I will never forget the first time my husband and I went to bathe our eldest. She was this tiny little thing, and we were both petrified that we’d accidentally drop her under the water.
In China, most homes do not have bathtubs the way they do here. We had bought a simple baby tub in which to bathe her. Even still, newborns can’t sit up. Which means you’ve got to hold them carefully with one hand while washing them with the other. Add to the equation soap, which, even for babies, is really slippery. And from there, you have a scary situation that keeps you from breathing until your baby is safely wrapped in a towel again.
So, we teamed up for all bath times. One of us would hold her while the other one would wash her. It was a pretty good plan, but she sensed our terror and would scream and cry through every washing. It wasn’t until I dug around online and found a solution that would help…singing!
We’d sing her songs and keep an upbeat tempo, making goofy faces the whole way. Eventually, she started to dig it, and now, well, it’s hard to get her out of the tub.
Anyway, you’ve got lots of questions about bathing your newborn, and lucky for you, I’ve got plenty of answers, with my usual stories peppered in!
How Often Should I Bathe My Newborn?
According to the Mayo Clinic, you don’t need to go through this tightrope-walk-of-terror every day. Two to three times a week should absolutely suffice, give, or take. I say this because newborns are as mobile as a potato.
If you bathe baby too frequently, you can dry out that tender baby skin. For most of your diaper changes, you’re likely cleaning the areas that need the most attention anyway, so your baby will be fine without a bath every day.
Of course, there are exceptions to these guidelines. That would be when one of those poop explosions erupts, blasting up the back of the diaper and all the way out, coating the back of your baby. There’s no way around bath time then.
When Should I Start Giving My Newborn Baths?
If you’re wondering when this bath time fun can begin, the AAP has recommendations on that. It’s advised you stick with simple sponge baths until that stump from the umbilical cord falls off. This could happen in the first week, or even two weeks later.
Sponge baths are much easier and less nerve-wracking to administer. To do it right, you should prep all the things you’ll need first:
- Find a flat surface like a changing table or counter in a warm room.
- Get a pad or soft towel to make the surface softer.
- Fill a shallow basin or nearby sink with warm water.
- Use a thermometer to check that water to keep the temperature from being too hot or cold (more on that later).
- Put all your supplies near this bathing station – a soft and clean washcloth, towel (the ones with built-in hoods are best), baby shampoo, baby soap, baby wipes, a fresh diaper, and clean clothes.
Once you have everything together, get your newborn undressed and wrapped in the towel. Then lay her on back. Only expose the areas of your baby that you will wash one at a time. So if you are ready to clean her arms, pull one arm out from the towel and wash it first while keeping the rest of her covered.
For the face, you’ll only need to use the warm water and washcloth. Just wring the excess water out enough, so it doesn’t run all down her face. For the body, you’ll use gentle baby soap. You’ll want to focus on any areas that crease (think butt, underarms, behind ears, the base of the neck, and between those sweet little fingers and toes).
Newborn Bath Necessities
Now before I get distracted with telling you more about bathing newborn babies, I want to highlight some of those items you’re going to need for both sponge baths and regular tub baths.
My quick picks are:
Hooded baby towel
I had received one as a gift for my eldest, and it was fantastic. She loved it and cried her eyes out when she outgrew it. If I had it to do again, I’d pick this one because it’s made from organic bamboo which is so soft!
Tear-free baby wash
There are so many options for organic, safe products for your baby nowadays. I have only heard good things about Mustela, plus this formula can be used for hair when the baby has it. One thing I have to say is products that multi-task like this prevent you from having to buy a ton of different things and schlep them around in a caddy in your home. Simplicity is always best when it comes to caring for a baby.
Baby bath thermometer
It’s so important to check the water you use for bathing your baby, even if you’re not yet putting her into it. Your tub temperature should be 100F. Just because the water feels pleasant to your touch doesn’t mean it’s the right temperature. I personally love my water hot so I perceive it differently when I touch it and you will too. Keep baby safe by checking the temperature. I love this duck thermometer which baby will enjoy too when she’s ready for tub baths.
After this, I’ll be talking about bathing your newborn in the tub. A baby tub is a much easier way to do it, especially if you don’t have a tub (like us when we were in China). Even if you do have a tub, it’s much bigger than your baby needs.
If I may ramble a moment…
When we got our baby tub, it was still scary for us because we had to hold our eldest in the tub and keep her from slipping under the water. Fortunately, a trip to more-civilized Shanghai led us to a baby store that had an add-on for the baby tub we already owned. It was a baby sling.
So I was all set to recommend you buy one, but then I found this baby tub that has that already included! Man are you guys spoiled! Anyway, this will be your bath time BFF when you have to bathe your newborn in the tub by yourself. You can’t leave your baby unattended in the tub (never!), but it will allow you to have both hands free to conduct the bath.
