Giving your baby their first bath can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. You want to make sure bathing is an enjoyable experience for your little one – with safety in mind too.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends delaying baby's first bath until 24 hours after birth, or waiting at least 6 hours if a full day is not achievable. This is because babies who receive baths immediate may get cold and develop hypothermia. Having an early bath may also induce minor stress, with some babies having a drop in blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
Giving your baby for a bath too soon can also interfered with skin-to-skin care, mother-child bonding and early breastfeeding success.
Ideally, parents should try to plan their baby’s very first bath within a week after birth. Here’s our step-by-step guide to getting started.
The best time to bath baby
There’s no hard and fast rule regarding the best time to bath your baby. Infants tend to be more alert in the morning – a plus point for some parents.
Others may choose early evening as bath time, as part of a winding-down routine. You may also choose to add a nursing session and goodnight song after the bath. It’s best to avoid bathing baby right after a feeding (to give their stomach time to settle), or when they are overtired.
How often should you bathe your newborn?
Taking care of a newborn is hard work− thankfully they don’t require daily baths! After all, newborns rarely sweat or get dirty enough to require a full bath each day.
Three baths a week during your baby’s first year is sufficient. In fact, bathing them more frequently can lead to dry skin. Do also bear in mind that newborns should receive sponge baths until their umbilical cords dry up and fall off.
Gentle sponge baths are enough for the first few weeks. Here’s your pre-sponge bath checklist:
- Two flannel cloths
- Cotton pads (for cleaning eyes)
- A towel
- A clean diaper
- Diaper rash ointment (if needed)
For newborns, dermatologists recommend using only water to bathe them. From 3 months, you can start using baby shampoo and soap-free body wash. Avoid using products for adults, which tend to be harsher and can dry your baby’s extra-sensitive skin.
What's a good baby bath temperature?
Your baby's bath water should be comfortably warm (never hot), when you dip your wrist or elbow into it for a temperature check. Check that the water temperature is around 37°C to 38°C.
Basics of giving baby a sponge bath:
1. First, undress your baby, cradling their head with one hand. Leave the diaper on.
2. Wrap baby in a towel, exposing only the areas that you are washing as some babies hate being exposed to the air.
3. Using the flannel wash cloth, start behind the ears, then move to the neck, elbows, knees, between fingers and toes. Pay attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears and around the neck.
4. While newborns don't have much hair, sponge the few wisps that are there. Washing of hair should come toward the end of bath time so baby doesn't get cold.
5. To avoid getting eyes wet, tip their head back just a little.
6. Remove the diaper and sponge baby's bottom, belly and genitals.
7. Gently pat baby dry, as rubbing the skin will irritate it.
When to give baby a regular bath
Once the umbilical area is healed, your baby may be placed directly in the water. Make their first bath as gentle and brief as possible.
Here are the steps to take:
1. Fill the tub with only 2 or 3 inches of warm water.
2. Cradle your baby’s head and shoulders with one arm, and support their body with your other arm.
3. Gently lower your baby into the bath, feet first, keeping a close hold at all times.
4. Using a washcloth, wash the face and hair. When rinsing, protect eyes with your hand across the forehead.
5. Gently wash the rest of baby with water and a small amount of soap.
6. Try gentle baby shampoo as hair grows.
7. To keep baby warm, cup your hand to let handfuls of water wash over baby's chest.
8. Gently pat baby dry, and apply baby lotion to seal in moisture.
When bath time is over, wrap baby in a towel right away, covering their head for warmth.
- Never leave your baby alone in the bath, even to grab a towel or answer the phone. A child can drown in just 2.5cm of water. Ignore the phone, and if you do have to leave the room, wrap her in a towel and take her with you.
- Don’t fully submerge your baby in water until their umbilical cord is healed, to avoid the risk of infection.
- On cold rainy days, or when your baby is feeling under the weather, you can just top ‘n’ tail them. Simply focus on areas that can get dirty, such as cleaning their eyes, face, neck, bottom/genitals and skin crease with cotton wool dipped in cooled, boiled water.
Looking to learn more about ways to care for your newborn? Consider signing up for Thomson Medical’s Parentcraft classes. These courses cover topics like breastfeeding, bathing and weaning, with small class sizes and experienced educators.
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