Few things are more nerve-wracking than bathing a newborn. Not only can they feel impossibly fragile, you may worry about whether they’re warm or comfortable enough and if you’re doing a sufficiently thorough job.
Whether you’re bathing your first baby for the first time or are on baby number three, you may still have newborn bathing questions, the most pressing being, “How often should I bathe my baby?”
While longtime best practice has been to bathe baby right after delivery, newer research suggests that delaying the first bath may be beneficial.
A 2019 study including nearly 1,000 babies found that waiting at least 12 hours after birth may promote breastfeeding. Additionally, another 2019 study Trusted Source including 73 infants suggested that a bath after 48 hours helps keep newborns at a steady temperature and aids skin development.
At any rate, it’s likely that the nurses will give baby their first bath, but you can always watch what they do and ask for tips for bathing at home.
Once you get home, you’ll want to bathe your newborn one to two times per week until their umbilical stump falls off. Until this happens, don’t submerge their body in water. Instead, use a warm washcloth and give them a gentle sponge bath starting with their head and face and working your way downward.
If baby spits up or dribbles milk as they feed, you can wipe them down a little more frequently, taking particular care of their face and neck areas. If the mess is coming from the other end, you may need to give a bath to clean up diaper blowouts as well. But unless there is a mess, they really don’t need a daily bath at this age.
1 to 3 months
During the early months of your baby’s life, you’ll want to continue bathing them one to two times per week. Once they no longer have their umbilical stump, you can begin giving them more traditional baths.
To do this, fill a baby bathtub partway with warm water and let them sit and splash as you wash them all over with water and a gentle baby soap. You can use damp washcloths to cover them and keep them warm during the bath. Again, you can start with their face and head and work your way downward.
Another way to bathe baby at this age is to bring them into the bath or shower with you. If you choose to bath or shower with your little one, it can help to have a set of hands to pass your baby to when you’re ready to get out of the tub. They can be very slippery, so it’s important to be extra cautious.
It’s also important to remember that adults generally prefer much warmer water than babies do. Aim to keep the temperature lukewarm, and your babe will likely be happy for the bath time cuddles.
3 to 6 months
As your little one grows, you may want to change up their bath routine a little bit. At this age babies still only need a bath one to two times per week, but if they seem to enjoy the water or like splashing as they get clean, you can consider bathing them more frequently.
Many parents also take advantage of diaper and outfit changes to give their baby a quick wipe down and make sure that all their important parts are clean. If you do choose to bathe your little one more than twice a week, consider using soap for only one or two of their baths to avoid drying out their skin. After bath time, you can moisturize baby with a gentle, fragrance- and dye-free lotion.
6 to 12 months
Once baby becomes mobile and starts eating solids, you may decide you need to begin bathing them more frequently. While they still only really need one to two soapy baths per week, you can either give them a sponge bath or put them in the tub to soak and rinse off more frequently as messes arise.
You might also find that bath time is a pleasant way to calm baby down before bedtime. If this works for you, it’s perfectly OK to make a bath part of your calming nighttime routine at this age.
Why not every day?
While it may feel odd to bathe your baby so infrequently, babies simply don’t need to bathe as often as adults. They don’t sweat or get dirty in the same way as older people, and their skin is much more sensitive than that of adults. Frequent bathing can actually do more harm than good.
To avoid drying out baby’s skin and worsening conditions like eczema, bathe your little one to two times per week and wash them with a mild, fragrance- and dye-free soap. When you get them out of the bath, pat them dry before applying a dye- and fragrance-free baby moisturizer and promptly dressing them.
If your little one has a known skin condition, consult their pediatrician to make a plan for exactly what products and routines you can follow to help them stay comfortable.
Bathing a baby is a delicate process. You want to be sure that your little one is getting squeaky clean, but you also need to be sure that you’re being gentle and that baby is comfortable. Check out the tips below to make bathing an easier and more effective process:
Start at the top. Experts recommend starting any bath by gently washing your little one’s hair and face. After that, use a washcloth to work your way downward, soaping and rinsing your baby as you go.
Focus on the folds. Most babies have rolls or folds along their thighs, neck, and wrists. These folds are adorable but can also trap bacteria, dead skin cells, and things like spit-up and dribbled milk. As you bathe your little one, focus on thoroughly washing and rinsing their folds and rolls.
Don’t forget the hands and feet. Babies tend to suck on their fingers and toes, so It’s extra important to get these parts clean. Use a soapy washcloth and gently spread their fingers and toes to make sure you get their hands and feet as clean as possible.
Try the sink. If you have a portable baby bathtub, chances are it fits neatly in your kitchen skin. Try giving your back a break by bathing your little one in the sink instead of the bathtub while they’re still young enough to be immobile. Once your little one can roll or scoot, it’s time to move baths into the tub to avoid any accidents.
Give co-bathing a shot. There’s nothing sweeter than enjoying a nice warm bath with your little one. Once your babe is able to take a real bath, consider hopping in with them and washing and cleaning them from within the tub. If you don’t feel comfortable being nude with your little one, you can always hop into a swimsuit for the occasion.
Be careful with siblings. If your baby has an older sibling, you may want to save time and energy by bathing them together. Once your little one can sit comfortably on their own, this is usually fine. Although, before your baby is able to sit on their own, you’ll want to skip sibling baths to avoid your baby being bumped, jostled, or splashed as they adjust to the water.
Aim for mild products. When selecting the soap, shampoo, and lotion you’ll use for your baby, aim for products that are dye- and fragrance-free. While scented bubble bath products might be lots of fun for a toddler, they can dry out or irritate an infant’s skin and should be avoided. Whatever you choose, be consistent and do your best to avoid trying out new products if the ones you have work well and don’t irritate your baby’s skin.
Start with sponge baths until their umbilical stump falls off and then begin bathing them gently in the sink or tub. As they grow, babies may require more frequent baths as they get messier or start having fun in the tub.
As long as you use gentle products and don’t notice any issues with your baby’s skin, you can indulge their bath time joy as they grow!