A Nurse’s Guide to the Dreaded Newborn Bath

Whether you have recently welcomed a new addition into your family or if you are currently expecting, you and your partner will be wanting to give the best possible care to your newborn baby. This post will focus on how to deal with giving the dreaded newborn bath. The following suggestions have been learned through my own practice and research. There are varying guidelines depending on the hospital you deliver at, but here are some tips that have helped me as a mom and nurse when it comes to the newborn bath.

How Often Should I Give a Newborn Bath?

Newborn babies do not need daily baths or moisturizers. In the first year of life, two to three baths per week will suffice in keeping baby clean. Any more can dry out your baby’s skin. If you are wanting to use an evening bath as part of a nightly routine, I would recommend using soap in the bath only a couple of times a week. Before your baby begins solids or starts crawling, the most important areas to clean are the face and neck, hands and diaper area as they will become the most dirty.

When Can We Start Giving Our Newborn a Bath?

It is recommended to wait until your baby’s temperature has regulated itself prior to giving the first bath. This can range from four to six hours after birth. A sponge bath can be given prior to this at your request. Some babies are born with a thick white coating on their skin called vernix caseosa and is thought to protect your baby’s skin. Vernix can be difficult to take off in the early hours, makes your baby’s skin sticky and can be displeasing to look at. Other babies, especially ones that were delivered overdue, have peeling skin that can look uncomfortable. Vernix and peeling skin require no additional intervention as they will go away on their own. Left over vernix will become absorbed into baby’s skin and your baby will undergo a natural shedding process in the next few days of life.

What Do I Need for the Newborn Bath?

When you give your newborn a bath, always make sure you have all of your supplies at hand so that you will not be tempted to leave your baby to grab something. Your baby will need to be attended at all times while in the bath. You will need:

  • Soft towel
  • Wash cloth
  • Mild baby soap
  • New diaper and clothes
  • Diaper cream or moisturiser if using


What About His Umbilical Cord and Circumcision Site?

Your newborn can be given regular baths with a healing umbilical cord and circumcision. Always ensure these areas are kept clean and dry between baths, and not irritated by clothing or diapers. Cleansing the umbilical site with antiseptics or alcohol is no longer recommended as studies have shown that doing so can prolong the drying time. With minimal intervention the umbilical cord should fall off between days 10 and 14.

Option 1: Sponge Bath

In your baby’s first week you can give your baby sponge baths, baths in an infant tub (or a clean sink!), or have him bathe with you. When giving a sponge bath, start by cleansing and drying one area of your baby at a time. Try to keep the rest of your baby covered with a towel to ensure minimal heat loss as you clean your baby from top to bottom, starting with his face and ending in the diaper area.

Option 2: Bathing With Baby

A great option that allows for additional skin to skin and bonding time is to bathe with your infant. In the early weeks you may want to have someone hand your baby to you after you get into the bath as it can be difficult to maneuver with a baby in your arms.

Once you are both in the water you can put baby on your chest while washing him (your body heat will help keep baby comfortable) or you can let baby float on his back while supporting his head and let his legs freely splash around. Some babies will also enjoy nursing in the water. Breastfeeding may help comfort a baby that typically cries during bath time.

Option 3: Infant Tub Bath

To give your newborn baby his first bath in an infant tub while keeping him as comfortable as possible:

  1. Test bath water for temperature before a newborn bath with the inside of your wrist as it is the most sensitive part of your body.
  2. Strip baby naked and quickly bundle in a towel.
  3. With a clean washcloth with warm water, wash your infants eyes, face, neck and ears and pat dry.
  4.  While holding baby over the bath you can rinse baby’s hair with the warm water and a gentle soap. Dry hair and apply a hat if you want for extra comfort.
  5. Remove baby from the towel and place baby in the tub with warm water. Babies are very slippery when wet and need to be held tightly to avoid injury. You can protect baby’s head and neck by holding baby with your left hand at his furthest armpit while baby’s head and neck rest on your forearm. Use your right hand to wash baby with a warm washcloth and mild soap. Always rinse soap off of baby.
  6. To turn baby over and wash the back, hold baby’s neck with your right hand while supporting the body with your forearm. Wash baby with your left hand.
  7. When done, quickly remove baby from the bath while continuing to support the head and neck. Dry baby with a towel focusing on the crevices where moisture can linger (neck, groin, leg and arm folds). Apply moisturiser/diaper ointment if using, put on diaper and new clothes. Breathe a sigh of relief.
  8. Congratulate yourself! You did it! Giving a bath to a brand new (and potentially crying) newborn infant is not an easy task to accomplish. You may feel like you sucked at it or took too long but try not to worry too much. Your baby is very forgiving. It will become second nature as you get used to handling your baby.


Do you have a funny newborn bathing story? Any additional suggestions or words of advice? Please share using the comment section below!



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Hi! I am a Registered Nurse on a unit that encompasses labour and delivery, postpartum, medical, surgical and palliative care in a rural hospital in Ontario, Canada. I am a mom of two and am passionate about women's rights, mom and infant care, parenting and nursing. I hope to create an educational, entertaining and highly relatable resource for women around the world. Thanks for stopping by! Xo, The Mama Nurse

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