So you want to know how to wash a newborn baby? The thought of bathing such a tiny, slippery human is probably making you very nervous. You’re already convinced you’ll do it wrong, that baby will slip or you’re taking too long. Don’t worry Stork Mama are here to help.
We’ve developed this step by step guide to ease you through the experience. You’ll quickly pick up the routine and it will become second nature to you. You don’t need to bath baby every day, so we’ll also show you how to freshen baby between washes. Let’s get started.
How to Wash a Newborn – Bathing
Bathing your baby is the same as you taking a bath or shower. Baby will get an all over clean and hair wash. Newborns do not need washed every day. However if the water really relaxes baby it can help you develop a bedtime routine.
The main aim of preparing for a bath is to prevent baby from losing heat from bathing. It also prevents you from leaving bay unassisted and cuts down on the time it takes to bath baby.
Gather Equipment – This helps you keep everything to hand whilst you bath baby.
You will need:
- Baby tub
- Water thermometer (optional)
- Baby wash
- Baby towel (preferably hooded)
- Changing Pad
- Cotton wool
- Sponge or soft cloth
- Fresh diaper
- Clean clothes
Room Temperature – Make sure the room you are using is warm. Think how quickly you feel cold when you leave the bath or shower. Close any windows, prevent any drafts and put on the heating if necessary.
Wash your Hands – Keeping your hands free from dirt which will transfer to baby’s bath water. This is important if you baby does a dirty nappy just before bath time. Ensure your nails are not too long or ragged which may easily snag on baby’s skin.
Adding water to baby’s bath is an important step to get right for baby’s safety.
Temperature – Start by adding the cold water first, then the hot to warm up the water. This prevents hot spots forming on the bottom of the tub which can scald baby. The water should be comfortably warm, not too hot or cold. We recommend a comfort test with your wrist as your skin is thin, like baby’s, in the area. A comfortable temperature for baby is 98.6-1006 F (37-38 C). Ideally you should use a water thermometer to ensure the water is within this range as you bath baby.
Depth – A comfortable depth for baby should be around 13-15cm (5-6inches). The water should just cover baby’s shoulders as they recline to keep them warm.
Soaps – For at least the first 4 weeks you should use plain water only. Before this time any baby toiletries are usually quite harsh on your baby’s new skin. You can sue a neutral bath emollient if baby has very dry skin, but remember this will make baby very slippery and harder to hold.
The secret to washing a newborn is to do it in two steps. First wash the head and then the body. This helps baby to remain warm and builds your confidence with baby in the water. Once you become confident with bathing you cut this step.
Head Washing – On the change mat, strip baby down to their nappy and swaddle their body in the towel. Dip some cotton wool or a soft cloth in the bath water and squeeze out the excess. Wipe baby’s face, neck and ears.
Hair Washing – Keep baby swaddled in the towel with the head exposed. Hold baby under your arm so there tummy is under your armpit and your arm support their back and neck. Hold baby just over the side of the tub and begin to scoop handfuls of water over their hair. Add a small drop of baby wash to baby’s head and massage in the hair. Rinse the suds by scooping the water over baby’s head. Return baby to the change mat and thoroughly dry their hair with the towel.
Body Washing – Remove the towel from baby and take off the diaper. Wipe away any pee or poo before putting baby in the water. Use your non dominant hand to support baby. Their back and neck across your inner arm and hand gripping under their upper arm . Your dominant hand can support the legs whilst you lower baby into the water. Keep supporting the head and shoulders whilst your free hand wipes down baby’s body. Get into all those little skin folds which can harbor trapped milk, usually in the neck, thighs and wrists. Don’t scrub the skin, a gentle wipe will do.
Safety – NEVER leave a baby unattended in a bath. We cannot stress the importance of this massage. A baby can drown within a few seconds in less than one inch of water. It’s not worth the risk. If you need to leave the room, take baby with you. Do not rely on bath seats, slings or siblings to support baby for you.
