How to bathe a newborn STEP-BY-STEP, from sponge bath to tub bath (with & without umbilical cord attached)

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All the baby admin is a bit relentless, isn’t it?  It can come as a bit of a shock… Who knew newborns need to eat every 2, 1, 0.5 hours in the early days, with diaper changes just as frequent?  Well, I was a clueless the first time around, so not me.  But bathing baby, well that’s a fun task and a much-needed break from all the milk guzzling and poop cleaning up.  But how to bathe a newborn?  And what about bathing a newborn with an umbilical cord? 

Yup, these are yet more questions you need to find answers to and pronto, when your little one arrives (hats off to you if you’re reading this in advance of this momentous occasion – planning is always in my plan, but said plan? Well, it’s rarely executed).

Fear not, though, there’s actually no urgent rush – the question of when newborns should get their first bath is up first and it’s not as soon as you might think…

To bath baby in a tub or a simple sponge bath?  And what about bathing newborn baby girls vs. boys? These, and many more baby bathing questions, will be answered here. 

When should newborns get their first bath?

It used to be the thing that newborns were whisked away almost as soon as they landed in the arms of the midwife and the cord was cut.  Not anymore. 

Well, at least that’s no longer the recommendation, so, if  your baby is yet to arrive, it’s worth checking what the hospital policy is on this and letting the midwife and doctors know what you want to happen. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)  a newborn should not be bathed until at least 24 hours after birth.  And there’s no harm in waiting longer. 

Vernix caseosa

The main reason for delaying your newborns first bath it due to the presence of a sticky, white covering that babies are born with, called vernix caseosa, “vernix” meaning “to varnish” and “caseosa” meaning “cheesy nature”.  It looks about as delightful as it sounds.

But that’s not the point – your baby is not dirty, the vernix has a purpose and needs to stay put.  There’s no better example of the ingenuity of nature.

So what exactly is it and what does vernix do?  Well, it’s a remnant of one of the first skin layers developed during the first trimester, that combines with fat secretions in the third trimester to become the vernix caseosa. 

It has a role to play both in the womb, during delivery and postnatally:

  • IN UTERO: provides a waterproofing barrier against the amniotic fluid and facilitates skin formation (source)
  • DURING DELIVERY: helps lubricate for a smoother, less painful delivery
  • POSTNATALLY: helps prevent bacterial infection, keep that delicate newborn skin moisturized and regulate temperature (source)

So the incredible properties of vernix has implications for when your newborn should have her first bath, but it doesn’t stop there. 

Wait a little while before bathing you newborn for the first time so the vernix stays for as long as possible
Babies are born covered in a thick, creamy coating called the “vernix caseosa” – don’t rush to wash this off by bathing your newborn as it has important protective properties

Delaying your newborn’s first bath minimizes stress and body temperature loss 

Another good reason to delay baby’s first bath is due to the physical stress of the experience.  Adjusting to the relative harshness of the outside world is no mean feat for a newborn and after the toasty warmth of the womb and their relatively thin skin versus ours, they have to use a lot of energy just to keep warm.  A bath will almost certainly involve a loss in body temperature.  

In addition, bathing for the first time can be a little stressful for a newborn; although they were surrounded by fluid during pregnancy, it’s not quite the same as even a simple sponge bath. Remember, anything new and different can potentially stress. The stress response can lower blood sugar levels, something best avoided soon after birth.

Delayed bathing also improves bonding and breastfeeding success

Rather than bathing soon after birth, this time should be spent encouraging baby to breastfeed and as much skin-to-skin contact as possible.  Both help mother-baby bonding and get breastfeeding off to a good start.   

So for all those reasons, make sure you delay that first bath. In fact, there’s no harm in waiting several days, even a week after delivery – a thorough clean of the diaper area and any spills and messes from the other end, will be perfectly good enough and allow that vernix to do it’s job.

So, the full answer to when should newborns get their first bath, is between 24 hours and 7 days after delivery.

How many times do you need to bathe a newborn in a week?

Other than the diaper area and around the mouth and chin, newborns don’t really get dirty, so daily bathing isn’t necessary. Breathe a sigh of relief if you’re wondering how to pack all these baby jobs in, or if you find your little one is not a fan of bathtime. 

So just like not hurrying your newborn’s very first bath, you don’t want to go overboard when it comes to routine bathing; when it comes to how often babies need baths, 2-3 times a week is plenty.  

As long as you’re wiping away any spit-up (check the neck folds for hidden dribbles) and giving those nether regions a good cleanse when changing diapers, you can go easy on the bathing.  

