Bathing their newborn is one of the most memorable experiences for every new parent. The excitement you feel as you touch your baby is incomparable. For your infant, this is a time of adjustment to life outside the womb, so a bath provides them comfort as they process new sensations. Bathing is truly a great time to build a bond, not only between you and your baby but also between your newborn and the rest of the family.
Like most new parents, you may feel a little anxious giving your little one a bath. After all, your baby seems so fragile, and you’re worried they might get hurt. What you feel is something every new parent goes through, but knowing the basics of baby bathing will spare you needless worries and allow you to enjoy fully your new role.
So, what are the basics of baby bathing?
Your baby’s first bath
Traditionally, a baby received their first bath within hours after birth. However, the WHO recommends that the baby’s first bath be delayed for 24 hours after birth or at least 6 hours if cultural reasons come into play.
What is the rationale behind this delay?
- Delaying the first bath can prevent hypothermia considering that your baby is used to the warm environment inside your womb. Early bathing can also cause your newborn some minor stress that may even lead to hypoglycemia.
- The WHO also recommends uninterrupted time between you and your child after birth to ensure breastfeeding success. If there are no health concerns to address, skin-on-skin contact and mother-child interaction are encouraged immediately after birth.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that it’s best to leave the vernix on your baby’s skin, especially if you have a preemie. The vernix, the waxy white substance covering your newborn, acts as a natural moisturizer and has antibacterial properties that can prevent your baby’s skin from drying out.
Sometimes you may also want to wait a little before giving the first bath. Your newborn may not be able to get a full bath until the stump of their umbilical cord falls off. This usually happens a week or two after birth. If this is the case, a sponge bath is the next best thing to avoid infecting your baby’s umbilical cord.
How to give a baby a sponge bath
A sponge bath is similar to a regular bath, the difference being that you wash and rinse your baby one area at a time while they lie on their back on a towel or mat instead of in a tub of water.
Here are some safety tips on giving your baby a sponge bath:
- Keep everything you need handy. You’ll need a washcloth, mild soap or cleanser, a tub of warm water, a towel to place your baby on, another towel to dry them, a change of clothes, and a clean diaper. It’s important to have everything you need within reach, especially if you are doing it yourself.
- Lay your baby on a flat surface that is comfortable for both of you. If you’re giving the sponge bath on a table or any other elevated surface, be sure to have your baby secured by keeping your one hand on them at all times or using a strap to prevent them from falling.
- Start from the head and move down, Be sure not to get any water on your baby’s umbilical cord, carefully wiping the mid-area with gentle stokes.
- Always keep your baby warm by covering their body with a dry towel, exposing only the body part you’re washing. Pay extra attention to areas such as the neck, the creases of the arms, behind the ears, between the fingers, and the genitals, especially if you have a little girl.
When baby is ready for a full bath
Once your baby’s umbilical cord falls off, they are ready to take a full bath. A full bath involves placing your newborn directly into a bathtub filled with water. Baby bathing should be short and gentle because your child may cry the first few times you bathe them. They will need to adjust to an entirely new experience, but they’ll begin to enjoy bathing as time goes by.
You are undoubtedly wondering how often you should give your baby a bath. Unlike adults and older children, newborn babies don’t need bathing every day because they don’t get dirty or sweat that much in the first place. You can bathe your baby at least 3 times a week during their first year.
The bathing experience would not be complete without a good tub. You can consider buying a baby inflatable bathtub, which will serve your child through toddlerhood. You can find a wide range of baby bathtubs on Amazon and choose according to your own preference and your baby’s needs. Just be sure to get a baby tub that meets safety standards, for your peace of mind and your baby’s safety.
How to bathe your baby
While bathing a baby may sound simple, first-time moms will surely appreciate step-by step guidance on how to do it.
Here are the baby bathing steps plus a few important reminders to make this an easy and enjoyable process for both you and your infant:
- Keep all the baby bathing essentials within reach, and don’t take your eyes off your little one, even for a second. If you need to get something or answer an important call, take your baby with you. Drowning incidents can happen in the blink of an eye, so better safe than sorry.
- Test the bathwater temperature. Whether it’s a sponge bath or a full bath, always test the water with your elbow or the inside of your arm before bathing your baby. The water should be at around 100°F (37.8°C), warm, not hot. You should also keep the room warm where you’re bathing your baby as infants easily catch a cold when they are wet.
- Carefully wash your baby’s head with a suitable shampoo and massage their scalp, including the fontanelles, as gently as you can. If your newborn has a cradle cap, you can either use a soft bristle brush to loosen the scaly patches or simply leave it. When rinsing your baby’s head, be sure to cup your hand across their forehead to prevent the water from getting into their eyes.
- Clean your baby’s face. Washing the face can be one of the most enjoyable steps in baby bathing—touching and looking at your child’s face will definitely make your day! Use a washcloth to clean it, but be sure not to scrub because it can easily get scratched or irritated.
- Proceed to bathe your baby’s body. Pay extra attention to your baby’s neck, the folds of their arms and legs, and even those spaces between the fingers. It’s important to clean those areas because sweat or spilled milk can cause rashes due to minimal exposure to air. Don’t forget to gently wash your baby’s genitals, too.
- Rinse the soap immediately. Even mild soaps or cleansers can dry out your baby’s sensitive skin, so clean the head, face, and body gently and rinse right away,
- Dry and keep warm. After the bath, promptly dry your baby with a clean and absorbent towel. Wrap their head and body and very gently pat their skin dry if they’re still wet so that they don’t get cold.
- Although your baby’s skin has natural moisturizers, you can apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer, especially if your child has eczema. Apply a generous amount to the area. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has some skin issues so they can be promptly addressed.
- Put on your baby’s diaper and secure it properly. It should be neither too loose nor too tight. Check your baby’s diaper often to see whether a change is necessary.
- Lastly, dress your baby, making their comfort a priority. Watch how to safely and securely dress your baby in the video below.
Bathing is an essential part of taking care of your baby. Apart from ensuring your little one is clean, it provides an enjoyable bonding moment for the two of you. You may feel anxious at times when bathing your baby and this is perfectly normal. Time flies too fast, so enjoy these moments, hold your baby in your arms, and press them close to you while you still can.