Bath Basics: A New Parents’ Guide to Baby’s Bath Time

Picture of baby with soapy suds on its head and bubbles all around

As a new parent, you’re probably beginning to realize that many baby-related tasks aren’t nearly as simple and straightforward as you originally thought they would be. The same can hold true for baby bath time.

Giving your baby a bath is not only a wonderful bonding experience, it’s also essential to your baby’s health and happiness. Keeping your little one clean will help fend off disease and protect their delicate immune system in the first few weeks and months of their life.

But even when you go in with a game plan for baby bath time, you might find that you need to change course when your baby just isn’t having any of it. As frustrating as this can be, it’s also perfectly normal.

So, how can you master the art of giving your baby a bath and turn it into a lovely bonding experience for the both of you? Here is a simple guide to help you navigate bath time with the ease and confidence of an experienced parent:

What Do I Need for Baby Bath Time?

Before you can give your baby a bath, you should first have everything you need for bath time ready to go. Here are some basic bath items that are essential to a happy, joyous bath time for boys and girls:

 Towels & Washcloths Receiving blankets
Cloth Diapers Sleepwear
  • Baby tub or basin. Baby tubs/basins are recommended until your baby can sit up on their own. Once they can sit up, they can move to the adult tub.
  • Baby-safe cleanser. Babies have sensitive skin that will react to chemicals found in adult soaps and cleansers. Use a gentle wash formulated for babies such as Aveeno Baby Wash or CeraVe Baby Wash. Check with your pediatrician if you have any questions on the best soap to use. 
  • Washcloths and sponge. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents use a sponge until the umbilical cord stump heals. After it has fallen off, you can use baby washcloths to gently cleanse your baby’s soft skin.
  • Hooded bath towel. As cute as some hooded bath towels can be, they aren’t just to make your baby adorable for bath time photo ops. Babies can lose a significant amount of heat from their head, making hooded towels a must-have for bath time.
  • Receiving blanket (optional). Receiving blankets are an incredibly versatile item that can be used for burping, nursing or simply keeping a newborn warm and cozy. While you don’t necessarily need it for bath time, swaddle blankets can be super helpful by making your baby feel secure when you submerge them in water.
  • Fresh diaper and clean outfit. Have a clean disposable or cloth diaper ready post-bath time, along with a clean baby sleeper to keep them warm and snug.

When Does My Baby Need Their First Bath?

After finally bringing home your little bundle, you may be wondering exactly when they will need their first bath. A recent trend has been to wait 24-48 hours to wash newborns due to the growing evidence which suggests that putting off bath time can benefit both the baby and the parents.

Graphic: When Does My Baby Need Their First Bath (In 24-48 hours)

Given that most newborns don’t get too dirty, some parents will wait between 10 days and three weeks to give their first sponge bath (no regular baths until the umbilical cord has healed). If you still aren’t sure, be sure to ask your doctor how long they recommend waiting.

How Often Should I Bathe My Baby?

If you’ve asked all your friends how often they wash their babies, you’ve probably received a lot of different answers. Some might say every day, while others say to bathe them only twice a week.

So, what’s the real answer? Most doctors recommend washing your baby no more than 2-3 times a week to avoid drying out your little one’s delicate skin. However, there are exceptions.

Babies get dirty eventually, whether it’s from a diaper blowout, spit up or vomit. There will be some instances where you just washed your baby the day before and think, “Yep, this baby definitely needs a bath!”

Graphic: How Often Should I Bathe My Baby (2-3 times a week)

Apart from the random messy incident, when is it acceptable to wash your baby more than 2-3 times per week? Here are a few other exceptions to the rule:

  • Saving soap for deep cleans. It’s acceptable to wash your baby every day as long as you don’t use soap each time. Even baby-safe soaps are formulated to clean the skin and can lead to excessive drying if you aren’t careful.
  • Using moisturizer after bath time. If you’re worried about your baby’s skin becoming too dry, you can also apply a fragrance-free hypoallergenic moisturizer all over their skin (being sure to take care around the eyes and mouth, of course).
  • Trying to calm colic babies. Your baby is crying for hours on end and the only thing that seems to help is bath time. Although you certainly don’t want to wash your baby more than necessary, there are some things that are worth doing for your sanity. As long as you skip the soap and moisturize your baby after bath time, bathing them each day is perfectly fine.

    How to Bathe Your Baby Like a Pro

    If you’re feeling nervous about washing your baby for the first time, that’s normal for a new parent. Who wouldn’t be nervous to wash a delicate baby with little to no sleep?