So you don’t need to bathe baby everyday, but if you want to you can – as long as you don’t use soap every time. Overwashing with soap can dry out and irritate a newborn’s delicate skin, hence the 2-3 times a week guideline.

This means that if you want to incorporate a bath into baby’s bedtime routine, you can.

A bath as part of the bedtime routine

A “wind-down” routine before day naps and bedtime is a great way to calm, soothe and relax before sleep.  Eventually, this routine will help signal to your newborn that it’s time to sleep.  For a routine to be effective, it needs to be consistent from one day to the next, so if you want to do a bath at bedtime or another point in the day, ideally a daily bath is the way to go.

(If you’re wondering when to give your newborn a bath, this is entirely up to you.  Pick a time when you aren’t in a hurry and if you find your baby is very excited or upset by bathtime, then don’t have it too close to a nap or bedtime).  

So, if your newborn enjoys bathing and you’re keen to set up a regular bedtime routine, simply limit the use of soap.  It’s the soap that can dry and irritate so if you only use it 2-3 times a week, your newborn’s skin should just be fine.  Other days of the week just let baby splash and play and enjoy the water.

Can my baby have a bath before the umbilical cord falls off?

While the umbilical cord is still attached, the most common advice is to only sponge bath your newborn and delay a tub bath until the umbilical cord has fallen off. 

Sponge baths are also the best way to bathe boys who were circumcised while the circumcision site heals.

You don't want to get the umbilical cord wet, so only sponge bathe your newborn until it falls off
You don’t want to get the umbilical cord wet, so it’s safer to sponge bathe your newborn until it falls off

Can you get the umbilical cord wet?

No, you don’t want to get the umbilical cord wet.  Just like any wound, you want to keep it clean and dry.  This is why a sponge bath is often recommended.  However, there’s no harm in a shallow tub bath as long as you keep the umbilical cord dry.  

Once the umbilical cord has fallen off, 1-2 weeks after birth, it’s definitely time to get baby in the tub.

If you notice any discharge, bleeding or a foul smell from the umbilical cord, arrange a visit to the pediatrician.

What about my circumcised baby boy?

As for the umbilical cord, you want to avoid getting your little boy’s circumcision wound wet until it’s healed.  So sponge bathing is a safer option until it’s all healed up, about a week after the operation.

When to start using baby soap & shampoo when bathing your newborn

Firstly, do you need soap when bathing a newborn?

Well, in the UK, where I’ve spent the first few months of all my baby’s lives, the guideline is to use only water and cotton wool for the first month.  At this point, you can introduce a very gentle, baby-friendly soap (source).  The advice is the same in Australia (source).

However, in the States, there’s no recommendation to delay. In fact, using a mild, gentle baby soap is often recommended as a more effective and therefore gentler way to cleanse grubby areas.   Just like cleaning the dishes without dish liquid requires a fair amount of elbow grease, an explosive poop may come away easier with a dash of baby soap – a gentler option than a vigorous rub. 

Having said that, with plenty my fair share of almighty clean-ups and one particularly challenging refluxy baby who deposited more milk all down her chin, neck and even further, than she kept inside, I never had a problem with only using water during the first 4 weeks.

So go figure – perhaps a ploy to keep baby soap sales up?

To summarize, any type of soap is best avoided with a teeny tiny one, less than 4 weeks, but if a drop of mild soap means you can avoid rubbing that delicate skin too vigorously, then that’s going to the better option.

Just decide what will be gentler on your baby’s skin.

Which soap and shampoo should I use for bathing my newborn?

Part of learning exactly how to bathe a newborn, means knowing exactly which baby soap to buy – there’s a lot of choice.  Use something specifically formulated for newborns, which ideally should be unperfumed and free of soap, parabens, phthalates and other chemicals.  This Aveeno baby wash & shampoo ticks all those boxes.  I came across it early on with my firstborn and have stuck with it ever since.  I still use it now for my two preschoolers, both as a body wash and hair shampoo. 

When learning how to bathe a newborn, you need to know how often to wash baby's hair - once a week should be plenty
When learning how to bathe a newborn, you need to know how often to wash baby’s hair – once a week should be plenty

How often should you wash your newborn’s hair and scalp?

Again, less is more; a good shampoo once a week will probably be enough.  Same rules apply for choosing a baby shampoo – I’d recommend the same Aveeno baby wash & shampoo which can be used for the body and hair.

