Guide to your first baby bath time

In your mind baby bath time may entail cute giggles and splashes, and an outrageous number of rubber duckies. But when it comes down to dunking your newborn in a tub for the first time, it can feel far more stressful than this.

Never fear! This article is here to guide you on how to give a baby a bath safely. 

So let’s dive in – Wait, NO! Let’s actually very gently enter in, with the head and neck supported.

How to bathe your newborn for the first time

Your precious child will come into the world covered in goop, blood and their very own poop. But the World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 24 hours after birth before bathing them. That’s because the goop (called ‘vernix’) protects their fresh skin, and may even have antibacterial effects. Delayed bathing has also been related to increased breastfeeding success.

Depending on where you’re at (home, hospital, birth centre), and more to the point where your body’s at (torn, healing, pelvic floor-less), you may like to ask for help in giving your baby their first bath. Which, by the way, isn’t necessarily in a bathtub.

A newborn baby bath should involve gently sponging them down rather than immersing them in water. 

Here’s what to do:

  1. Lay them on a padded, flat surface like on a folded towel on a change table.

  2. Keep them snug in a towel – only exposing the parts you’re cleaning – so they don’t get chilly.

  3. Dip a washcloth or sponge in a basin of lukewarm, soapless water and gently wipe them from the head down, finishing with the diaper area.

  4. Pay special attention to sneaky dirt-concealing creases under the arms, in the neck area, behind the ears and (particularly with baby girls) in the genital area.

  5. Gently pat them dry with a towel. Vóila! Clean, goop-less babe.

How to give a baby a bath: Infant edition

Once your baby’s umbilical area or circumcision has healed, you can upgrade to bathing in a baby bath tub or even the kitchen sink (whatever you’ve got access to!).

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the best baby bath tub to use is a hard plastic tub with a sloped, textured surface or sling to keep them from sliding. And as much as we moms love a second hand bargain or hand-me-down, tubs manufactured after 2017 are best, as they’ll meet current safety standards.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Fill the bath (or sink) with just enough water. About 2 inches (5cm) is enough, or aim for their belly button once they can sit up.

  2. Use a baby bath thermometer to try and get the water to 98–100 degrees fahrenheit (37–38 degrees celsius).

  3. Gently lower your baby into the water.

  4. Softly wash them down with water, using a damp washcloth or baby bath sponge if you like.

  5. Make it fun! Sing songs, and introduce toys once your baby is old enough to appreciate them. (Hint: cups and containers for pouring are the sh*t.)

  6. Carefully lift your baby out and dry them off ASAP with a towel.

  7. Give that cutie bootie a little kiss. (Important.)

Baby bath time safety and tips

Check your temps!

Don’t boil your child alive. If you don’t have a thermometer on hand, check the baby bath temperature with your elbow or wrist to ensure it’s warm, but not too hot. 

Support your newborn’s head and neck

When your baby is tiny, it’s useful to grip their upper arm on the opposite side of you, so their head is supported by your elbow. The Raising Children Network provides a good visual of this

Be SO careful! 

Babies can drown in a matter of seconds, even in shallow water. Keep one hand on them at all times and drain the bath as soon as they’re out. Don’t leave them unsupervised in there. Ever.

You don’t need to use soap

Newborn babies don’t need soap or shampoo. Once you start experiencing overwhelming poop-splosions, however, you may need something stronger than straight water. 

The best baby bath soap to use is mild, neutral-PH, and additive-free. 

Don’t use a baby bath seat until they can sit unsupported

Once your baby is old enough to sit up by themselves, you can buy them a nifty little bath seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that they can easily tip over and cause drowning. So if you do use a baby bath seat, wait until your baby is at least six months old, and always supervise them.

Don’t bathe them too often

How often should you bathe a baby? We know they’re always covered in questionable fluids, but don’t overdo it. Two to three times per week is enough in their first year of life. 

Some parents find that bedtime is the best time to bathe babies, as part of a daily routine. It’s okay to bathe them every day, but any more than this can dry out their skin making them more susceptible to rashes.

Have fun!

As stressed as you may feel about the whole thing, baby bath time can be so much fun! It’s a great excuse to talk with your baby, sing songs, play together, and most importantly, admire the naked perfection of this being you made. Well done, by the way.

Read next: Here’s how and why to swaddle a baby

The Raising Children Network, Bathing a baby

American Academy of Pediatrics, Bathing Your Baby

Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, Is There a Preventive Role for Vernix Caseosa?: An Invitro Study

National Library of Medicine, Delaying the bath and in-hospital breastfeeding rates

Mayo Clinic, Baby bath basics: A parent’s guide

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