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How to Bathe a Newborn Safely and Confidently

Bringing home your new little bundle of joy can be a whirlwind with the first few days  filled with exciting and somewhat nerve-wracking firsts. One of biggest “firsts” being giving your newborn their first bath at home. Leaving the comfort of the sanitized hospital with answers to all your questions just around the corner and medical professionals just a call button away can bring all kinds of worry-especially for new parents! Luckily, before bringing them home, the nurses have your newborn all bathed and swaddled to perfection. When we brought our first baby home, we treated that hospital swaddler like bubble wrap  and only unwrapped her for necessities.

Here are a few tips to help you feel comfortable and confident bathing your delicate angel in the beginning.

First of all, think of their first baths more of a simple sponge bath only a few times a week rather than a daily plunge into the tub. The stump of the umbilical cord can stay attached for up to three weeks and while it is still there, the baby should not be submerged in water. Babies’ skin can dry out easily and only needs to be washed a few times a week instead of daily. These sponge baths are mostly important for the diaper area and around the face and neck.

The whole process goes rather quickly and you will need both hands the whole time so make sure you have all of your supplies ready and easily accessible before you begin. It also wouldn’t hurt to have an extra set of hands around if possible. Possibly the most common reason babies cry during a bath is because they don’t like the exposure to cold air with their clothes off. If possible, set up an area that will not have any cold drafts and stay warmer. We liked using a small space heater just to make the bath as comfortable as possible. Lay out a clean diaper, clean clothes and blanket for immediately after the bath. For the actual bath you will need a towel, small washcloth, warm water in a shallow basin or sink and baby soap if you would like.

Before starting the process I would recommend putting on a clean diaper. This may seem silly right before a bath but you want to keep the bath water as clean as possible so starting out with a dirty diaper can just make everything messier.

The most important part throughout the entire bath is to always have a strong secure hold of your baby. They do not have much control of their limbs at this age and you want to make sure they feel safe. Always prioritize their neck and head. You can lay them flat on a towel or hold them. We have found the “football hold” to be the most secure hold for a bath that still allows access for washing. You will probably get a little wet if you decide to hold them but it keeps the baby secure and comfortable in your arms.

Football Hold

Start by undressing your baby (I like to leave the diaper on until the last minute since we hold our baby and often the sound of water can make them leak). Get a small soft washcloth damp with warm (not hot!) water and wipe their eyes first from the inside towards the outside of their face. After wiping their eyes, wash the other crevices of their face- nose and mouth. I would recommend adding a tiny drop of baby soap at this point- a little bit definitely goes a long way here. With a little bit of suds, start washing their neck and behind their ears. Milk can often slip into the hidden crevices of their tiny neck and need to be cleaned regularly. Move down their body getting all the creases in their limbs and leaving their bottom for last. Once you have washed the rest of their body- resist the urge to rewash their face with the same – now unsanitary washcloth.

After their umbilical stump falls out you can use a plastic tub on the counter or one that sits in your big tub. Even though they are in a tub now, do not fill it up with more than a few inches of water. You can splash the water up over the baby to keep them warm but too much water can be more dangerous as babies slip very easily.

A good hold on your baby is even more important now so no matter what kind of tub you pick- make sure they are secure. Especially be sure to make proper adjustments to your hold or their position as they get older and begin to squirm more and lift their head.

Be sure the water temperature is warm but not too hot. Aim for 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Babies get cold fast and lose a lot of heat from their head so submerge their feet first and wash their head/hair towards the end.

Start the washing much like you did with the sponge bath- starting with a clean cloth on his/her face, around the ears and neck and then removing the diaper and cleaning that area last.

The whole bath should not take more than ten to fifteen minutes at the most. When they are done place them in a towel and pat them dry. Do not try to rub their skin as it can be sensitive.

Snuggle them up and enjoy the sweet smell of a freshly bathed baby- this is no doubt my favorite part!

As daunting as their first bath may feel, pull out your camera and make sure you savor the memory! The second and third bath will be much less worrisome and you and your baby will begin to relax and enjoy them more and more.