Your baby may have a little “cradle cap“: dry, flaky, crusty scalp a bit like dandruff that’s common during the first few weeks and months.  Newborns are normally perfectly happy and unaffected by cradle cap, it’s more a cosmetic thing you will probably want to improve – it’s hard to not want to scratch and pull the flaky bits out.  Don’t!  That will irritate and could make your newborn quite unhappy.

Instead, after washing the scalp and hair, apply a little baby oil or vegetable oil.  This will soften the skin and by doing this after every wash you should see improvement.

Other tips to minimize irritation due to baby soap/body wash

  • Use sparingly, only in areas that need it
  • If you suspect your baby may be sensitive, you can do a patch test before using more extensively.  Simply watch for any reaction over the next few hours, such as reddening, rash or dryness
  • Don’t leave soap/body wash on the skin for an extended period of time; wash it off as soon as you can and rinse thoroughly

What about lotions & creams after bathing?

Baby moisturizers/lotions/creams

There are no consistent guidelines for when, where and how much lotion/cream/moisturizer to use after bathing your newborn. 

In line with the UK and Australian guidelines, I’m firmly in the less is more camp, so just like the use of soap, limit or refrain from using anything during baby’s first month.

If and when you do use some, go easy: a little moisturizer on any dry patches is all that’s.  When using, make sure your newborn is properly dry and not damp.

Again, just like when choosing baby soap, avoid perfumed lotions and creams and avoid nasties such as phthalates, parabens, dyes and other chemicals. 

According to this article from Web MD, pediatric dermatologists rate petroleum jelly above lotions and moisturizers designed specifically for babies.  It might not have the fancy packaging but it’s cheap and if the pros think it’s best for baby then I’m all for it.a

Another option is a lanolin-based cream, such as this nipple cream, an absolute must to prevent and treat cracked nipples.  It’s 100% natural and extremely moisturizing so also ideal for your newborn’s dry skin.

Talcum powder

Applying a plentiful sprinkle of talcum powder after every bath and diaper change is now NOT the done thing.  Powder can dry the skin, accumulate in all those baby creases and irritate.  In addition, during the sprinkling process, the stuff does seem to billow up in clouds; inhalation will also irritate baby’s nose and some say could be dangerous.  So steer clear (and educate your mom and mom-in-law, who just seem to love the stuff).

Diaper cream

Whereas baby soap, bodywash, shampoo and moisturizers should be used sparing, the opposite is true of diaper cream.  A good diaper cream prevents, as well as treats, diaper rash.  One extremely useful bit of information I retained from an antenatal class with my firstborn was to put on a zinc-oxide-based diaper cream at every diaper change, advice I’ve since seen and heard countless times.  Following this advice meant my babies very rarely suffered any diaper rash. 

Gather supplies and baby bath products before starting to bathe your newborn
Gather supplies and baby bath products before starting to bathe your newborn

Supplies & newborn baby bath products needed, before starting

Before learning how to bathe a newborn step-by-step, you need to get all your supplies ready.  You’re going to need:

Cotton wool and supersoft washcloths

You really can’t get softer than cotton wool for sensitive areas such as the eyes and face during the early days and weeks, but for other areas and later on soft baby washcloths, like these 100% cotton muslin washcloths,  are the way to go.   

Washcloths can be used for all sorts of wiping up predicaments you’ll find yourself in with a newborn (I used them instead of disposable wipes for diaper changes too).  Fast forward to the toddler years and they make the perfect hand and face cloths.

Gentle baby soap/body wash

As mentioned above, this Aveeno baby wash & shampoo is unperfumed, soap-, paraben- and phthalates -free and acts both as a baby soap/wash and hair shampoo.

Changing mat with towel on top

Your regular changing matt with a clean folded towel (bath or large hand towel) on top for warmth and extra absorption.

Baby tub bath/bucket or sink (plus optional sink insert)

While you’re still in the sponge bathing stage, you just need something to keep a little water in.  

When you progress to tub bathing, you may be wondering should you bath baby in a sink or bathtub or baby tub?  Well, during the newborn stage (0-3 months), a sink or bathtub is more appropriate and practical.  Even a sink-sized bucket will work, it just needs to be big enough for baby to fit into comfortably.  If you go for the sink option.  The choice of sink or bathtub is up to you, whatever suits.  Here are a few points which may help you decide:

Learning how to bathe a newborn in the sink
A sink bath is convenient, especially when staying away as I was above – just don’t forget the folded towel at the bottom to stop slippage (guilty!)

