The Safety Dos and Don’ts of Bathing Your Baby

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Asian newborn baby having a bath

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we firmly believe that the strength of the parent-physician relationship is critical to your baby’s health and well-being, and to your peace of mind. We consider ourselves collaborators in your baby’s care and together, we’ll take good care of your new little one. Bathing your newborn is one of those areas where we feel we can offer some important guidelines to help keep everyone clean and safe!

How often should you bathe your baby?

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Although some parents like to bathe their newborns every day, until your little one is crawling around and getting into messes, a full-body bath isn’t really necessary more than three times a week during the first year. Plus, bathing your baby too often can dry out the skin.

SAFETY NOTE: Handling a wet, soapy, slippery newborn takes practice and confidence, so stay calm and keep a good grip. You’ll soon get the hang of it! Baths can actually be great fun and a special bonding time between you and your baby.

Your baby may find the warm water of a bath very soothing and enjoyable. On the other hand, he/she may scream throughout the whole experience, making it a stressful ordeal. If this is the case, a quick 5-minute bath is long enough to get your baby clean before the water cools down.

When a sponge bath is best

For the first week or so of your baby’s life, it’s best to give your baby sponge baths with a warm, damp washcloth rather than total water immersion. Wash the face and hands thoroughly, paying particular attention to the genital area.

After the umbilical cord stump dries up and falls off and the area heals (1-4 weeks), and/or the circumcision heals (1-2 weeks), you can start giving your newborn tub baths. While he/she is still tiny, for safety use the kitchen sink or a small plastic baby tub instead of a standard tub.

Bathing supplies to have on hand BEFORE starting the bath

Before preparing your baby for a bath, get all the supplies you’ll need together and within reaching distance of the tub. NEVER leave your baby unattended while you go searching for the shampoo or a towel. Here are the items we recommend having on hand:

  • a soft, clean washcloth
  • mild, unscented baby soap and shampoo
  • a soft brush to stimulate the baby’s scalp
  • towels or blankets
  • a clean diaper
  • clean clothes

For sponge (washcloth) baths

Choose a safe, flat surface (such as a changing table, floor or counter) in a warm room. Fill a sink or bowl with warm—not hot!—water. Undress your baby and wrap him/her in a towel. Wipe your infant’s eyes with a washcloth (or a clean cotton ball) dampened with water only, starting with one eye and wiping from the inner corner to the outer corner. Use a clean corner of the washcloth or another cotton ball to wash the other eye. Clean your baby’s nose and ears with the damp washcloth. Then wet the cloth again and, using a little soap, wash his/her face gently and pat dry.

Next, using baby shampoo, create a lather and gently wash your baby’s head and hair, massaging the scalp with the pads of your fingers or a soft baby hairbrush, including the area over the fontanelles (soft spots) on the top of the head. Rinse. Using a wet washcloth and soap, gently wash the rest of his/her body, paying special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the genital area. Once you have washed those areas, make sure they are dry and then diaper and dress your baby.

For tub baths

When your newborn is ready for tub baths, make the first few experiences gentle and brief. If your baby becomes upset, go back to sponge baths for a week or two, then try the bath again.

First, fill a plastic infant tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm—not hot!—water. To test the water temperature, feel the water with the inside of your elbow or wrist. In a warm room, undress your baby and place him/her in the water immediately to prevent chills. Make sure the water in the tub is no more than 2-3 inches deep, and that the water is no longer running in the tub. Use one hand to support your baby’s head and the other to guide the baby into the water feet-first. Softly reassure your baby as you slowly lower him/her into the water up to the chest.

Using baby shampoo, create a lather and gently wash your baby’s head and hair, massaging the scalp with the pads of your fingers or a soft baby hairbrush, including the area over the fontanelles (soft spots) on the top of the head. When you rinse the shampoo from your baby’s head, cup your hand across the forehead so the suds run toward the sides and not into the eyes. Gently wash the rest of your baby’s body with water and a small amount of soap.

Throughout the bath, regularly pour water gently over your baby’s body so he/she doesn’t get cold. After the bath, immediately wrap your baby in a towel, making sure to cover his/her head. Baby towels with hoods are especially good at keeping a freshly washed baby warm.

Essential bath safety

Nothing is more important to you, and to us, than the safety of your newborn. It is very important that you follow these 4 safety tips when bathing your baby:

  1. Never leave your baby unsupervised, even for a second. If the doorbell or phone rings and you feel you absolutely must answer it, scoop your baby up in a towel and take him/her with you.
  2. Never put your baby into a tub when the water is still running. The water can quickly get too deep or too hot.
  3. Set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A baby can get third-degree burns in less than a minute at 140 degrees.
  4. Never, ever leave your child unattended. A baby can drown in less than an inch of water and in less than 60 seconds.

Questions, concerns? Please come see us.

Whether you’re an experienced parent or this is your first time around, we urge you to come in and see us with any questions or concerns you may have. When you need us, we’re here for you with expert advice and guidance to help you raise a happy, healthy baby.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with  Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball