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How to Bathe Your Baby

Don’t let bathtime get hectic. We’ve got your fool-proof guide to everything you need to make bathing baby go smoothly.

When it comes to newborn bath time, the more hands, the better -- in other words, make the first few baths a team effort. Make sure everything is set up beforehand, and make sure you’re feeling calm. (Breathe. In…out…in. Good.) Commit to letting the answering machine pick up any calls -- for this project, all your attention should be on baby. Here’s what you need for a successful bath time:

Washing station
Whether you bathe baby in a sink lined with a soft surface or a plastic tub with a sling placed in the real bath, make sure your setup is steady and there’s nothing hard or sharp for baby to accidentally knock against. Be sure to position baby’s head away from the faucet.

Warm room
Keep the temperature raised so it’s not a shock to baby’s system when she comes out of the bath. Babies have a hard time regulating their core temperature, so they shouldn’t be chilled for too long.

Fill the tub about three inches with water a little bit hotter than lukewarm. Submerge your entire hand and wrist to check the temperature. The water shouldn’t be running while baby is in the tub, because the depth could quickly become dangerous or the water temperature could change and become too hot. (Tip: Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees to avoid any accidental scalding.)

Plastic pitcher or cup
Use this to pour water over baby and rinse her off. (This is safer and less scary for babies than the gush of water coming from a faucet.) You might also try squeezing a washcloth soaked in water over your baby’s head to rinse.

Though some moms prefer to use only water on their newborns, the sweat and dead skin that accumulate on baby can produce an odor that makes soap pretty welcome. Go easy on the amount, though, because too much can dry out baby’s skin. Look for a mild, tear-free cleanser that can be used for both baby’s body and hair. (Even tear-free soap should be kept away from baby’s eyes and face, though.) Bottles that open with one hand or use a lockable pumping mechanism are best, because they allow you to keep that one necessary hand on baby at all times. If baby has a hard time with the washcloth, try putting soap on your hands and cleaning him that way. 

Designate a certain color or pattern used specifically for bath time -- you wouldn’t want to confuse them with your diaper cloths!

Any special treatments
Aquaphor, cradle cap treatment, or any other remedies your doctor has recommended should be within reach.

Pay attention to baby’s mood after bath time, and use it to your advantage. If he’s energetic and ready to play, bathe during the day. If he seems more mellow, make it a pre-bedtime activity.


Start by soaking your baby a little. Make sure to always keep one hand on baby, and remember that infants are especially slippery when wet. If he needs any cradle cap treatment, put this on first, then come back to rinse after you’ve washed the rest of the body. Otherwise, start from the top and work your way down. Wash the face first, cleaning one area at a time -- it can be scary for infants to have their entire face covered with a washcloth. As you move down the body, make sure to thoroughly wash inside all the folds (under the arms, in the neck, the genital area, etc.). Sweat and skin can get stuck in those areas and fester, causing nasty rashes, so it’s important to keep them as clean and dry as possible. Save baby’s dirtiest parts (aka the diaper area) for last. Then, move back up and wash baby’s hair. Since infants lose most of their heat through their heads, this should be your very last move. If the water is still warm you can engage in a little playtime, but resist the urge to splash for too long -- as the water chills, baby will quickly get cold.

There’s no need to bathe more than every few days. Since babies’ skin is so dry it can dehydrate quickly, so it’s actually best not to wash daily. Some parents even get by with as little as once a week. As one doctor put it, “When they start to smell funny, you know it’s time for a bath.”

Bath-side setup:

Keep a few towels on hand -- one to carefully dry out all the little folds, and then another one fresh out of the dryer to wrap baby up in. (Roll it up to keep in the warmth.) Hooded towels are also a good buy.

Clean diaper
Along with any other diapering supplies you need

Clean clothes


Some babies love lotion massages after bath time. Remember, though -- flaking skin isn’t necessarily dry. Babies accumulate dead skin that needs to come off.

Hairbrush or comb
(For those babies blessed with tresses.)

Note: Until the cord stump falls off (about 7 to 9 days) and the circumcision is healed, baby should only have sponge baths. Wrap baby in a towel to keep him warm, then pull out one limb at a time to wash with a sponge and warm water.  The cord stump can easily get infected, and should always be kept clean and dry. If it seems dirty or sticky, wash it with soap and water and then dry well using a clean cloth.

watch: more baby bath tips

-- Paula Kashtan

See More: Newborn Basics , Parenting Tools

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