Newborn babies are tiny and fragile. Giving your baby their first bath may be overwhelming and even a little scary. Patience, practice, and preparedness will make bath time enjoyable for you and your baby in no time.

Here are some tips on how to bathe a newborn.

How Do I Prepare to Bathe a Newborn?

It’s helpful to have a gameplan on how to bathe a newborn before you get started. A little preparation goes a long way in making sure you and your baby are comfortable with the process.

You will also want to have all of the newborn bathing essentials organized and at your fingertips.

Newborn bathing essentials are any supplies that make bathing a newborn safer, easier, and more pleasant. They include:

Baby bathtub

Choose a sloped, hard plastic model that fits in or over your sink. They key is that it is at comfortable height for you and supports your baby’s head, neck, and back. Transition to baths in a regular bathtub when your baby is around 6 months old and sitting up well by themselves.

Baby soap and shampoo

Use fragrance-free soap and shampoo. Harsh detergents and fragrances can irritate your baby’s skin. If your newborn’s skin looks dry or irritated, ask your pediatrician to recommend a moisturizer, cream, or lotion for newborn skin.

Baby towels and washcloths

Baby-sized washcloths and towels are easier to work with than those sized for grownups. You will need both a wet and a dry washcloth, so have more than one on hand. A towel with a hood is a good idea for use after you are done bathing your newborn. Newborns get cold very quickly.

Cotton balls

It’s good to have some cotton balls on hand to clean small, delicate areas like the eyes and mouth.

Clean clothes

Have an outfit that is easy to put on ready for when baby is completely dry. An outfit with a full zipper is a good choice after bathing.

Diapers

Have a couple of diapers within reach.

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What Is a Sponge Bath?

Your physician will probably instruct you to sponge bathe your baby until the umbilical cord stump falls off a week or two after birth. Sponge bathing simply means that your baby is not submerged in water.

Sponge bathing keeps the umbilical cord stump and the surrounding area clean and dry. This helps prevent infection and allows the stump to dry and heal and become ready to fall off.

The slope of the baby bathtub will help you position your baby for sponge bathing and keep the umbilical cord from getting wet.

Ready, Set, Bathe Your Newborn

  1. Start by making sure the bathroom and the room where you will be undressing and dressing your baby are a comfortable temperature. Make both rooms nice and cozy — 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
  2. Put a few inches of warm water in the baby bathtub. The temperature to bathe a newborn is key to protecting baby’s delicate skin. Keep the temperature at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Run your fingers through the water to check for any hot spots.
  3. Place your newborn in the baby bathtub while gently supporting the baby’s back, head, and neck with one arm. Use the other hand to do the bathing.
  4. If your baby has hair, wash that first. Newborns get chilled easily — consider wrapping your baby in a towel while you wash their hair. Support your baby’s head and make sure the soap doesn’t run into their eyes.
  5. Next, use a clean, soap-free corner of a washcloth, or a cotton ball, to gently wipe from the inner corner of your baby’s eye to the outer corner. Repeat the steps for the other eye using the other side of the cotton ball.
  6. After you finish cleaning the eyes, wash your baby’s face with clean water.
  7. Then, take a washcloth and clean water to clean your baby’s nose and ears. Do not insert a cotton swab into your baby’s nose or ears. Cotton swabs can damage the eardrum and nasal passages.
  8. After your baby’s face is clean, you can clean the rest of the body. Pay particular attention to any folds in the skin, especially around the neck, arms, and legs. Keep the area around the umbilical cord dry.
  9. Use clean water when you wash your baby’s genital area. Baby girls may have a lot of discharge from their genitals. It is important that you wash your daughter’s genitals from front to back to reduce the risk of bladder infection. If you have a baby boy who has been circumcised, wash his penis with clean, warm water until the area heals.
  10. After bath time, gently pat your baby’s skin to dry it. Dry all of baby’s skin creases — leftover moisture in these areas can lead to skin irritation.

How Often Should I Bathe My Newborn?

You need to bathe your newborn less often than you might think. A couple of baths a week are plenty for a baby under 6 months old.

Newborns do not get very sweaty or dirty. Bathing newborns too frequently can dry out their delicate newborn skin. You can always “spot clean” your baby’s face and diaper area with a soft washcloth and warm water in between baths.

Newborn Bathing Dos and Don’ts

The most important thing about bathing a newborn is staying focused. Turning your back even for a second is dangerous. Your eyes and hands should stay on your baby. Choose a bath time when you can give your baby undivided attention. Here are some other dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Do ask for help. If you’re nervous about bathing your newborn, have someone else nearby for support.
  • Do bathe your baby before a feeding — with all the jostling, your baby may spit up.
  • Do establish a bathing routine so it becomes familiar. Play soft music or white noise to help baby relax.
  • Do swaddle your baby in a towel immediately after bathing.
  • Do not leave your baby alone in a bathtub.
  • Do not put your baby in a tub while water is running.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.