Bathing a newborn may seem a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. While it can be daunting for new parents, your baby’s first bath can also be a milestone to treasure and before long, you may find that both you and your newborn look forward to bath time as an opportunity to bond.
That’s not to say it’s the same for everyone, and it’s completely normal if you and your baby are struggling with bath time, or are feeling a little nervous. While some babies take to it like a duck on water, others aren’t so keen and may need a little extra encouragement.
Then there are the safety concerns: is the water too hot? Am I using the right products? How often should I bathe my baby?
From how to safely bathe your baby, to helping them enjoy bath time, here’s our guide to bathing a newborn.
When should you give your baby their first bath?
In a nutshell, whenever you feel ready.
A newborn baby can have their first bath as soon as a few hours after being born. However, you may well wish to give both you and your new arrival a little more time to adjust and settle into life together. Many parents choose to ‘top and tail’ their newborn for the first few days before easing into their first bath.
What about the umbilical stump?
The umbilical stump is what’s left behind when the umbilical cord is cut at birth. It is a small, 2 - 3 cm long stump in the same place as the belly button, and usually falls off on its own after about 5 - 15 days. Until this happens, it is a good idea to keep it dry and clean, to avoid infection.
When it comes to bath time, this means opting for shallow baths and not immersing the umbilical stump in water - and making sure it is carefully dried if it does get splashed. Many parents choose to stick to topping and tailing until the umbilical stump has fallen off and the belly button has healed.
This is completely up to you as a parent, and there is no right or wrong. It is simply what you feel most comfortable with, and what you feel works best for you and your newborn.
What is topping and tailing?
Sometimes called a sponge bath, ‘topping and tailing’ is the process of cleaning your baby’s face, neck, hands and bottom - without giving them a full bath. Despite its name, this method doesn’t actually require a sponge. Instead, cotton wool is used as a more hygienic option to clean your baby.
You will need:
- Cotton wool
- A bowl of warm water
- A towel
- A fresh nappy
- Clean clothes (if needed)
- A changing mat
Topping and tailing step-by-step:
- Place your baby on your knee or put them on a changing mat; remove their clothes (except their vest and nappy); and wrap them in a towel.
- Dip some cotton wool into the bowl of warm water, and gently wipe around your baby’s eyes. Use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye.
- Using a fresh piece of cotton wool, clean around your baby’s ears (avoid cleaning inside them).
- Wash the rest of your baby’s face, neck and hands using fresh cotton wool for each step.
- Gently towel dry your baby.
- Take off your baby’s nappy and clean their bottom using fresh cotton wool and warm water, before carefully drying and putting on a fresh nappy.
How do you bathe a newborn?
So, you’re ready to give your baby their first bath? Great! It may seem daunting but it doesn’t need to be. If you’re feeling a little nervous, you can enlist the help of a partner, family member or trusted friend. And remember: keep calm, and enjoy this special time together. You’ve got this.
You will need:
- A baby bath or clean washing-up bowl filled with warm water
Two towels - You could also use a Hooded Towl for a cosy drying routine
- Clean clothes
- Cotton wool
Bathing a baby step-by-step:
- Fill the baby bath or washing up bowl with warm water, to about 8 - 10cm deep. Avoid using liquid cleaners as, in their first month of life, plain water is best for your baby
- Give the water a good mix and, using your elbow or your wrist, check the water temperature is not too hot
- Holding your baby on your knee, clean their face as you would if you were topping and tailing them
- Wash their hair using water from your cupped hand, and gently dry it
- Remove their nappy, cleaning any mess
- Using one hand to hold your baby’s upper arm and support their head and shoulders, gently lower them into the bath
- Gently wash the water over your baby, taking care not to splash; and keeping their head out of the water
- Lift your baby out of the bath and carefully pat them dry. Pay attention to any creases in their skin to make sure these are properly dry too.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, give your baby a relaxing post bath massage (avoid using any oils or lotions until they are at least one month old).
- At this point, you can wrap them up in a snuggly hooded towel to keep them warm and cosy.
How often should you bathe a newborn?
As a general rule, your newborn should be bathed around two to three times a week, with sponge baths in between to keep them clean. However, if they enjoy bath time then there is no reason why you shouldn’t bathe them every day! This is a personal choice which is individual to each parent and baby.
Between baths, keep your newborn fresh and clean by giving them daily sponge baths; and giving their bottom a clean after you change their nappy.
Tips for bathing a newborn
Bath time is about more than cleanliness: it’s an opportunity to bond, and can be a soothing and enjoyable experience. Here are our top tips for both safety and relaxation at bath time.
- Never leave your baby alone or unattended in the bath for even a second.
If you’re feeling a little nervous or unconfident, there is no shame in asking someone to lend you a hand, or simply to be present for moral support.
- Keep talking to your baby while you bathe them to help them feel relaxed and comforted.
- Avoid bathing your baby straight after a feed; when they’re hungry; or when they’re tired.
- Bathe them in a nice warm room
- Is your baby afraid or upset when it comes to bath time? Why not try taking a bath together! Make sure the water isn’t too hot, and if possible, enlist someone to help by holding your baby while you get in and out of the bath.
- Use a hooded towel to keep them warm and cosy.