Bathing Baby

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

APRIL 30, 2021

Mother bathes newborn

Many new parents face the task of giving baby a bath feeling a bit out of their league. If you’ve never done it before, you may think, what’s the big deal? But, ask any first time parent of a newborn – giving this tiny, slippery, squirming little person (who is often screaming their head off) a bath can seem at first like a very big deal! My advice: until you get some experience under your belt, this task is best approached as a two-person team event. It’s less stressful and more fun that way.

First of all, babies do not need a daily bath. With frequent diaper changes and wiping and drying of the face and neck area, 2-3 baths a week is fine. Sponge baths are recommended until the umbilical cord has fallen off and the area healed. If your baby has been circumcised, give sponge baths until completely healed as well. Check with your pediatrician if you are not sure.

BIDMC’s own NICU Discharge Committee shares the following guidelines for giving baby a bath:

  • Make sure the room is warm and free of drafts.
  • Fill the sink or basin with 2-3 inches of warm water.
  • Check the water temperature with your wrist or elbow. It should feel warm but not hot. Make sure your hot water heater is set no higher than 120 degrees F.
  • Gather all of your supplies before beginning the bath, including tub or basin, several clean towels, wash cloths, soap and shampoo, a clean diaper and clean clothes.
  • Undress baby, and if the bottom of the tub is slippery, place a towel on the bottom for baby to sit on. 
  • As you place baby in the tub, make sure to continue to support the head and back with one hand as your other hand guides baby in, feet first.
  • Start with the face, and then move downward paying attention to the creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the genital area.
  • To wash the back and buttocks, lean the baby forward into your free hand. Then use the other hand to wash the rest of the baby.
  • Keep a hand on the baby at all times. Never leave the baby during the bath, even for a second. If you must attend to something else, take the baby with you.
  • Be sure to rinse well. Take the baby out of the tub and wrap in a dry towel. Dry the baby well, paying special attention to the creases.
  • Shampoo as needed. Not usually more than once or twice a week.  Using a soft cloth or your hand, wet your baby’s head. Apply a small amount of shampoo and gently massage the baby’s entire scalp area. Do not be afraid to wash the soft spots of your baby’s head. Rinse well and dry the entire head.

And that’s it. Don’t be surprised if it feels a bit overwhelming at first. Baths are a lot more enjoyable once you get past the newborn stage (weeks 0-12) and a lot more fun when baby can sit up and enjoy playing in the water.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
View All Articles