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The Dos And Don’ts When Bathing A Newborn

Bathing a newborn, especially your precious little bundle of joy, can be a beautiful memory for all the family. It can also be a chance to keep your baby clean and fresh  (hello poonamis!). Whether you decide to have the first bath shortly after birth or delay it for a few days, the focus should be on creating a gentle and loving environment for your baby during the bathing process. Here’s how…

Step-by-step guide to nailing that first bath…

Here’s your super simple and easy guide for how to safely and effectively nail that first bath:

1. Choose the right time: When deciding when to bathe your little bundle of joy, make sure you first pick a time that is best for baby. Pick a time when your baby is alert and content but not too hungry or tired. Try to avoid bathing your baby straight after a feed as may cause baby be sick everywhere.

2. Prepare everything in advance: Before starting the bath, make sure you have everything you need within arm’s reach. You’ll need a baby bathtub or a clean sink, warm water (around 37°C), a soft washcloth or cotton wool, a hooded towel and a clean nappy and clothes for after the bath.

3. Prepare the bath area:Ensure the room is warm and free of drafts. Fill the baby bathtub or sink with a few inches of warm water (you really only need a small amount of water). Test the water temperature with your elbow or the inside of your wrist to make sure it’s not too hot.

4. Undress baby:Undress your baby, leaving only their nappy on, and wrap them in a towel to keep them warm. Carry your baby to the bath area and gently place them in the water (with their nappy off), supporting their head and neck with one hand.

5. Clean baby:Use a soft washcloth or cotton wool to gently clean your baby’s body. Start with their face, using a damp cloth and no soap, and then move to their body, arms, and legs. Pay special attention to the nappy area, folds, and creases, as well around their neck.

6. Wash the hair (if needed):If your baby has hair, use a small amount of baby shampoo and gently lather it, then rinse carefully using the cup to pour water over their head. Keep one hand on the baby’s forehead to prevent water from getting into their eyes.

7. Lift baby: Gently lift the baby out of the water, supporting their head and neck, and wrap them in a hooded towel immediately to keep them warm.

8. Dry and dress baby: Pat the baby dry with the towel, paying attention to the creases and folds. Once dry, put on a clean nappy and dress your baby in comfortable clothes.

9. Bonding time:After the bath, take some time to bond with your baby, cuddle, and maybe even share some skin-to-skin contact.

10. Safety Precautions: Never leave your baby unattended in the bath, even for a moment. If you need to step away, take the baby with you or ask someone else to watch them.

Remember, bathing a baby can take practice, so don’t worry if you’re a bit nervous at first. With time, you’ll become more comfortable, and it will become an enjoyable routine for both you and your baby. The most crucial factor is the health and well-being of the baby and ensuring they are comfortable and safe.

How soon after birth should I bath my newborn?

In many cases, it is recommended by the World Health Organisation to delay the first bath for at least 24 hours after giving birth. This is because the delay allows the baby to benefit from the vernix caseosa, a waxy protective coating on their skin that has moisturising and antibacterial properties. Keeping the vernix on the baby’s skin for a while can help protect their delicate skin and prevent it from drying out.

The NHS recommends delaying bathing a newborn until the umbilical cord stump falls off naturally. The reason for this is to reduce the risk of infection in the umbilical cord stump area. Until the umbilical cord stump falls off, it’s advised to ‘top and tail‘ your baby rather than fully submersing them  in water (see below for more about ‘topping and tailing’).

How often should I bath my baby?

The frequency of bathing a baby depends on several factors, including their age, skin type, and individual needs. In the case of newborns (0-8 weeks), it is recommended to bath them no more than two to three times a week as they do not get very dirty.

How long should my baby stay in the bath?

The length of a baby’s bath should be relatively short to prevent their delicate skin from drying out and to avoid them becoming too cold. A typical baby bath for a newborn will usually last no longer than a few minutes, however this will vary depending on baby’s age and comfort level.

Throughout the bath, keep the baby warm by pouring warm water over their body and keeping the room temperature comfortable. Remember to always stay attentive and focused on the baby. Never leave the baby unattended in the water, even for a moment.

Should I use baby soap?

