath.)

  • From the neck down, wash Baby with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser, making sure to clean all your baby’s folds and rinse soap off as you go. (Clean Baby’s diaper area last.)

  • If your baby is getting chilly, feel free to wrap them up in a warm towel before tackling their scalp and hair.

  • Gently wet Baby’s scalp with water (avoiding their eyes), then massage a pea-size amount of baby shampoo on your little one’s scalp and hair.

  • When rinsing out shampoo, cup your hand across your baby’s forehead to prevent soap from running into their face.

  • All done? Swiftly wrap a snuggly towel around your baby’s head and body and gently pat them dry.

  • Once dry, consider applying a small amount of fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizing lotion if your baby’s skin appears dry. (Bathing Baby less often can help dry skin, as well.)

How do I bathe a baby with eczema?

If your baby has been diagnosed with eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), marked by patches of dry, itchy skin, reach out to your pediatrician and/or pediatric dermatologist for guidance. (Learn more about caring for your baby’s eczema.) They’ll likely advise the following type of bathing advice:

  • Offer 5- to 10-minute lukewarm baths daily or every other day. (Too-warm water—and too-long baths—can inflame Baby’s eczema symptoms.)

  • Use only a gentle, soap-, fragrance-, and dye-free hypoallergenic baby cleanser on dirty areas, like hands, feet, the folds of Baby’s neck, and the diaper area. Plain water is A-okay for the rest of your baby’s body.

  • Rinse baby cleanser off Baby as you go.

  • Apply a moisturizer to Baby’s body post-bath, while their skin is still damp. An ointment, like petroleum jelly or a fragrance-free moisturizing cream are both good picks. Lotions are too thin and less effective. (Moisturize Baby’s delicate skin about twice a day.)

It’s also smart to dress your baby in soft fabrics like 100% organic cotton and to use only mild, fragrance-free laundry detergents.

More on caring for your baby and their delicate skin:

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REFERENCES

  • Variation in Newborn Skincare Policies Across United States Maternity Hospitals, Hospital Pediatrics, September 2021
  • World Health Organization: WHO recommendations on newborn health: guidelines approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: Bathing Your Baby
  • American Academy of Dermatology Association: How to Bathe Your Newborn
  • MedlinePlus: Umbilical cord care in newborns
  • University Hospitals: Best Tips for Giving Your Newborn Baby a Bath
  • American Academy of Dermatology Association: How to Care for Your Baby’s Skin, Hair, and Nails
  • Mayo Clinic: Baby bath basics: A parent's guide

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.