    Little newborn baby having a bath

    Rest assured that the process is much easier than you think. Although the following steps may seem overwhelming, they will soon become second nature to you as you get the hang of baby bath time:

    • Check the water temperature. Always check the water temperature before bathing your little one. You can do this by dipping your elbow in the water or by purchasing a bath thermometer (between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
    • Gently place your baby in the tub. As you lower your baby into the tub, be sure to support their head and neck. With one arm supporting the head and neck, use your other arm to gently bathe them.
    • Use cotton pads to wipe their eyes. Gently swipe a damp cotton pad across your baby’s eyes. Use a different cotton pad for each eye to avoid spreading a possible infection.
    • Use a washcloth for their head and neck. Use a baby washcloth to clean the neck, head and behind the ears. Don’t forget the creases and rolls.
    • Rinse off the cleanser. Using a small cup of water, carefully pour water to remove all soap residue from your baby’s skin.
    • Remove them from the tub. Pick your baby up from underneath their arms, making sure that their head is supported. Place them on a flat surface and gently pat them dry.
    • Apply moisturizer. Before getting them dressed, slather a baby-safe moisturizer all over their skin to prevent dryness.

    Bath Time for Girls and Boys

    There isn’t a huge difference in bath time for boys versus bath time for girls. However, you do need to be aware of a few anatomical differences that will affect your bathing technique.

    baby covered in suds with mother holding wash cloth on its head, smiling for camera

    Bath time for boys: Gently wash the penis with a baby washcloth and pat dry. Avoid pulling back the foreskin on uncircumcised boys.

    Bath time for girls: You can use a cotton pad, water and gentle soap to wipe your baby girl’s genitals. Just take care to scrub the vulva only, not the vagina. To keep this area as clean as possible, always wipe front to back when changing her diaper.

    What if My Baby Pees or Poops in the Tub?

    It’s very common for babies to pee and poop in the tub. If it happens, don’t sweat it. Just drain the water if your little one poops.

    Pee is sterile, so you can keep going and just be careful not to get any water in their mouth. If your baby is pooping in the tub regularly, there are a few tricks to work around this.

    First, you can wait until they’ve had a bowel movement before giving them a bath. If this is inconvenient, you can always try giving your baby food immediately after a bath so that they associate it with positive things.

    Tips for Making Baby Bath Time Fun

    Some babies love water, while other babies will cry and squirm. When your baby dislikes bath time, it can make the entire process much more stressful.

    Baby boy wearing diaper and blue towel

    Here are a few tips to help ease your little one into it and make bath time more enjoyable for both of you:

    • Make sure both the room and the water are warm enough. Fussy babies may just be too cold. Some new parents find that increasing the water temperature ever so slightly and keeping their bathroom warm can help make their little one content during bath time.
    • Start with a top and tail bath. A top and tail bath simply means washing your baby’s face, neck and bottom regularly. It’s a great way to introduce bath time to a reluctant baby.
    • Bathe with your baby. If you’re confident enough and the umbilical cord is finally off, feel free to try bathing with your baby. It can be a great bonding experience for the two of you because it provides an opportunity for skin-to-skin contact.
    • Play with bath items. Excite your baby’s senses by using baby washcloths and bath towels in various textures. Place a washcloth over the belly to keep their belly warm while making them feel comforted.
    • Give your baby a massage. Babies love being touched! A bath massage will help relax them while they’re in the tub and potentially help them fall asleep after the bath is over.
    • Talk with your baby. It’s difficult to be a new parent, especially if your partner has gone back to work and you’re home alone. Why not talk to your baby? Not only is it cathartic for you to chat about your day, your baby will enjoy hearing your voice.
    • Morning or night. Some babies get excited in water, while others may start feeling relaxed and sleepy in the tub. You can make bath time work in your favor by giving them a bath to wake them up or put them to sleep.

    Additional Safety Considerations for Baby Bath Time

    You no doubt want to make bath time for your baby as safe and enjoyable as possible. To do this, consider taking the following safety precautions:

    • Lower your water heater temperature. Be sure to avoid accidentally scalding your baby with water that is too hot. Set your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit so that the water isn’t dangerously hot.
    • Buy a non-skid mat. Place a non-skid mat by the bathtub to prevent slipping. Even if you aren’t bathing with your newborn, they will eventually transition to the tub anyway.
    • Learn child CPR. It never hurts to learn child CPR. Children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water. On a similar note, keep the toilet lid and shower doors shut when not in use.
    • Never leave your baby alone. Never walk away while your baby is in the tub or on a flat counter, even for a second. Place the baby in a safe and secure bassinet before emptying the bath water.
    • Cover the tub spout. Nothing ruins bath time like a painful bonk to the head. Bath spouts can be sharp enough to make your baby’s head bleed, so be sure to cover the tub spout and any other sharp objects such as protruding shower doors.
    • Keep electric appliances away from the tub. Store electronics away so that a baby or toddler can’t grab them and pull them near the tub.

    Cherishing Bath Time with Your Baby

    Father Holding Newborn Baby Son In Nursery

    Baby bath time is more than just washing your baby and keeping them clean. It’s also a crucial time for bonding with your baby and helping them develop their growing minds.

    While it may feel stressful at first, bath time will soon evolve into a fun experience for the both of you. Not only will your precious little one be clean and healthy, but they’ll be also a much happier baby who has a stronger connection with you.