Bathing Your Baby

An adult giving a baby a bath.

What baby doesn't smell good with a little soap and lotion? Parents usually look forward to bathing their new baby, but giving your infant a bath for the first time can be a little scary. With their delicate skin and fragile body, you may worry about your child slipping out of your hands or using water that’s too hot. Following a few simple guidelines, however, can assure a safe and pleasant bathing experience for both the baby and parents.

How to Give Your Infant a Sponge Bath

Someone giving a baby a sponge bath.

During the first couple weeks after birth, a sponge bath is recommended. Infants should be given a sponge bath only until the umbilical cord falls off and heals. If your child has been circumcised, that should heal as well before bathing for the first time. For a sponge bath, you will need a clean soft washcloth, warm water, a soft brush for the hair, and a towel.

You will want to bathe baby in a warm room as babies lose heat faster than adults or older children. Place them on a towel or padded area on a flat stable surface. If you place your baby on an area above the floor, remember to keep one hand on them at all times. When giving a sponge bath, keep your baby wrapped in a towel, exposing only the area you are bathing to avoid heat loss. This is especially important during their early weeks of life.

Begin by washing your baby's eyes, using only warm water. Take the corner of your wet washcloth and wipe the eyes from the inside corner to the outside corner. Use another corner of your washcloth and wash your baby's other eye from the inside to the outside corner. Use separate parts of the washcloth to avoid spreading any potential dirt or infection. Next, wash your baby's mouth, nose, and ears with warm water. Rinse your washcloth and add a small amount of baby soap to gently wash baby's face, avoiding the eye area.

Use a small amount of baby shampoo to wash your baby's head and hair. Remember to support baby's head and neck while washing since they don’t have the muscle strength to support it on their own. Rinse the hair, being careful not to get soap into the eyes.

Next, wash your baby's arms, legs, back, and belly, making sure to wash in the creases of their skin. Once you have washed everything else, rinse your washcloth and cleanse the genital area. Remember to wash from front to back for girls.

Once your baby is washed and dried, you can put on a clean diaper and clothes. Use a soft brush to gently comb your baby's hair.

How to Give Your Baby a Tub Bath

A baby getting a bath.

Once your baby's umbilical cord and/or circumcision has healed, they will be ready for a tub bath. Instead of filling up the bathtub in your home, use the kitchen sink or a small basin tub make specifically for babies. Fill it with two to three inches of warm water. Check the water temperature before you begin bathing. The water should be warm and not hot—just about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for an infant. Test the water with your elbow. It should feel warm to the touch.

Follow the same procedure as for sponge bathing, except this time you don’t have to hold them wrapped in a towel. Use a warm, wet washcloth to wipe down their body, using soap for necessary areas. Remember, never, ever leave a baby unattended in the tub.

Baby Bathing Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I bathe my baby?

Babies do not require much bathing during the first year of life. Two to three times a week is all that’s necessary.

What kind of soap should I use?

Select baby soaps that have a neutral pH and preferably ones that are free of preservatives, parabens, dyes, and artificial fragrances. In fact, you can even rotate water-only baths with baths using soap.

What about baby lotions?

Newborns often have dry, flaky, or peeling skin. Most babies do not need lotion for this and the skin will naturally correct itself. However, many mothers enjoy putting lotion on their babies, which is fine if the product is made with their health in mind.