How to bathe a new baby

March 15, 2021Advice, How to, Information, Parenting

Bathtime, an early milestone that quickly becomes an everyday essential in your child’s routine. This is a time not just to get your baby cleaned up, but also to bond with each other and to make some (soggy) memories that will last a lifetime. To make it easier for you to enjoy these little moments with your baby, this article is here to cover any question you may have about their bathtime. 

Before you read on, there are a few easy ground rules to consider for every bath: 

  • make sure that your baby is awake, alert and at ease
  • ensure that you’re in a warm room 
  • organise everything you will need within arm’s reach.

And remember: however you choose to bathe your baby, it’s a good idea to have an extra pair of hands there so that you can feel as comfortable and confident as possible throughout the process. Deep breaths!

For your baby’s first bath, the World Health Organisation recommends waiting at least 24 hours after birth. This delay can help to reduce any stress this first bath may cause Newborns are especially sensitive to cold and exposure to water in this way causes ‘cold-stress’, which impacts blood sugar levels. By waiting for that first bath, you decrease the risk that your baby may develop hypothermia and hypoglycemia. This wait will also preserve the vernix, that thick coating on your newborn’s skin, which helps to keep them warm and protected from risk of infection during those early days. If you are hoping to breastfeed your baby, this delay can also increase chances of success as you can nurse more quickly after birth and maximise the time you have to bond through skin-to-skin contact. 

When you are cocooning at home in your baby bubble, your newborn won’t really need to bathe all that often. In fact, one to three baths each week are enough to keep them feeling fresh and comfortable. Until the baby’s umbilical cord falls off, it is essential to avoid immersing their body in bathwater and to opt instead for a light sponge bath (or follow the ‘topping and tailing’ technique), making sure to wipe down between their little baby rolls and wrinkles. As your baby grows bigger, you may want to increase the frequency of these baths as part of their daily routine to help them to wind down before bedtime. 

If you are feeling anxious about bathing your newborn, try the topping and tailing technique. Instead of immersing your baby in a bath or sink, this method uses bowls of warm water to gently wash and then more easily dry them up afterwards. To start, lay a changing mat out on the floor so that there’s nothing for baby to roll off of, make sure that the room you’re in is nice and warm and have two bowls of fresh warm water, a towel, cotton wool, a new nappy and clean clothes for your baby within easy reach. First, dampen a clean piece of cotton wool and start ‘topping’ by cleansing their face, working from their eyes outwards with a fresh piece for their mouth and nose. As you go, chat your baby along so that they feel safe and reassured through the process and even talk them through what you’re doing so that they become more comfortable and familiar with it all. Focus on each crease along their little body with special care around their neck and behind their knees to remove any dried milk or dust. When you get down to your baby’s bottom, to begin ‘tailing’, take off their nappy and wash the area gently with more clean cotton wool and water before putting on the fresh nappy. To finish, carefully dress your baby and give them a big cuddle! 

To start, fill your tub with a small amount of water. For this, the ideal depth is 2-3 inches and the water should ideally be between 90-100 degrees fahrenheit, but no more than 120. While you may be worried about overheating the water, babies can easily get too cold so be careful to get the temperature just right, Goldilocks style. With their little head supported in your hand, dip your baby gently into the water and make sure that they are covered at all times during their bath to avoid a chill. With a soft flannel or bath mitt, lightly wipe your baby over and focus especially on the neck, underarms and behind the ears to remove any dirt or dried milk. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need any product for these early baths and warm water can be enough to keep your baby clean without interfering with their sensitive skin barrier. Afterwards, wrap your baby up warm in a hooded towel or dressing gown and avoid applying any lotions or baby powders – a small amount of cream is only necessary for any dry patches or irritation, following advice from your doctor. 

Babies are notoriously wriggly and as they get bigger, so do their splashes. To avoid being soaked every evening and to help settle your little one down before a big sleep, co-bathing is recommended for slightly older babies. In fact, as soon as the umbilical cord stump and any wounds around the navel have healed, bathing with your baby is one of the best ways for you to bond. Just like if you choose to use a baby bath tub, it’s essential that the water is the right temperature. Before you lie down in the bath, check the temperature with an elbow (just like you would for milk) and ask your partner or co-carer to pass your baby over to you. Lay them gently on your legs, facing you, and keep them as warm as possible by regularly pouring a small amount of water over their little head. Carefully wipe your baby’s body clean with a flannel or mitt just like you would in their own baby bath, cooing and chatting with them throughout to keep them engaged. At the end of the bath, pass your baby back over to your partner and use a hooded towel or robe to dry and warm them back up.