BATHING A NEWBORN IN A SINK 

This is a good option if you’re short on space.  You can bathe baby in your kitchen sink, just use a folded towel in the bottom so give that slippery baby bottom a bit of grip. 

A newborn bathing in a tub with newborn insert
A newborn bathing in a tub with insert for when baby is still small

BATHING  A NEWBORN IN A STAND-ALONE BABY BATHTUB

These can be used anywhere – on a table, counter-cop, in the regular tub or anywhere with a hard flat surface.  They’re bigger and bulkier, but much longer-lasting.  Many come with an insert for when baby is a teeny, tiny newborn as in the picture above and like this newborn to toddler tub from The First Years. 

If your tub doesn’t have a newborn insert, look for one with a grippy pad at the base to keep baby from slipping, use a folded towel in the bottom as recommended above or buy an insert.

SINK INSERT/BATH SPONGE TO STOP BABY SLIPPING

Instead of using a towel at the base of the sink or baby tub, you can invest in an insert like this bath sponge.  It provides grip as well as some additional support for your newborn (which will save your arms once your newborn is a little stronger) and will last your baby until 4-6 months old.

Inserts still work if space is an issue as they can either be hung up or squished into a tight spot.  

PROGRESSING TO FULL TUB BATHING

When baby has reached 3+ months, you could try a bath chair (my babies have always loved these ones, they lie in them like a deck chair!). 

Another option is to bathe with your newborn, which can work really well if your little one is not keen on being in the water at first.  However, this probably won’t be practical to do at every bathtime. More on this later.

Hooded baby towel

The sort where one corner has a triangular pocket as a hood, like this hooded towel from Burt’s Bees.

Spare towel – baby towel or otherwise

This is really a just-in-case towel – for extra drying capacity or an accident.

Change of clothes for baby, if necessary

Whatever is suitable for the time of day and weather.  However, it’s only necessary to change your newborn’s clothes when they are actually dirty – newborns are comforted and soothed by familiar smells, including their own smell.  So if your baby has only been in her pre-bath clothes a few hours or even a day and they’re still relatively clean, refrain the urge to change her into something freshly laundered afterwards.

Related post: 37 easy tips to help your newborn adjust to the world (for a calm, happy baby)

Clean diapers, if necessary

Again, if it’s clean there’s no need to put a new one on. The reason for having more than one diaper to hand after bathtime is that your little one may have a wee or poop in the process of getting dressed, in which case you don’t want to be out of arms length of another one.

Diaper cream

In line with the recommendation of applying diaper cream at every change, you’re going to need some of this zinc-oxide-based diaper cream too.

Choosing where to bathe your newborn 

So you’ve got your baby bathing tub/sink or water-holding vestibule at the ready.  Next step in learning how to bathe a newborn is figuring out exactly where, i.e. which room/area to use.

Whether sponge bathing or tub bathing your newborn, deciding where follows the same principles.  It must be:

Warm or able to accommodate a heater

When naked, baby needs as warm a room as possible; in the womb she was floating around in about 98 Fahrenheit/37 Celcius (your body temperature) so much lower than that in the first few weeks after birth is going to feel cold, especially since newborns have a much thinner skin than us and a larger surface area to volume ratio.

Although when it comes to the step-by-step of how to bathe a newborn you’ll see you’re not going to strip baby bare, the warmer the room, the more comfortable and physically less demanding (due to less heat loss) those first baths will be.

As a guide, if you’re comfortable in a t-shirt, the room is probably just warm enough for your newborn’s first bath.  Instead of cranking the temperature of the entire room up, you can of course use a space or fan heater close to where you’re going to bathe baby.

Close to a sink, bath, shower or other water source

If you want to use the sink, clearly you need to be close to it, otherwise, you need to be able to easily fill your baby tub.  If not, you’re going to find all sorts of spillage going on whilst traipsing across the room carrying the water.  So next to the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower or bath is ideal.

When figuring out how to bathe a newborn, choose a comfortable working height for the baby tub
If bathing your newborn in a baby tub, place it on a surface at a comfortable height, such as a kitchen or bathroom cabinet

Comfortable for you

You need to be comfortable to hold your baby in the tub, without giving yourself backache.  Just like the changing table is at a good working height, you don’t want to be crouching over for an extended period of time when bathing your newborn.  For this reason, the kitchen counter works well.

Dim or dimmable lighting

The problem with bathroom and kitchen lighting is it can be harsh, with bright spot lights. Your baby will be lying on her back so any bright lights will be beating down into those sensitive newborn eyes, which can add to the stress of your baby’s first bath.  If that’s the case, if you’re able to, dim the lights or turn the main lights off and use a table lamp close by for lighting.