It’s generally advised to only use plain water on a baby for at least the first month of their life. Once they’re a bit older, using soap is generally considered safe but it’s important to use the right type of soap and do so in moderation. Here are some key points to consider when using soap on a baby:

  • Limit soap usage: For newborns and very young babies, you don’t need to use soap for every bath. In fact, in the first few weeks of life, many midwives and health visitors recommend not using soap at all. Water alone is often sufficient to cleanse the baby’s skin during this time.
  • Choose mild, baby-specific soap: Look for baby-specific soap or cleansers that are labeled as “mild,” “gentle,” “tear-free,” and “hypoallergenic.” These formulations are designed to be gentle on a baby’s delicate and sensitive skin. Avoid using regular adult soap, as it may contain harsh chemicals that can irritate a baby’s skin.
  • Focus on skin folds and nappy area: When using soap, focus on cleaning the baby’s skin folds, creases, and the nappy area. These are the areas where dirt and moisture can accumulate. Be sure to rinse the soap thoroughly to avoid leaving any residue on the baby’s skin.
  • Test for allergies: Before using any new soap or product on your baby’s skin, it’s a good idea to do a patch test on a small area of their skin. This will help ensure that they don’t have any allergic reactions to the soap.

Always remember that every baby’s skin is different, and what works for one baby may not work for another. If you notice any signs of irritation or redness after using soap, discontinue its use and consult your GP.

Why does my baby scream in the bath?

You’ve got the bath all prepped, camera in hand, ready to capture that beautiful first moment of your baby in water. But rather than sweet smiles and gorgeous gurgles, it’s hysterical screaming and crying. WTF?  

Having a little splash for the first time can be totally overwhelming for some babies, especially when they are still getting used to the experience. The sudden change from being warm and cozy to being exposed to water can cause a temperature shock, making them uncomfortable and upset. If the baby is hungry or tired, bath time can also be really challenging to tolerate. This is especially so for newborns who gets tired and overstimulated by almost anything in the first few days and weeks of life.

To help make bath time a more enjoyable experience for your baby, make sure the room is warm and using a soft, calm voice to reassure baby throughout the bath. Also consider using a supportive bathing seat and covering baby in a wet muslin blanket so they feel safe and secure.

Which baby bath should I choose?

There are lots of different baby baths out there but the two main choices are between a stand-alone baby bath and a bath support that goes in the bath itself. Both are great options for ensuring baby is supported but obviously an actual bath is required when using a bath support.

What is topping and tailing?

Topping and tailing is a method of cleaning a baby without giving them a full bath. It involves cleaning the baby’s face, neck, hands, and nappy area separately. Topping and tailing is especially useful for newborns and very young babies who may not need a full bath every day.

Here’s how you can perform topping and tailing:

1. Topping: Topping refers to cleaning the baby’s face, neck, and hands. You will need a bowl of warm water, a soft washcloth or cotton wool balls, and a clean, dry towel.

  • Wet the washcloth or cotton balls with warm water and gently wipe the baby’s face, paying attention to the eyes, nose, and mouth. Use a different section of the cloth or a new cotton ball for each area to avoid spreading germs.
  • Clean the baby’s neck and behind the ears, where milk or drool may accumulate.
  • Wet the cloth again and gently clean the baby’s hands, making sure to get in between their fingers.
  • Pat the baby’s face, neck, and hands dry with a clean, dry towel.

2. Tailing: Tailing involves cleaning the baby’s nappy area. For this, you’ll need a fresh clean nappy, baby wipes, or a soft damp cloth.

  • Lay the baby down on a safe and clean surface, such as a changing pad or towel.
  • Open the dirty nappy but leave it under the baby to catch any surprises.
  • Use baby wipes or a damp cloth to gently clean the baby’s genital area. For girls, wipe from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the urinary tract.
  • If the baby has had a bowel movement, use the front part of the dirty nappy to wipe off any excess stool. Then, use baby wipes or a damp cloth to clean the remaining stool.
  • Once the nappy area is clean, use a dry section of the cloth or a dry baby wipe to pat the area dry.
  • Remove the dirty nappy, and if necessary, apply a barrier cream to prevent nappy rash.
  • Put on a fresh, clean nappy and fasten it securely.

Topping and tailing is a quick and convenient way to keep your baby clean in between full baths. However, if your baby has a particularly messy nappy or is soiled, a full bath may be necessary. As your baby grows and becomes more active, you may transition to regular baths as part of their daily routine.

Can I shower with my baby?

Yes, you can shower with your newborn, but just remember to follow a lot of the same advice about bathing your newborn (like preparation, keeping it short and controlling the water temperature).

A few extra things to bear in mind include making sure that you hold your baby securely in your arms or use a baby carrier or baby bath seat designed for use in the shower. Keep a firm grip on your baby to prevent slipping and ensure that their head is supported at all times.

Position your baby so that the direct flow of water from the shower head doesn’t hit their face. Keep the pressure of the shower low and shield their face with your body or a cloth to keep water from getting into their eyes, nose, or mouth. Babies can pick up on their caregiver’s emotions, so try to remain calm and relaxed during the shower to help your baby feel at ease.

Remember that every baby is different, and it may take some time for your baby to adjust to bath or shower time. Be patient, provide reassurance, and make the time a positive and bonding experience for both you and your baby.


Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. the resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. you should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

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