Bathing your newborn can be a daunting task. However, with the right technique and plenty of practice, you’ll be a pro in no time!
When to give your baby their first bath
The World Health Organization recommends that parents wait at least 24 hours before bathing their newborn baby. This is because your baby is born with a waxy layer on their skin called the Vernix, which is very beneficial for their developing immune system and helps them to retain heat. Newborn babies are also very sensitive to cold temperatures and their little body has to work hard to maintain their body temperature during a bath, leading to a drop in blood sugar and a very fussy baby.
In the past, it has been standard practice to bathe a baby immediately after birth. If you want to delay your baby’s first bath, you can include this is your birth plan.
Learn what else you can include in your birth plan here: How To Write A Birth Plan
Umbilical Cord Care
It’s important to wait until your baby’s umbilical cord stump has completely fallen off before giving them their first real bath. While the cord is still attached (usually the first 2 weeks) it needs to be kept away from water to prevent infection. For this reason, a “top and tail” wipe down is recommended.
To do a top and tail wash, start by undressing your baby and wrapping them in a towel. Keep them wrapped in the towel throughout the process and only unwrap the part you’re currently cleaning. This prevents your baby from getting cold and fussy. Next, take a warm bowl of water and a washcloth, squeeze out any excess water from the washcloth and start by wiping your baby’s face and work your way down their body. Always start with their face because you don’t want to clean their face with the same cloth you’ve just used on their bum! Make sure to get into any folds and rolls they have, as this is where milk can hide and cause skin irritation. Take extra care to keep the umbilical cord stump dry.
Talk to your doctor if the umbilical cord looks red or swollen, has a foul smell or any discharge. These can be signs of infection.
How to bathe your baby
Preparation is key. Once your baby is in the bath you cannot leave them unattended, so make sure to have everything ready before you begin. If you do forget something, take your baby out of the bath, wrap them up and bring them with you. Young babies can drown in a very small amount of water and in a short amount of time, so you cannot be too careful.
What you will need: a baby bath or bath with up to 10cm of water at 36 degrees Celsius, a towel, 2 washcloths, a cup for rinsing, cotton wool, a fresh nappy and clothes. You may choose to use baby soap or shampoo, but plain water is fine for small babies. If your baby has cradle cap you could also include a baby hairbrush to gently exfoliate their scalp.
Before putting your baby into their bath, remember to clean their bum. This helps to avoid urine or poop from sitting in the bath water with them. Once they’re in the bath you can cover them with a washcloth to help them retain heat. With your other washcloth, start making your way around their whole body, starting at the face and working downwards, paying special attention to creases and rolls. Once your baby is all clean, gently lift them out (keeping in mind how slippery they will be!) and wrap them in a warm towel for lots of cuddles. Don’t worry if your baby has cried their way through their bath, it’s a strange concept for them. They’ll calm down once they’re back in your arms!
You may choose to apply lotion to your baby’s skin after bathing, however, this isn’t necessary unless you’ve noticed your baby’s skin is very dry. You can also try natural alternatives like coconut oil to moisturise your baby’s skin without the long list of ingredients.
Top tip: warm the lotion or oil in your hands before application to encourage absorption and avoid upsetting your baby.
How often to bathe your baby
Young babies don’t get into many messy situations, so 2 or 3 baths per week is plenty to keep them clean. However, if your baby finds the bath soothing it can be a great addition to their bedtime routine every night. Just avoid using soap and shampoo every night as this can dry out their skin.