Calm and relaxing

Especially during those first few baths, you want to ensure a calm, relaxing environment. Try to ensure the chaos of everyday family life and older siblings is moved elsewhere in the house during bathtime or that you can shut the noise out with a closed door.

How to sponge bathe a newborn baby girl or boy STEP-BY-STEP – with umbilical cord still attached

Now you have your bathing supplies ready and have got the where-to-bath-baby sorted, onto the step-by-step of how to bathe a newborn.

First up, how to bathe a newborn baby with umbilical cord still attached. 

Going by the most common recommendation of only sponge bathing when the umbilical cord is still attached, this also answers the question of how to sponge bathe a newborn.

How to sponge bathe a newborn with umbilical cord attached
Learning how to sponge bathe a newborn is necessary until the umbilical cord has fallen off

 

Sponge bathing is similar to what’s known as “top-and-tailing” in the UK and Austrailia, where you concentrate on a thorough clean of the top and tail end of your newborn, with a washcloth and cotton wool.

STEP 1: Fill the baby bath or sink with water

It doesn’t matter how much water since you’re just sponge bathing, but you won’t need much.  Use your elbow or the inside of your wrist to judge the temperature; water should be warm to touch, not hot.

Alternatively, use a baby bath thermometer.  The water should be 37-38 degrees Celcius/99-100 degrees Fahrenheit; most baby bath thermometers will have some kind of color-coding or smiley face system to help you get the temperature just right.

STEP 2: Lay all your baby bath supplies out, remove any unnecessary distraction

Lay the towel on top of the change mat, lay out diapers, change of clothes, baby soap, diaper cream so everything is in easy reach. 

Ensuring any distraction is minimized/elimimated is mostly for safety – you don’t want to keep your eyes off your newborn for even a minute – but also so you can focus your attention on your newborn, while keeping the environment calm and relaxing. 

So, put your phone on silent or leave it in another room and close the door to any potential noise and disturbance.

Also, take off your watch and any jewellery which may get in the way or scratch your newborn.

STEP 3: Undress your newborn but keep her covered 

Unless you’ve turned the heating up to tropical levels, you want to minimize your baby’s nakedness.  Remove all her clothes, but not the diaper just yet, and wrap in the hooded baby towel, but leaving her head free.

Then lie your newborn on the change mat, with towel on top.

STEP 4: Wash your newborn’s head and face

In the first few weeks use cotton wool on the most sensitive areas of the eyes and face and use plain water (no need for any soap on the face until toddlerhood). 

HOW TO BATHE A NEWBORN’S EYES

Dip the cotton w00l in the water, squeeze off the excess and wipe gently from the inner corner of the eye, across the eyelid out towards the ears.  Use a fresh cotton ball for the second eye. 

FACE & MOUTH

Using another fresh cotton ball wipe the face and mouth with short, gentle strokes.

EARS

The ears are slightly less delicate, so you can switch to one of those super soft washcloths now if you like.  Only wash the outside of the ears and lobes, don’t try to clean inside baby’s ears and never use a Q-tip inside either as you may damage the eardrum.

SCALP & NECK

Wash over the scalp and all around the neck, not forgetting all those little creases and folds where stray milk can fester and leave a red sore (guilty).  You may find a drop of soap helpful, if your baby spits-up a lot.

To wash a newborns hair, lie them along your forearm and sprinkle water over the head into a bucket or bath
To wash a newborns hair, lie them along your forearm and sprinkle water over the head into a bucket or bath

STEP 5 (this 5th step of how to bathe a newborn is optional): Squeeze a little water over your newborn’s head

You can just wipe the scalp and head with the washcloth but for some reason newborn’s find the sensation of trickling water over their head very soothing.  To do this:

  • Hold your baby on her back along the length of your forearm, making sure her body, head and neck are well supported
  • Position her head over the sink or bath
  • With your free arm, using a washcloth, squeeze some warm water over her head so it drains into the sink/bath

You can also give her scalp a little bit of a massage – you may be concerned about touching her soft spot but there’s no need; underneath it’s pretty tough.

STEP 6: Dry and re-cover the head

Dab the face and head dry with a free end of the towel or a dry washcloth.  Lift the hood back up over your little one’s head – this is very important before continuing the sponge bath so that you help your newborn retain as much of her body heat as possible.  

