As an adult, you are used to bathing often to maintain proper hygiene. When you bring your baby home, you may wonder: “When should I give my newborn a bath?” The recommended amount of bathing for babies is much less than you may realize. Newborns have delicate skin and healing umbilical cords that require special attention – and the attention doesn’t come from bathing!
When Should You Give a Newborn a Bath?
You will most likely get advice from older family members that suggests that you bathe your baby right away to clean them off after birth and then continue bathing them regularly to keep them clean. This advice, while often well-intentioned, is outdated and wrong. In fact, the waxy coating on a newborn’s skin, called the vernix, protects your newborn’s skin and health.
Washing off the vernix too quickly is not advised. Leaving it on allows your newborn to benefit from its antioxidant and antibiotic properties for a bit longer. The vernix also helps to keep your baby warm, moisturizes their skin, helps regulate blood sugar, and even increases the success rate of breastfeeding.
So, how long should you wait to give your newborn a bath? The World Health Organization recommends waiting 24 hours before bathing. Some experts suggest waiting up to 48 hours to bathe your newborn. If it is not possible to wait the recommended 24 hours before bathing, try to wait as long as you can – at least 6 hours – before washing the vernix off of your newborn.
Can You Give a Baby a Bath Before the Umbilical Cord Falls Off?
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to not submerge their newborns in water while their umbilical cord is still attached. While the umbilical cord is still on, you should give your baby sponge baths. The sponge bath mirrors a regular bath but does not involve putting your newborn into water.
Some tips for giving your newborn a sponge bath are:
- Make sure to grab everything you need before you begin washing your baby. Grab necessities like a container or basin of water, a washcloth, a dry towel, and anything else that you choose to use.
- Place your newborn on a flat surface that is comfortable for both you and the baby. You can use changing tables, beds, or clean floors and counters. If you are using a high surface, make sure that you secure your newborn with a safety strap or hold them with one hand at all times.
- Wash the face first. Dampen the washcloth and wash your baby’s body in the following order: face, body, then diaper area.
- Be sure to keep your newborn warm. While sponging your baby clean, keep them wrapped in a dry towel with the parts that you are not actively cleaning remaining covered. Some areas to pay special attention to are the creases under the arms, behind the ears, under the neck, and the genital area, especially with girls.
This video by IntermountainMoms is a great resource for any parent that wants to see how to properly and effectively bathe their newborn. It explains why frequent bathing is not needed and gives advice on how to clean your baby. Additionally, it gives a step-by-step audible and visual explanation of how to sponge bathe your newborn before their umbilical cord falls off.
Newborn Bathing After the Umbilical Cord Falls Off
Normally, your newborn’s umbilical cord will fall off within 2 to 3 weeks. However, sometimes it may stay on longer. (If it has not fallen off by the time your newborn is 8 weeks old, you should see a doctor.) After your baby’s cord has fallen off and the area is healed, you can try to bathe your newborn in water. If your baby protests and doesn’t like the water, you may need to continue sponge bathing for a week or so and then try again.
Tips for safety and proper bathing technique for your newborn include:
- Use a sink or an infant tub. You can place a clean towel into the sink to prevent slipping. Hard plastic infant tubs are usually equipped with a textured surface to prevent slipping as well.
- Keep a hand on your baby at all times. Place all of your bathing supplies within reach, so you never have to remove one hand from your newborn.
- Check – and double-check – the temperature of the water. The basin or sink that you are bathing your baby in should have no more than 2 to 4 inches of warm water. The water should be between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Aim for around the normal body temperature.) Check to make sure that your water heater doesn’t heat your water over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep your baby warm. Don’t undress your baby until the water is ready and place them into the water immediately after undressing. Use the washcloth or your hand to pour warm water on your newborn’s body throughout their bath to keep them warm.
- Be gentle. Gently wash your baby’s body without scrubbing. Watch for the soft spots on their scalp. Try to keep the soap suds out of their eyes.
- Make it fun. Newborns won’t use bath toys often, but you can talk or sing to your baby while bathing to keep them happy.
- Dry your baby off as soon as they get out of the water. Use a dry, soft towel to pat your newborn’s skin dry. If you want, you can use a bit of fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizing baby lotion after the bath to help prevent dry skin and eczema.
Baby’s First Bath – Do’s and Don’ts
You’ll probably get a million tips from family and friends that tell you what to do and what not to do while bathing your newborn – but this list of do’s and don’ts will be some of your best tips.
- Don’t ever leave your baby unsupervised while in water for any length of time – no matter how short it may be.
- Do make sure that the bath water is between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (preferably) and no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Don’t bathe your baby more than three times a week. Bathing more frequently can dry out your baby’s skin.
- Do pay close attention to the umbilical cord. Watch for signs of infection like redness or leakage. Make sure to be careful when sponge bathing around it, and do not submerge your baby in water if the umbilical cord has not healed completely.
- Don’t keep electrical appliances next to the place where you are bathing your baby.
- Do use mild, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, neutral-pH soaps with no additives to clean your baby. In fact, you do not need soap – you can just use water, especially if your newborn’s skin is extremely sensitive.
- Don’t ignore dry patches on your baby’s skin. They can become problematic. You can rub coconut oil, sunflower oil, or petroleum jelly on the areas to help moisturize them.
- Do establish a bathing routine. You can choose to bathe your baby at night to calm them for bedtime, or you can choose to bathe them in the morning when they are energetic and more likely to behave well.
- Don’t give your newborn a bubble bath. Bubble baths can irritate the urethra in young babies and increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
- Do make sure that your infant is comfortable with a shower before showering with them. Slowly introduce them to warm water and make sure to keep a dry washcloth around in case a wet face upsets your baby.
The Best Baby Bath Supplies
Before bathing your newborn, it is important to gather all of the supplies you need for the bath and place it within arm’s reach. This makes sure that you have everything you need and can keep a hand on your child for safety the entire time.
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Essential baby bath supplies include:
- Baby bathtub (Yes, you can use your sink instead if you prefer.)
- Bathtub spout cover
- Body wash
- Baby shampoo
- Baby lotion (if you choose to use it)
- Rinsing cup
- Hooded baby towels
- Washcloths (at least two, one to wet and one to stay dry)
One of the best baby bathtubs available currently is the Fisher-Price Rinse ‘n Grow Tub. This versatile tub adjusts to fit your growing baby. It can be used to bathe your child from newborn to toddler stage!
If you’re looking for a body wash that won’t irritate your newborn, try Aveeno Baby Gentle Wash and Shampoo. This body wash is one of the best for babies. It is tear-free, soap-free, hypoallergenic, paraben-free, and phthalate-free.
Soft and gentle washcloths for your newborn can be hard to find, but these Burt’s Bees Baby Washcloths are absolutely amazing! They come in a pack of 6 super soft, 100% organic cotton, absorbent knit terry cloths that are both durable and delicate for baby’s skin.
California Baby Super Sensitive Everyday Face and Body Lotion is a great baby lotion option for newborns. It is a moisturizing lotion for dry and sensitive skin. Not only is it fragrance-free and plant-based, but it is a non-greasy, fast-absorbing formula that can be used after bathing and after diaper changes.
For those of you that choose to use the sink to bathe your infant, the Blooming Bath Lotus is the best way to give your newborn a sink bath. It is incredibly soft and turns your sink into a comfortable and safe bath time for your baby.
Bathing your baby is something that requires a bit of extra attention and care to make sure that your newborn is safe and happy. The information in this article can help you learn how to safely bathe your baby quickly, and you can enjoy forming bath-time rituals and routines that keep both you and your baby smiling.
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