mom breastfeeds her newborn in a floral bath
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Baby’s First Bath: How to Bathe Your Newborn Baby

A newborn baby’s first bath is one of many postpartum firsts that can make parents feel anxious. So in this newborn bath how-to, we’re sharing everything you need to know about that first newborn bath! From the baby’s bath temperature, how to give a bath to a newborn, and when to give a newborn a bath, you’ll find all of the information here. Baththime is a precious opportunity for bonding and soothing your little one so we’ll also delve into the benefits of infant massage after bath time, enhancing the bond between you and your baby.

This post contains affiliate links which — at no cost to you — give me a small commission if you purchase anything from a link. Please keep in mind that this post is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Bathtub photos by Raising Love. Sink photos by Sincerely Me Photography.

newborn baby first floral bath

When to give your newborn their first bath

Research finds that waiting at least 24 hours after birth before giving a newborn their first bath may reduce infant mortality and hypothermia. Delaying the first bath also allows babies to adjust to their new surroundings and preserve as much vernix —a waxy substance that coats the baby’s skin and offers natural moisturization and antibacterial properties.— as possible. Some parents will delay the first bath for a minimum of a week if not 4-6 weeks. However, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider or pediatrician for specific recommendations based on your baby’s individual needs.

With my own kids, I typically do a light sponge bath with washcloths to get any stinky gunk off hands or under chins at around 2 weeks old (if needed), then do a full bath closer to 6 weeks old. By six weeks they’re plumped up from feeding and have a bit of time to adjust to new surroundings. If your baby has feeding difficulties, a poor latch (milk neck, anyone?), multiple blowouts, or extra stinky poos from formula feeding then you might choose to bathe your newborn sooner than 6 weeks old. Outside of special medical circumstances, the timing of the first newborn bath is ultimately up to the family.

Disclaimer: No matter when or how you bathe your newborn baby it is extremely important that you schedule it for a time when you are alert, free of distractions, and attentive with your hands on your baby at all times — a newborn baby can easily drown in just 2 inches of water. Being alert means that you are not sleepy or on any medications or recreational drugs that might impair your judgment or alertness.

holding baby after bath

How to prepare for your newborn baby’s first bath

You might need more than you’d think for baby’s first big bath and you’re going to want it all within reach so that your hands are always on your newborn baby when they are being bathed. You’ll want to have another adult to help you with the bath —if possible — to make this first newborn bath run a lot smoother, but it can be done solo as well with the right amount of prep work. Be sure the area you’re using will work for the bathing method you’ve chosen and is clean and safe before setting up for your newborn baby’s first bath.

newborn first bath with baby's big brothers surrounding the bath

Ways to bathe your newborn for the first time

There are a few different ways to bathe your newborn baby but what you choose for your family will likely depend on whether or not you had a cesarean birth, if you have a bathtub in your home, the size of the sinks in your home, and the best location for a bath with warm water.

Bathing with your newborn baby

Skin-to-skin contact during bath time can be a beautiful way to bond with your newborn while easing any anxiety you might have about a first bath. Newborns are often calmer when on top of their parents and laying on top of one of their parents for their first bath — which means less crying and stress for everyone. Bonus: Newborn moms can use this bathtime opportunity to enjoy a sitz bath or coconut milk bath for themselves. Enjoy the closeness and connection that this shared experience brings!

Contraindications: If you had a c-section birth medical approval is required before attempting to get in and out of your bathtub for this newborn bathing method. Also, avoid bathing your newborn baby (or any age baby/child) if you are sleepy or taking any medication or recreational drugs that might limit your alertness.

How To:

  1. Fill the tub with warm water (around 100°F or 38°C, more on that later) and carefully lower yourself into the water. You can also add sitz bath (an herbal tea created to aid in postpartum healing) or coconut milk to this water!
  2. Leave the water running on a low setting at a comfortable warm temperature for you to use with the washcloths for bathing baby (more on how to do this later).
  3. If you have a second adult present, have them hand you your newborn baby after you’re already settled in the water. Ensure that both you and your baby are comfortable and supported. (This may mean adding a bath pillow for yourself before you even get in).
  4. During this bonding bath time, your baby can breastfeed/body feed as you use washcloths to gently wash them (one for soap and another for clean water rinsing) or can lay belly-to-belly asleep on you, or even be held cradled in your arms! No matter how you choose to hold your baby while in the bath with you, just be sure to support your newborn baby’s head and ensure an open airway.

Bathing your newborn baby in the sink

If you recently had a cesarean birth and received a soft baby tub meant for the sink as a baby shower gift, you might opt to bathe your newborn baby in a bathroom sink or kitchen sink. A sink bath uses less water than a whole bathtub and allows for a quicker bath experience.

How To:

  1. Ensure that the sink is thoroughly cleaned before using it as a baby bath and that the baby tub you have will fit in the sink.
  2. Fill the sink with warm water at a safe temperature (again, around 100°F or 38°C) and place a soft towel or a non-slip mat at the bottom for added comfort and stability.
  3. Gently cradle your baby in your arms or use a supporting bath seat designed for sinks, while using your other hand to wash them gently (more on that later).

