How Often Should I Bathe My Baby?

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At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we believe that bathing your baby is about more than getting your newborn clean. It’s an intimate, deeply meaningful time to bond with the newest member of your family, and for both of you to get to know each other better.

Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP

Yet bath time also brings with it some anxiety for parents, especially if this is their first child. They want to know if they’re doing it right, often enough, or too often. They want to know if they’re taking care of the umbilical cord properly, as well as the circumcision site. And especially, they want to know if they’re bathing their baby safely.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve helped hundreds of parents take care of their newborns over the years and have lots of helpful advice, tips and guidelines to share. We’ve pulled together what we feel is important information on bathing an infant, which we offer here.

Video: how to bathe a newborn

For a step-by-step visual guide on how to safely bathe your baby, watch this video from Johnson’s by clicking on the image below:

How often does a newborn need a bath?

We agree with the Mayo Clinic’s recommendation that there’s no need to give your newborn a bath every day. Three times a week is usually enough until your baby becomes more mobile. Bathing your baby too much can dry out his or her skin. If you’re attentive and thorough with diaper changes and cleaning up feeding messes, you’re already cleaning the areas that need attention, namely, the face, neck and diaper area.

A sponge bath is best until the umbilical cord falls off

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only giving your baby sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump falls off, which typically takes a week or two.

How to give a sponge bath

For a sponge bath, you want a warm place with a flat surface, such as a bathroom or kitchen counter, changing table or firm bed. Even a blanket or towel on the floor is okay. If you’ll be using a hard surface, cover it with a blanket or towel. Fill a bowl, sink or basin with warm water.

Once you have everything ready, says the Mayo Clinic, undress your baby and wrap him or her in a towel. Lay your baby on his or her back in the prepared bathing area. To keep your baby warm, only expose the parts of his or her body that you’re washing. Wet a washcloth, wring out any excess water and wipe your baby’s face, nose and ears. Then wipe each eyelid, from the inside to the outside corner.

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, 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 your baby’s body, paying special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the genital area. Once these areas have been washed, pat them dry with the towel and then diaper and dress your baby.

When is my baby ready for a regular bath?

Once the umbilical area is healed, says HealthyChildren.org, you can place your baby in a baby tub of warm water. He or she may enjoy this or may protest loudly, so the first few baths should be as gentle and brief as possible. As far as how much water to put in the tub, our recommendation is 2 inches of warm (not hot) water.

How to give a full bath

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 or 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, 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 or she doesn’t get cold. After the bath, immediately wrap your baby in a towel, making sure to cover his or her head. Baby towels with hoods are especially good at keeping a just-bathed baby warm.

 Supplies to have on hand BEFORE starting a bath

·         A soft towel (preferably with a hood)

·         A free hand. Always keep one hand on your baby, and use the other hand to bathe.

·         A sink or shallow plastic tub. Check the water temperature with your hand to make sure it’s not too hot.

·         Washcloth

·         Mild, unscented baby soap and shampoo

·         Soft brush to stimulate your baby’s scalp

·         A clean diaper

·         Anti-diaper rash cream, baby powder

·         A change of clothes

Essential bath safety

Nothing is more important than the safety of your newborn. It is absolutely crucial that you follow these 4 safety tips when bathing your baby:

  1. NEVER, EVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD UNATTENDED, even for an instant. If the doorbell or phone rings, ignore it. If you feel you absolutely must answer it, scoop your baby up in a towel and take him/her with you. A baby can drown in less than an inch of water and in less than 60 seconds. Most child drownings that happen inside the home occur in bathtubs, and more than half of bathtub deaths involve children under 1 year of age.
  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.

For more information, we recommend these articles:

At any age, count on us for all kinds of information to help you raise your kids.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re raising teenagers, adolescents, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours. Please come in and see us.

Want to know more about bathing your baby? Come see us.

If you’d like more guidance on how to safely bathe your newborn, or if you have questions about any aspects of your child’s health and well-being, please make an appointment to come in to see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We’ll talk with you, give you tips and advice, show you how to bathe your baby, and take all the time you need to answer your questions. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.Make an appt

By Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball