When Should You Give Your Baby Their First Bath?
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to bathing your newborn for the first time. Recommendations have changed over recent years and the World Health Organization (WHO) now advises waiting until at least 24 hours post-birth until you bathe your baby.
Bathing a baby too soon after birth can disrupt some vital skin-to-skin contact. It can also impact the success of breastfeeding. One study showed a significant increase in breastfeeding success when there was at least a 12-hour delay in a baby having a bath.1
Dry skin can also be a reason to delay giving baby their first bath. When your baby is born, you’ll probably notice they’re covered in a waxy white substance called vernix, which acts like a natural moisturiser. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends leaving this on a newborn baby’s skin for some time, to help prevent dryness.
Once home, it’s up to you how often you bath your baby. Newborns don’t need to be bathed daily as bathing too much can dry out his or her skin.
Newborn Bathing Basics
When you’re ready to give your baby their first proper bath, these steps should help make everything go as smoothly as possible. It might be wise to limit the first few baths to just a few minutes, as this will be a new experience for your baby and you might find they’re a little uneasy.
- Choose an appropriate tub for your baby.2 If you decide to buy a special tub for your baby, choose one that meets safety standards.2 If you haven’t got a specifically designed baby bathtub, then a sink can be adequate. Watch out for any possible risks to your baby’s safety, such as taps or a slippery surface.
- Keep your baby comfy in and out of the water.2 Once you’ve undressed your baby, put them in the water so they don’t get cold. Ensure that you’re supporting their head with one hand and using the other hand to lower their body into the water.
- Stay hands on.2 That means keeping everything you need close by, so you can always keep your hands on your baby and reduce any risk of drowning.
- Check the temperature. Fill the baby bath with a couple of inches of warm water and check the temperature with the inside of your wrist. Always run the cold water tap first and turn it off last, to avoid scalding yourself or your baby.
- Choose baby-friendly cleansers. Use only a little soap if needed2 and pick a cleanser or soap that is paediatrician approved, as some products can be drying, or irritate baby’s skin.
- Use a gentle touch.2 Take a cloth or sponge and gently clean your baby’s face and hair, working down the body from head to toe. Try to avoid getting any soap in their eyes—if you do, take a damp clean cloth to gently wipe the eyes.
- Dry baby.2 Once bath time is over, wrap your baby up in a towel as soon as you lift them out of the water. Gently pat dry the baby’s skin and not rub so that moisture is still present on the surface of the skin after the bath.
- Moisturize. Apply unscented moisturizer immediately after coming out of the bath.
What About Bathing Your Newborn if the Umbilical Cord has Not Fallen Off?
If your newborn’s umbilical cord stump hasn’t fallen off yet, it might be advisable to only give your baby a sponge bath—cleaning only certain areas, rather than submerging their body in water. Umbilical stumps usually fall off in the first two weeks after birth but check with your doctor if there are any problems.2
How to Give Your Newborn a Sponge Bath
A sponge bath is like a regular bath, except you don't put your baby in the water. Set up your area with a bowl of water, a sponge or cloth and a dry towel. Lay your baby on a flat surface (your changing mat might be good for this), keeping your baby warm and comfy with an extra towel under their body.2
Wash your baby from the top down. Start at the face and move down to the diaper area, being sure to regularly rinse and wring out the cloth as you go. Focus on cleaning any creases such as the neck and the genital area.2 Be careful not to get water in the eyes or mouth. Keep your baby warm during the sponge bath by wrapping your baby in a dry towel and only uncovering parts of the body that you are actively washing.
Remember: At first, your baby might be a little unsure about bath time. You can reassure them with your voice, and gently lap water onto their body to help them enjoy the feeling of warmth. Once you become more confident, a bath might fast become an important part of your bedtime routine, helping your baby to relax and get ready for sleep. So take things at your pace, and try to soak up the fun!
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1 World Health Organization. Postnatal Care for Mothers and Newborns. Available at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/mca-documents/nbh/brief-postnatal-care-for-mothers-and-newborns-highlights-from-the-who-2013-guidelines.pdf?sfvrsn=33194d3c_1. (Access 04.02.2021)
2 The American Academy of Pediatrics. Bathing your baby. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/bathing-skin-care/Pages/Bathing-Your-Newborn.aspx (Access 03.03.2020)
3 Nemours Kids Health. A Guide for First-Time Parents. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/guide-parents.html?ref=search (Access 03.2000)