Bathing your new baby may be about much more than just cleanliness. Giving your baby a bath can be a lovely way to strengthen your attachment to her.
Some babies enjoy being in warm water right from the start, while others need a little time to get used to these new sensations on their skin. Whatever's right for you and your baby, we have plenty of tips for keeping your baby clean and contented.
What's the best way to keep my newborn clean?
Bathing is a good way to keep your newborn clean, but for the first week or so you may find it easier to top and tail. Topping and tailing means washing your baby from head to toe with a warm, damp sponge or flannel, and pieces of moistened cotton wool.
Here’s how to top and tail your baby:
Before you begin, make sure the room is warm, and have a clean nappy and clothes to hand. Fill a bowl or sink with warm water. Undress your baby and place her on a clean towel so you’re ready to dry her quickly afterwards.
Topping means washing your baby’s face, neck, and hands. Start by wiping each of your baby's eyes. Dip a clean piece of cotton wool in warm water and squeeze it out.
Gently sweep the cotton wool across your baby's eye, starting from the corner near her nose. Use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each wipe so that you don't spread any goo from one eye to the other.
Using fresh, damp cotton wool, wipe your baby's ears, and then wipe behind her ears. These areas can become milky and sweaty. Don’t clean inside the ears, as you could damage your baby's eardrum.
Use fresh pieces of cotton wool to wipe your baby's face, neck creases, and hands. If your newborn’s skin still has a coating of white, creamy vernix, don’t try to wash it off. Vernix is your baby's natural cleanser and is very good for her skin. It will wear off naturally quite soon.
Tailing means thoroughly cleaning your baby's genitals and bottom as part of her wash and after each nappy change. Baby poo has a higher percentage of fats than adult poo. You may find it easier to use a mild, liquid baby cleanser or sensitive, unperfumed baby wipes to remove the poo from your baby's skin.
Look for cleansers and wipes that are specifically formulated for babies. These should help to protect your newborn’s skin barrier. It’s a good idea to test any cleanser on a small area of her skin first, to check that it's sensitive enough. Avoid baby products made with soap, or baby wipes that contain alcohol or perfume, as these can disturb the natural balance of your baby's skin.
When you’ve washed your baby, gently pat her dry, paying particular attention to her creases. You may want to smooth on a mild moisturising lotion, oil, or emollient if her skin is dry. Wrap your baby in a towel, and give her a cuddle to keep her warm.
When can my newborn have her first bath?
If your baby is full-term and healthy, you can give your newborn her first bath as soon as you like. It’s best to wait at least an hour after the birth, and to keep the first bath short, no more than five minutes to 10 minutes.
You don't need to wait for your baby’s umbilical cord stump to dry up and fall off, or for it to heal. A bath won't make an infection in the stump more likely, and it won’t slow down the healing process. Make sure you allow it to dry off properly afterwards, though.
It can be a bit scary the first few times you bathe your newborn. Try to stay calm and keep a firm hold of your baby when moving her in and out of the bath. You may like to have someone with you the first few times to support you and fetch anything you've forgotten. Until you get into a routine, you'll probably find this happens often!
Handling a wriggling, wet and slippery baby takes practice and confidence, but rest assured you and your baby will get used to bathtime and enjoy it. Most babies are soothed by warm water and a bath may help a fussy baby to relax and calm down.
A bath twice a week or three times a week is enough to keep your newborn clean. Between baths, wash your baby's face regularly, clean her genitals and bottom after each nappy change, and wipe any grime off her skin. If you enjoy giving her a bath every day, that’s fine, too.
If you live in a hard water area, bear in mind that too much tap water during the first month or so may dry out and damage your baby's skin. You could add a little mild, liquid baby cleanser or bath emollient to the water to protect your baby's skin. Though be aware that the emollient will make your baby slippery to handle.
When your baby is a newborn, you’ll probably bathe her during the day. After a couple of months you could start to make a bath part of her bedtime routine.
Where should I bathe my newborn?
In the first few weeks, it may be easier to bathe your baby in the kitchen sink or in a small, plastic baby bath.
You could use your big bath, but it can be awkward as you’ll need to kneel or lean over the side. When you’ve just had a baby, you need to be careful you don't hurt your back. If you do use your big bath, a bath support for your baby may help.
How do I give my newborn a bath?
Choose a time of day when you're not expecting any interruptions and have time to devote to your baby. It's best if your baby is alert, contented, and between feeds, so she’s not tired, hungry, or full.
Here's how to bathe your baby:
- You need to keep your newborn baby warm at bathtime. Make sure the room and water are warm, and close any doors and windows.
- Wash your hands, and then gather all the bath supplies that you're going to need. These may include a top-and-tail bowl, sponge or flannel, a cleanser, at least one clean towel, and at least one set of clean clothes and nappies. Newborns can wee and poo unexpectedly, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Put cold water in the bath first, and then add the hot water, so the bath water is comfortably warm. If you're going to use a sink or a bowl for hair-washing, have the water ready in these, too.
- Fill the bath with about 13cm (5in) of water, or enough water to allow your baby to settle in the water with her shoulders well covered.
- If you have a bath thermometer, use it to check that the water is about 37 degrees C to 38 degrees C. If you don’t have a thermometer, gauge the water temperature with your elbow rather than your hand. The water should feel neither hot nor cold.
- Undress your baby down to her nappy, and then wrap her in a towel. Keep her head uncovered so you can wash her face and hair before you put her in the bath. This way, you can give her a quick dip in the bath if she isn't enjoying it or a bit longer if she loves it.
- Wash your baby’s eyes, ears, face, and neck as you would for topping and tailing.
- Hold your baby so that her head is over the bath water and, using your hand or a flannel, massage her scalp with water. You could use a mild baby shampoo or liquid cleanser. If you don't want shampoo getting in her bath water, use a sink or a bowl for this bit. Rinse her hair carefully and dry it. Washing her hair just once a week or twice a week is enough to keep her clean.
- Now take off your baby's nappy. If there's poo in the nappy, clean her genitals and bottom before putting her in the bath.
- Gradually slip your baby into the bath feet-first, using one hand to support her neck and head. The water should be covering her shoulders so she doesn't get cold.
- Wash your baby with water, or use a gentle liquid baby cleanser to protect your baby's skin.
- If your baby's skin is dry or tender, you could add a little baby bath emollient to the water. Bear in mind that the emollient will make your baby slippery to handle.
- If you prefer to bathe your baby in just water, it's still best to use a liquid baby cleanser or sensitive, unperfumed baby wipes to wash her nappy area. Using water alone makes it harder to wash the fatty poo off your baby's bottom.
- Use your hand, a flannel, or a sponge to clean your baby from top to bottom, front and back. Avoid scrubbing your baby's skin. Leave any creamy vernix in her creases, as it helps her skin barrier to develop.
- Rinse your baby thoroughly, and then lift her out of the bath and straight on to a dry hooded towel. Lift her with one hand supporting her neck and head, and your other hand under her bottom, with your thumb and forefinger around one thigh.
- Wrap your baby in the towel, pat her dry straight away, and then put her nappy on. Wrap her in a dry towel or blanket again, and give her a cosy cuddle for 10 minutes or so to keep her warm.
- If your baby's skin tends to be dry, you could smooth on a mild baby moisturising lotion, cream, or oil.
- Now dress your baby in clean clothes. Newborns lose heat rapidly so, depending on how warm it is, you may want to wrap her in a dry, warm blanket, too. Then give her a kiss on her sweet-smelling head.