I used to get really anxious about bathing my baby because infants are squirmy, greased water balloons when they are wet. I mean, here you’re trying to clean something with very little neck control while keeping their head above water. No pressure there. Actually, it’s not as hard as it sounds, all you need is a few simple tools, and you’re ready to roll.
The World Health Organization recommends that you delay the first bath for at least 24 hours, and this review: Timing of first bath in term healthy newborns states, "Delayed first bath for at least 24 hours may reduce infant mortality and hypothermia. Delayed bath for at least 6 hours may prevent hypothermia and hypoglycaemia and improve EBF rates at discharge. However, most of these conclusions are limited by low certainty evidence."
Some pediatricians recommend delaying a baby’s first bath until they are a few days old so the waxy vernix they are born with can protect the baby’s skin a little longer.
I should also note that you should wait until circumcisions and your baby’s umbilical cord stump have healed before doing anything other than sponge baths. Here are some more details about umbilical cord care.
Even if you’re past the healing stage, if you’re not dealing with a messy back poop, feel free to lay out a towel, grab a bowl of warm water and do this sponge bath style. You’re mainly washing them to get the stuff that ‘settles’ from being a newborn vs. an oil rig crew member.
Once you’re ready for a real water bath, here’s what you’ll need to do.
Get everything you need locked and loaded before you put this kid in water.
I was nervous, so I opted for a special baby bathtub that included a sling, but you could easily use a sink or a regular bathtub.
If you’re easy peasy like my friend, stick a towel in the bottom of the tub and fill the bath with about an inch of water and lay the baby on the towel and wash away. Yes, yes, I’m screaming, “Ears!! What about the baby’s ears!!!” in my head too but she assured me that water didn’t get in the baby’s ears and you can’t get much cheaper than free.
For the record, it’s advised that you try to avoid getting water in your baby’s ears when they are in the bath to reduce the risk of ear infections but it isn’t cause for panic either.
Get the clothes or jammies, towel, baby shampoo, baby soap, etc. out so you’re not running around with a cold, wet baby looking for things – I had a hooded towel, some baby wash and a soft cloth for washing.
Now that you’ve got all your gear let’s wash this kid!
Fill the sink, tub, pickle barrel, or whatever you’re bathing them in with warm water. If you’re bringing them in a bath with you, fill the tub beforehand so you’re not acclimatizing yourself to the heat, then adding more and more hot so you’re swimming in lava by the time you add in the baby. You’re shooting in the area of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius.
As for temperature ducks or a bath thermometer, feel free to get them if it helps put you at ease but they aren’t essential. Some sites say that you have to use the inside of your wrist or your elbow to test the bath but I must have freakish elbows because I really couldn’t tell if it was hot or not there. I found my hand worked fine.
Bath toys are great when they get older, but you don’t have to have them and they are just as happy to play with the cup and the washcloth. Here’s a list of mold-free bath toys if you want to add some to your baby’s bath.
Get ‘em wet. Some sites go into great detail about gently putting a baby in feet first and easing them in like a great yacht on its maiden voyage, but it really isn’t that tricky. Put the baby in the water any way but head first, and you should be fine.
Tips and Threats: Don’t leave your baby in the bath unattended…ever. I don’t care if Chris Hemsworth is ringing the doorbell in his underpants. You either ignore it or scoop that kid up to answer the door and say, “Perfect timing, Chris, I was just finishing up, so please make yourself comfortable and fold that basket of laundry while you wait.” Babies can drown in less than an inch of water in less than 60 seconds, so don’t mess around with that.
I liked to add a little soap to a wet washcloth and then work my way down from the baby’s head to bottom, paying close attention to any cradle cap or ‘baby cheese’ that gets into neck folds, armpits, and leg creases. You are free to gently wash your baby’s fontanelles (soft spots) with the rest of your baby’s scalp – nothing will cave in.
Gently wipe between the skin folds of the baby's genitals. Both circumcised and uncircumcised penises can be gently wiped clean – there is no need to pull back a foreskin.
I used a small, plastic cup to rinse them off and either used a wet washcloth to wipe any suds off their face or held it on their forehead to shield their eyes while rinsing their hair.
Lay the towel out on the floor or counter, then lay your baby on it and wrap ‘em up. Or toss the towel over your shoulder, then lift the baby out, hold them on your chest and fold them into the towel.
I used to take them back to their room and lay them on their changing table or a blanket on a flat surface for the lotion rub down massage, hair brush, clean diaper, and jammies.
There ya go! You've got a clean kid!
How frequently should you bathe a newborn?
Newborns don't get up to much, so you don't have to give them a bath every day. At this age, you're mainly hosing them down for explosive poops, milk drool, and making sure nothing is growing mushrooms. Every other day or a couple of times a week should be fine.
To sum up bathtime
Many sites like to make bath time sound like this intricate dance of geometry and bonding. As long as you’re keeping an eye on this kid and not using wildly hot or cold water, you are going to be more than fine.
If your newborn has nothing but sponge baths for the first 6-months of their life, no biggie. If your baby loves baths, go for it. Water is a ton of good clean fun and baths are a nice way to break up the day.
Either way, have fun, stay safe, and say “hi” to Chris for me.