Caregivers can bathe newborns a few times a week. Bathing too often can dry out a baby’s skin, and babies do not need bathing every day. For the first weeks, caregivers can sponge bath a baby before trying traditional bathing.
Bathing a newborn can feel intimidating, and many caregivers wonder how often they should do it.
This article will describe how often to bathe a newborn and the best time to give a baby their first bath. It will also give step-by-step instructions for sponge and traditional bathing and provide important safety tips.
There are no rules regarding how often to bathe a newborn, although bathing a newborn too often could dry out their skin. Caregivers may prefer to give newborns a sponge bath or wipe them with a dampened, soft washcloth rather than bathing them in a bathtub.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), caregivers should wait 24 hours after birth before bathing a baby. If this is not possible due to cultural or other reasons, they should wait at least 6 hours.
According to a 2019 study, in the past, hospitals’ best practice was to bathe a newborn around 2 hours after birth, but there is evidence that delaying a baby’s first wash can be beneficial. The study, involving around 1,000 newborns, found that delaying the first bath until 12 hours after birth improved the chances of successful breastfeeding.
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Babies are often born with a white, creamy substance on their skin called vernix caseosa, which begins forming in the third trimester of pregnancy. This naturally occurring substance protects a baby in the womb and aids with delivery.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) advises caregivers to give a newborn baby sponge baths only until their umbilical cord stump has fallen off and healed, which can take 5–15 days.
After that time, caregivers can give a baby a traditional bath. Learn about these methods below.
Sponge baths are a good way to clean babies without submerging them in water. It can often be quicker, and some people may find it easier.
People will need to gather the equipment they need beforehand. This will usually include:
- basin or tub for water
- soft towel
- soft washcloth or cotton pads
- clean diaper
Caregivers should bathe babies when they are awake and content. They should talk to the baby in a calm and reassuring way, so the baby sees it as a positive experience.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) in the United Kingdom has the following advice for giving a sponge bath:
- Fill the basin or tub with lukewarm water.
- Lay the baby down on a changing mat on the floor or a comfortable, flat surface.
- Undress the baby but leave the diaper on.
- Keep the baby warm by wrapping them in a towel and exposing as little skin as possible while you clean each body part.
- Dampen a soft washcloth with water and gently wipe the baby’s face and scalp.
- Wipe around the eyes, from the inside corner to the outside to avoid getting dirt in the baby’s eye. Use a different part of the washcloth for each eye.
- Gently wipe around the baby’s nose, mouth, and rest of the face, spending extra time on less obvious areas. These may include under the baby’s chin, behind the ears, or between the neck folds.
- Gently clean the rest of the body, paying particular attention to folds and creases in the skin.
- Gently pat the baby dry and wrap them up in the soft towel.
- Remove the diaper and gently wash the bottom and genital area, always washing from front to back.
- Dry the baby and put on a clean diaper.
Try to keep the baby’s belly button stump dry to promote healing. Occasionally a stump might bleed, but this is usually nothing to worry about.
Once the baby’s umbilical cord stump has fallen off, they can have a traditional bath. The AAD recommends the following method:
- Gather everything together, such as a baby bath, washcloth, and mild, fragrance-free baby soap. It is also fine to use plain water.
- Fill half of the bath or sink with lukewarm water, testing with the elbow to ensure it is not too hot.
- Place the baby into the water feet first. Most of the baby’s body should be above water, so a caregiver can occasionally pour water over the exposed areas for warmth.
- Use a washcloth to gently wash the baby’s face and scalp. If the baby has hair, a caregiver can use a mild baby soap or shampoo once or twice a week.
- Gently clean the other body parts, paying attention to folds and creases. If using soap, be sure to rinse it off thoroughly.
- After bathing, immediately wrap the baby in a warm towel.
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To bathe a baby safely, caregivers can follow this advice from the NCT:
- People should never leave their infant unattended in the bath.
- If the water becomes too cool, remove the baby before adding warm water to increase the temperature. This is because sudden bursts of hot water could scald a baby’s skin.
- Check the water temperature before placing the baby in the bath.
- Avoid being distracted by another child, a phone, or a doorbell. Leaving a baby even for a few moments is long enough for them to drown.
- If a caregiver forgets something, they should ask someone else to bring it or take the baby with them to get it.
- Never pick up the bathtub or basin with the baby still in it.
Newborns do not need bathing every day. It is best to delay the first bath until 24 hours after the birth or longer, so the protective layer of vernix can remain on the skin.
Caregivers can choose to give a baby a sponge bath or a traditional bath once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off and healed.
Whichever method they use, caregivers should follow safety precautions, such as checking the temperature of the water and avoiding distractions.