Contraindications: If you don’t have the proper sink tub or sink size for an infant tub, this is not the best option for bathing a baby. You also are more likely to need everything right next to you or a second adult to ensure you don’t turn your back on your baby. Avoid bathing your newborn baby (or any age baby/child) if you are sleepy or taking any medication or recreational drugs that might limit your alertness.

Little Bathtubs

There are various small-sized bathtubs available specifically designed for newborns. These tubs provide a comfortable and safe space for your baby’s bath time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for filling the tub with warm water and ensure that it is stable and secure. Support your baby’s head and neck throughout the bath, and use a gentle touch while cleansing their delicate skin.

brushing baby cradle cap

How to wash your newborn in the bath

Similar to a bed bath, there’s a certain way to wash a newborn baby during their first bath.

  1. Start the bath and fill it with a few inches of warm water. Keeping the water temperature at an optimal level is crucial for your baby’s comfort and safety. The recommended water temperature for a baby’s bath is around 100°F (38°C). It’s important to check the water temperature using a reliable thermometer or the inside of your wrist before placing your baby in the water. Remember to always keep a hand on your baby and never leave them unattended during bath time, regardless of the method you choose.
  2. Warm a washcloth and use one corner to wipe your newborn’s left eye from the bridge of their nose to their ears.
  3. Use a different corner of the washcloth to gently do the same on their right eye.
  4. You can then either fold the washcloth over and add a pea-sized amount of soap to the center or add soap to a new washcloth.
  5. Wash under your newborn’s neck, in thier armpits, down their arms then to their belly and legs with feet and genitals last.
  6. Wet another washcloth with warm water (this is when washcloths with different patterns on them is helpful) and use it to wipe baby’s face and then the rest of the body.
  7. The last part of the body that you will wash using a bit of soap and a washcloth is your newborn’s head. Babies can lose warmth through their heads, so it’s best to wash the hair last. If they are experiencing cradle cap you may apply a cradle cap soap or ointment at the start of the bath then wash it off with water and a cradle cap brush at the end.
  8. Remember to always keep a hand on your baby and not turn away from them. Have another adult hold a hooded towel up so that you can hand them your baby after the bath, or have the towel next to your baby so you can pick up your baby and then place the towel around them.
  9. While drying off is a great time to soothe a fussy baby with breastfeeding/body feeding or bottle feeding and infant massage (more on that later). Use unscented lotion or safflower oil for infant massage with a newborn so that they can pick up your scent.
  10. You may also want to cut or file your baby’s nails when they are calmed down before getting them dressed.
  11. Dress your baby in their diapers and clothes. Congrats on your first bath!
cutting baby's nails

Soothing your baby after their first bath

Chances are high that your baby will need comfort after their bath, whether or not he likes baths. Sit in your glider or rocking chair with your newborn wrapped up in his soft towel and breastfeed/ body feed or offer a hug. Gentle touch has been shown to have numerous benefits for babies, including promoting bonding, soothing, and improving sleep. Babies have a sense of touch as early as 8 weeks gestation, making massage a wonderful tool for connection. To learn more about infant massage techniques, grab my free guide to infant massage for better sleep! If your baby’s content, start to gently file or trim any extra-long nails, too.

Shop newborn baby bath products

Sources

  1. Priyadarshi M, Balachander B, Gupta S, Sankar MJ. Timing of first bath in term healthy newborns: A systematic review. J Glob Health. 2022 Aug 17;12:12004. doi: 10.7189/jogh.12.12004. PMID: 35972992; PMCID: PMC9380966.
  2. Healthy Children (2019) Infant Water Safety: Protect Your New Baby from Drowning
  3. UT Southwestern Medical Center (2017.). Womb with a view: Sensory development in utero
  4. Mindell JA, Lee CI, Leichman ES, Rotella KN. Massage-based bedtime routine: impact on sleep and mood in infants and mothers. Sleep Med. 2018 Jan;41:51-57. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2017.09.010. Epub 2017 Oct 10. PMID: 29425578.

Shari Stamps

Founder at Navigating Parenthood
Shari created Navigating Parenthood so that expecting, new and new parents can find helpful gentle parenting & eco-focused resources as well as virtual & in-person support, services, events, and classes. As a mom of 5, postpartum educator & doula, lactation educator counselor, breastfeeding specialist, infant massage instructor, ICST, and baby-led sleep & well-being specialist she’s always learning something new. Join the journey via social at @NavigatingParenthood
Baby\'s First Bath: How to Bathe Your Newborn Baby

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26 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips – sharing on my FB page – I know my readers will really appreciate this!

  2. Thanks for the tips and yes it is important to wait until you are ready. Baby’s are such a blessing- congrats!

  3. These are great tips. I really agree to wait til you’re both ready. We were pressured to do it at the hospital and didn’t really want to.

  4. My daughter hated bath time when she was little. I would have to breastfeed her while my husband tried to get her dried

  5. I was always pretty lucky that all of my babies have loved the water, although those first few sponge baths were always a struggle trying to make sure they stayed warm enough while getting them clean. 🙂 Love those kits, I’ve had one of those before, they’re super handy!

    1. Those first few are totally hard! Maybe this guy will like water eventually (fingers crossed). It’s awesome that your kiddos love water!

  6. Great tips! I really needed a refresher before my little girl gets here in Aug ?

  7. That is a great idea to wait until the end to wash the baby’s head.