STEP 7: Unwrap baby from the towel, remove diaper and wash her upper body

Start by washing her arms in a similar way: load a washcloth or cotton wool up with warm water, squeeze out the excess and gently wipe, careful not to miss any crevices, such as the wrist folds.

STEP 8: Blot dry and loosely cover upper body if possible

If you have a particularly arm flaily baby, the recovering part might be a fruitless exercise, so just carry on.

STEP 9: Wash baby’s lower body

More gentle wiping, soap as you see fit, around the legs, buttocks and private parts (specific instructions on how to wash and clean a newborn baby’s private parts is coming up). 

Don’t forget that cute butt crevice!  Another place that can become sore if missed.  Either lift baby high up by holding her legs and reach all the way under or hold her over your arm on her front, so you can see exactly what you’re doing.

Follow any specific instructions your pediatrician gave you regarding care of the umbilical cord.

How to wash & clean a newborn’s private parts

How to wash & clean a newborn baby girl’s private parts

Learning how to bathe a newborn includes knowing exactly how to clean those delicate private parts.  Whether a boy or girl, start by loading up some cotton wool with warm water and squeezing out the excess.

For a newborn baby girl hold the labia (or “flaps”) apart with your fingers and gently wipe.  Just like when using the toilet, make sure you wipe from front to back. 

Try to wipe away any excess diaper creams as you don’t want these to accumulate excessively.  However, don’t worry too much about cleaning away any vaginal discharge, which is perfectly normal; this can be left.

How to wash & clean a newborn baby boy’s private parts

Baby boys are a little simpler in my experience, you just need a thorough clean with wet cotton wool or a washcloth around and in between everything.  There will probably be less diaper cream to wipe away and it’s slightly easier to clean off of a boy.

Just like for the umbilical cord, follow any specific instructions your pediatrician gave you regarding care of the circumcision area.

If your baby hasn’t been circumcised, do not try to clean under the foreskin, leave well alone.

Effectively drying a newborn is an important part of learning how to sponge bathe a newborn baby and how to tub bathe
Dab and pat your newborn dry after bathing – you don’t want to leave any damp, particularly in creases and between folds.  Your newborn might object at first!

STEP 8: Drying and dressing your newborn after a sponge bath

So you’ve learnt how to bathe a newborn, now on to drying and dressing. 

Once baby is washed and clean, re-wrap in the towel.  Then gently pat and dab the towel all over to soak up any extra moisture and dry baby.  When sponge bathing this should be a quick exercise but if you have had to use a decent amount of water you may want to use another towel for extra drying ability.

Make sure you pat dry all those creases and folds so there’s no dampness left which could irritate, before putting diaper and clothes back on.  

This is also the time you may wish to apply a little cream to any dry patches. As mentioned earlier, use some petroleum jelly or this lanolin-based cream which is also great if you’re breastfeeding.

How to bathe a newborn baby girl or boy in a tub STEP-BY-STEP

Once the umbilical cord has fallen off, it’s time to progress to bathing your newborn in the tub – what a major milestone!

The first steps in learning how to bathe a newborn in a tub are much the same as for a sponge bath, but then the fun begins.

STEP 1: Fill the baby bath or sink with water

Fill the baby bathtub or sink with about 3 inches or 10 cm of warm water – same temperature as for sponge bathing (37-38 degrees Celcius/99-100 degrees Fahrenheit – warm, not hot, the testing with your elbow or check with a baby bath thermometer). 

Fold a small towel and place at the bottom of the bathtub/sink or insert a supportive, grippy bath sponge (see earlier section on “supplies & newborn baby bath products” for more details).

STEP 2: Lay all your baby bath supplies out, remove any unnecessary distraction

As before, lay out everything that you may need in easy reach, put your phone on silent, close the door to minizine disturbance, remove any jewellery.

Unfold a hooded baby towel on top of the change mat, ready for baby after bathing.

STEP 3: Wash baby’s head and face before undressing (optional when baby is older and a confident bather)

Follow steps 4 and 5 in section “How to sponge bathe a newborn baby” above.

STEP 4: Undress your newborn and lower her into the tub 

Lie baby on the change mat/towel combo and undress her fully.

Using the cradle hold (baby lying with her head in the crook of your forearm and body supported by your other arm, as in the picture above), lower baby into the tub, feet first.

Once your little one’s bottom has made contact with the towel or bath sponge on the base of the tub, you can remove your arm from under baby’s body, just keep supporting the head and neck.