Tub Time: Bathing Your Newborn
Now, let’s get right down to how to bathe your baby in a baby tub. Before I go into the how’s though, I’d like to tackle a few questions I’ve received lately that are likely on your mind.
Should I bathe my baby at night or in the morning?
Honestly, it’s all your choice. Whatever works best for your family is the right time. Some moms like to bathe baby in the morning while others are all for the nighttime bath.
The key is to do it when you’re not in a hurry or when you’re not going to be interrupted by something else. I always gave both my daughters their baths at night. It was part of our bedtime routine. It’s something I still enact unless we’ve hit the beach and everyone’s all gross and grungy.
How much water do I fill the tub with?
Our pediatrician told me that 2 inches of water are all you really need. Do keep in mind that drowning can happen even in that little water. You should always be able to have one hand on your baby at all times. And don’t forget – check that water temperature, as mentioned above. Use a thermometer!
What if my baby doesn’t like baths?
Some babies get downright upset about going from sponge baths to regular baths. Totally normal. Don’t stress because your baby will sense your tension and freak out (much like my eldest did). If your baby does get upset, start singing and smiling, narrate the process (we would sing what we were doing), and make it fun. It will take a few baths, but she will soon stay calm during the process. Here I have written thoroughly what else you can do if the baby hates bathing.
How do I give my baby a bath in a tub?
Once you have your baby tub (again, choose one like I recommended above…it will take the stress out of bathing!), you will want to move all things you’ll need within arm’s reach of your bathing post. That means the towel, the diaper, the clothes, the soap, lotion if you’re using it, and any other items.
Fill the tub up first and check the temperature. When it’s ready, put your baby into the sling attached to the tub. Throughout the bath, use a scoop to ladle warm water onto your baby, so she stays warm. Work quickly but calmly, washing the body gently, then the face and hair. Rinse all of it away, then carefully pick your baby up and wrap her in that towel. Move her to a padded mat or on top of another dry towel to dress her.
A couple of other things here – make sure the room you bathe your baby in is warm. The cold air in your room will be very upsetting to your baby, likely resulting in tears.
For us, bathrooms in China are set up very differently. There was no dry place to dress either of our girls, so we’d wrap them up and bring them to a station we’d set up before the bath with a dry towel on our bed. All the things we needed were right there, ready to go. It worked for us, and I urge you, please, you don’t have to stress about your home not being perfect. All you need is to find a space that works for this, and you’re good.
Should I use baby lotion or powder?
Babies don’t necessarily need lotion, but you can use one that is fragrance-free to help massage the skin and add moisture to any dry areas. Burt’s Bees make a good one.
As for powder, it can be dangerous for your baby to inhale, especially if you’re talc-based. If you must use powder to protect that bum, you should use cornstarch-based baby powder. Never shake it onto that baby bottom though! Gently sprinkle some into your hand and pat it on there.
Babies have very delicate skin. You should never use any products on your baby that are designed for adults unless otherwise advised by your doctor. When rashes come up, like diaper rash, you can smooth a soothing ointment on it to clear it up. Your doctor may also be able to recommend something, especially if you’ve tried different brands, and nothing seems to work.
Additionally, don’t forget that your laundry detergent can irritate your baby’s skin. You should switch to something gentle and safe for them. Seventh Generation is one that quite a few of my friends have used and adored. And honestly, even without a baby in the house, a laundry detergent without all those nasty additives is best for everyone in the family!
Safety Tips for Bathing Your Newborn
Bathing your newborn will come to feel like a regular activity soon enough, but before it does, please know that there are a few things you can do to keep it as safe as possible.
We talked about water temperature and having a safe set up around the tub. I can’t specify enough how urgent it is to prepare everything first before you grab your baby for the bath.
Here are something you should follow religiously, without exception:
- Don’t ever for any reason whatsoever leave your baby in the tub unattended.
- Don’t even move across the bathroom while the baby is in the tub. Always stay right there next to your baby.
- If you need to leave the room, take your baby with you. Don’t leave the baby in the tub or even on the floor near it.
- Remove all sharp objects out of your baby’s reach. Believe me, babies are clever little grabby things, and everything looks new and exciting to them. Razors, scissors, and anything else should be stowed safely out of her reach.
- Don’t leave electrical items plugged in, like your hair dryer or radio, anywhere in the bathroom when your baby is around. One false move and it could fall into the tub!
- Only clean the parts of your baby that are visible. It’s dangerous to use cotton swabs to clean out ears (and ears clean themselves out naturally…all you need to do is gently wipe the exterior with a clean, soft cloth).
I know it all seems scary now, but that’s because there’s this tiny person you have to take care of. It gets easier with every time, I promise, and one day you’ll laugh at how nervous you were. And hey, if you do forget something (which I have a ton of times), it’s not the end of the world.
I remember I once forgot the towel and my husband brought it in. No biggie. Another time, I left the diapers on the other end of our apartment and had to bundle up my eldest and cart her along with me to grab them. You live, you learn, and before you know it, you’ll be a pro.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.