Once your baby is washed return them to the change mat and begin to dry. Babies lose heat very quickly, so this need to be done as quickly as possible. Try to keep baby’s skin from being exposed to the air and remove the wet towel as soon as baby is dry. Remember to dry all those fold and in-between small fingers and toes. A little bit of baby massage is a great bonding skill at this point. Once you’re done put on a fresh nappy and dress baby in clean clothes.
How to Wash a Newborn – Top and Tail
A quick alternative to bathing your baby is to ‘top and tail’ them. This is the same as you freshening up with a face wash. This is ideal for doing between baths or if baby vomits or poos a few times in a day.
What you need
- Bowl of warm water
- Cotton wool or soft cloth
- Change mat
- Clean clothes
- Fresh Diaper
Follow all the steps as above for bathing just before washing baby’s hair. This ensures your baby’s top half is nice and clean and free from trapped milk or sweat.
Eye Care – Use one ball of cotton wool with a swipe motion from the inside (tear duct) out. Dispose of the cotton, collect a new piece and repeat on the opposite eye. Do not rub the eye or reuse the same piece on both eyes as helps spread any infections.
Nose and Ears – Wipe gently around these areas. Don not use any baby swabs to clean inside as this can result in damage to baby.
Underarms – Use a soft cloth or cotton wool to clean under baby’s arms and in their arm creases. Use the towel to dry these areas.
This is the part when you clean baby’s lower body. Take off baby’s diaper and lay them on the change mat.
Cord Care – Using plain water and a piece of cotton wool, gently swipe around the edge of baby’s cord. Do not pull on the stump, allow it to fall off naturally by keeping it clean and dry. Tell your health care provider if the cord looks infected or severely inflamed.
Genitals – Continue to use cotton wool or a soft cloth and gently wipe over your baby’s genitals. Never pull a baby boys foreskin back to clean underneath as this can cause damage. For girls you can gently separate the labia and wipe from front to back to prevent infection.
Bottom – Again clean the area with plain water. If the buttocks as red or broken you can use a diaper rash cream as a protective barrier. Baby wipes make it easier to clean up poo, but if you baby reacts to them so it best to avoid until they are 4 weeks old.
Dry baby down and put on a fresh diaper and clean clothes.
How to Wash a Newborn – FAQ
How often should I wash my baby?
A baby only needs a bath two or three times a week. You may prefer to do it more often but it is not necessary. You can also keep baby clean by topping and tailing to remove dirt or milk. Some moms prefer to only top and tail baby. This ensure baby is kept clean and dry to prevent infection or sore developing.
Where should I wash my baby?
You can wash you baby anywhere in the house as long as the room is warm and free from draft. You can wash baby in a baby tub, your own tub or in a sink. Its important baby is supported during a bath and never left unattended even for a few seconds.
What is the best time to wash a baby?
A regular bath time can help your baby get into a routine. Make it a time when you won’t have any interruptions and baby is settled. A very hungry or tired baby will be wriggly and harder to support. This can stress you out and knock your confidence. Babies who have just fed are often sleepy so it’s not a great time to bath them.
How Long Should a bath take?
There is no set time for bathing a baby, the main aim is to minimize the time they are exposed or wet. The more confident you get with bathing the quicker your will become but the first few times are a learning curve. We suggest keeping baby in the water for no longer than 5-10 minutes and less if the water cools quickly.
Can I bath a baby when the cord is still on?
Yes. It’s safe to bath a baby with the cord on. Make sure the area is thoroughly dried. When putting in the nappy ensure the stump in not trapped underneath the nappy to allow the area to air and dry out quickly. Baby’s cord should fall off around 7-10 days old.
Can my baby bath with me?
Bathing with your baby can be a great bonding experience with lots of skin to skin. For safety its best to have your partner around to hand baby to you and take them when you’re finished. You may also want to quickly shower down first so baby isn’t washing in your dirty water. Remember to keep baby supported and the water at a comfortable level (not too hot or cold). Be prepared for any unexpected pees or poos in your bath water.