When bathing your newborn, they may enjoy having water squeezed over them
When bathing your newborn, squeeze water over her, let her kick and splash

STEP 4: Squeeze water over your newborn, let her kick and splash, wash as necessary

You can use your hand to drip water over baby or saturate a washcloth and squeeze it over.  If your newborn is enjoying the water, let her kick and splash and enjoy it! This is also a great first bath photo opportunity if there’s anyone around to do the honors.  

Wash baby’s body, arms, legs bottom, using baby wash sparingly if necessary, and checking all those skin folds, nooks and crannies.

STEP 5: Wash and clean your newborn’s private parts

A gentle wipe while baby is in the bath might be enough, but check for any caked on diaper cream and other dirt once baby is out the bath and lying on the towel/change mat combo (step 7).

STEP 6: Lift baby out of the bath, straight into the hooded baby towel

This is simply a reversal of putting baby in the tub: put your spare arm under baby’s bottom and, keeping her head and neck well supported, lift her out of the tub and onto the change mat/towel combination.  Put the hood over baby’s head and wrap the towel around her body.

STEP 7: Check for any areas you may have missed 

This mostly applies to the diaper area and the top of the butt crease underneath your newborn (lift the legs as if to put a diaper on and have a good check).  Wipe and clean as necessary.

STEP 8: Drying and dressing your newborn after a tub bath

Pat baby dry and make sure you pay particular attention to all those creases and folds – you don’t want to leave even a hint of moisture.

Apply moisturizer, such as petroleum jelly or this lanolin-based cream to any dry patches.

How to bathe a newborn not keen on water

Some babies love bathing. Some, not so much.

This may seem strange at first, having been submerged in fluid in the womb. But when you think about it, a baby bath is quite a different experience; think of all that freedom your newborn now has with those flailing arms and legs!

It’ll be very different to the close confines of the womb.

Fear not, in time your newborn is sure to enjoy bathing.  Here are two different options that can help those first few tub baths.

Bath baby swaddled

Try swaddling her in a thin muslin first or try lying a wash cloth on her tummy. This can really help baby feel secure, just as swaddling helps baby for sleeps and for wind-down.

You might need to jump in the bath with baby when learning how to bathe your newborn
If baby is a bit uncertain in the water, jump in the bath with her (but forget the bubbles – plain water is best for a newborn)

Bath with baby

Get in the bath with you newborn (not the baby bath… just saying!). Lie in a shallow bath with your baby tummy-to-tummy then gently squeeze water over her back. The skin-to-skin contact will be very reassuring and will get your baby used to the sensation of water running over her skin.

If you try this, it’s a lot easier and safer if you have someone on hand to pass your little one to you, rather than stepping into the bath holding her.

Wondering how to bathe a newborn as safely as possible? 

Most importantly, don’t ever leave your baby alone in the bath, not even for a fraction of a second.  If you need to go somewhere, take your newborn with you.  

In addition:

  • Don’t run the tap when your baby is in the tub.  Not only could it burn, it could startle and upset a newborn. 
  • If sink bathing, run cold water through the tap after filling the bath to cool down the exterior of tap, just in case baby comes into contact with it

Giving your newborn baby a sponge bath or tub bath FAQs:

All the most common questions regarding the ins and outs of how to bathe a newborn, from sponge bathing to tub bathing are answered here.

Is a sponge bath good enough to get my newborn clean?

Absolutely; newborns don’t get particularly dirty so as long as you pay attention to the diaper area and ensure you give all those cute creases and baby fat rolls a good wipe, a sponge bath is sufficient to get your newborn clean.

What type of baby tub is best?

You can either use a baby bathtub or a good-sized sink from birth to the age of 3 months, at which point baby will probably have outgrown the sink.  Then a baby tub or your regular tub with bath chair inside will work.

If space is an issue, using the sink then moving to your regular tub is probably the better option, otherwise go for a baby bath tub.  

Whether you use the sink or baby bath tub, while in the newborn phase use a towel in the bottom or bath sponge, to give that slippery bottom a bit of grip.  A bath sponge also provides additional support.

Can I Give my Newborn Baby Bath Toys? It's a bit early yet
Your baby won’t need bath toys just yet – splashing in the water will be plenty of entertainment

Can I give my newborn baby bath toys?

While you’re only sponge bathing your baby, bath toys aren’t appropriate since there’s no tub.  Once your baby is bathing in a tub with a decent amount of water in, you could try a few bath toys but it’s unlikely they’ll get any use until baby is older.  Plus, splashing in the water will provide plenty of fun. 

Once baby has started grabbing and clasping, some squeezy bath toys and water cups are great things to start off; she’ll enjoy trying to reach and grab these.

How much water should I put in the tub?

This question only applies to tub bathing, not sponge bathing when baby isn’t actually in the water.  So when you’re progressed to tub bathing your newborn, fill the bath 8-1o cm or around 3 inches. You want a decent covering to keep your newborn warm, but not so much it’s overwhelming or unsafe.

When baby has become more confident and comfortable in the water and is a little bigger you can add more water.

How hot should the water be for a newborn?

Getting the temperature right is a very important part of learning how to bathe a newborn.  Use your elbow or inner wrist to test water temperature – it should feel comfortably warm.  If you’re unsure, use a baby bath thermometer and ensure the water is 37-38 degrees Celcius/99-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do you use soap for a newborn sponge bath?

Soap is only necessary for very sweaty areas or around the diaper area where cream has accumulated and become tricky to remove.   The UK and Australia recommend against using soap for the first month.  So use your judgment to decide which will irritate your delicate newborn’s skin the least: a touch of baby soap might be more gentle than the scrubbing you might need to do to give baby a good clean.

When can I put lotion on my newborn?

Just like using soap and bathing itself, don’t hurry to put any lotions or creams on your newborn.  This needs to be done on an as-and-when-needed basis and is best avoided for the first month; dry patches of skin may need a little moisturizer after bathing, if not then leave it. 

When it comes to which moisturizer, many pediatric dermatologists swear by petroleum jelly rather than something designed specifically for babies.  Another option is some lanolin-based cream.

Will lotion after a baby bath help prevent rashes?

Newborns are prone to the odd rash here and there. They seem to come and go all the time but a lotion may make improve it or make it worse.  So unless it’s diaper rash or a very dry rash, leave well alone.

If the rash persists or is combined with symptoms of illness (temperature, sleepiness, loss of interest in surroundings or appetite, significantly more or less dirty or wet diapers) then seek professional advice promptly.

Diaper rash can be prevented and treated by regular application of this diaper cream

I’ve learnt how to sponge bathe my newborn, but when is baby ready for a regular bath?

Your newborn will be ready for a tub bath as soon as that umbilical cord has fallen off, or if you’re confident you can avoid getting the umbilical cord wet, you can start a tub bath a little earlier.  

As for bathing in the regular tub, you can take your newborn into the bath with you which is helpful if she’s not keen on bathing.  All that skin-to-skin contact will be very calming and soothing. 

By about 3 months, your newborn will be big enough to lie in a bath chair, which can be placed in the regular tub.  You can then sit and bathe with her in the tub or wash and splash water over her from the outside of the bath.

Is it better to bathe my newborn baby in the morning or at night?

This is up to you.  The most important thing is you have adequate time and don’t have to rush or are likely to be interrupted.

Another consideration is how your newborn reacts to bathtime.  A bath is a lovely start to a bedtime routine, but only if it calms and soothes.  If baby enjoys bathing too much and it overexcites her, then don’t bathe her too close to nap or bedtime; you want bathing to be a calm, relaxing experience.  Same goes for the opposite situation and she hates bathing and it upsets or stresses her – find another time.

How long should you wait to bathe a newborn after feeding?

Bathing a newborn with a very full tummy could mean some extra spills and regurgitation so give her a good 10 minutes in a more upright position.  

If you’re incorporating bathing into a bedtime routine, a “split” feed can work well.  You feed the first half of the feed (first breast or half the bottle), bathe your newborn, then feed the rest.  This means that baby is not bathing on a full tummy and also allows her to build up a little bit more of an appetite so she feeds more in total.  This can help get that tummy fuller for longer, delaying the first night waking.

The first sponge bath at home might seem scary, even a tub bath takes a bit of practice, but you’ll soon be a bathing pro

You should have a good grasp on how to bathe a newborn now – if not, please ask away in the comments.  

Hang in there and enjoy those first baths; they can be such a special time for you and your newborn.  Once you’ve got the hang of it, you could even pass this task over to your partner, just be sure to share all the ins and outs of how to bathe a newborn first! 

Useful stuff? Want to save it for later?  Want to share with other sleep-deprived mommas? Click above or pin this image:

HOW TO BATHE A NEWBORN PIN

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Hi, I'm Sarah

Mum of two outrageously gorgeous and ridiculously energetic toddlers – A.K.A. not so little, Littllees.  I’m determined to give them the best without losing my mind.  I reckon it’s possible.  Most days.  

I love a challenge and have to find out they ‘why’, ‘what’ or ‘how to’  –  there are rather a lot of these when it comes to kids… 

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