Bathing Your Newborn

Baby's bath time needsA newborn doesn’t need to have a bath everyday. If you clean your baby’s face after each feeding and his diaper area after each BM, he only needs a bath with soap every other day. Bathing too often can dry your baby’s skin. Your baby puts his hands in his mouth often, so clean his hands several times a day with a damp cloth and mild soap.

Until the umbilical cord stump drops off and the navel area has completely healed, give your baby a sponge bath instead of a tub bath. Sitting in a tub of dirty bath water can cause the stump to become infected. Bathe him in a warm room that is free of drafts. When his bath is over, wrap him in a soft towel and cuddle him. Bath time is a great time to bond with your newborn.

For your baby’s bath you will need:

• a bowl or tub of warm water large enough to use for a sponge bath or to put him in for a tub bath
• baby soap and a pH balanced baby shampoo (ask your pediatrician for suggestions)
• a soft cotton wash cloth and towel, one with a hood is nice
• cotton balls, cotton swabs, and rubbing alcohol
• a set of clean clothes and a clean diaper

Sponge bath

When giving a sponge bath, wash him from the cleanest areas such as his hands, chest, and face, to the dirtiest areas, washing the diaper area last. Keep your baby warm while giving him a sponge bath by undressing only the parts you are bathing or covering him with a soft towel. Dry each area completely to prevent the loss of body heat.

Tub bath

Always keep one hand on your baby during a tub bath. Put about 3 inches of warm water in a small plastic tub or a clean sink. Always test the water temperature before putting him in it. Test the water with your elbow instead of your hands; your hands are used to water that is hotter than the rest of your body. The water should feel warm, but not hot. Fold a small towel and place it in the bottom of the sink or tub to prevent slipping. Talk to him as you lower him into the water; not all babies like a tub bath at first.

Bath-time safety

Babies can have a bath at any time of the day. So, pick a time that is not so busy for you. It is better to skip a bath than to squeeze it into a busy day. Bath time can be fun. It can also be a time for accidents. Following these safety rules will help prevent bath-time accidents.

• Never, ever leave your baby alone while giving him a bath. If you must be interrupted, take him with you or put him in his crib.
• Keep the water level shallow.
• Turn off the telephone or let the answering machine get it.
• Don’t bathe your baby in the kitchen sink while the dishwasher is running; hot water can back up into the sink and scald him.
• To prevent accidental scalding, set the thermostat on the water heater below 120°F.

Hair and scalp care

Wash your baby’s hair at the beginning of his bath. Dry his hair well before you undress him for bathing. Holding your baby in the football position will make it easier to wash his hair. Wash your baby’s hair and scalp twice a week using a small amount of baby shampoo on a soft washcloth. Don’t get the cloth too wet or else soapy water can get into his eyes. Even “no tears” shampoos can sting. It’s okay to wash over the “soft spot” since it’s protected with a thick membrane. Dry his hair well with a towel to prevent the loss of body heat.

Your baby may have yellow, greasy scales over his scalp, eyebrows, and behind his ears commonly called “cradle cap.” Cradle cap can be removed by gently rubbing a small amount of baby oil on to the scalp. Massage the scalp until the scales loosen, then comb the scales out of his hair, and wash his scalp with baby shampoo. Rinse his scalp well after you shampoo; soap left on the scalp can irritate his scalp. You can also try lightly brushing your baby’s scalp daily with a soft baby brush. Cradle cap is not pretty, but it does not bother your baby. It is not contagious and has no side effects.

Face, ears, nose, and eyes

Mother drying baby in towel

Wash your baby’s face with plain water and without soap. Your baby may have a red pimply rash on his face for the first few weeks. No special treatment is needed. Gently washing your baby’s face every day may improve the rash. You don’t need to clean the inside of your baby’s mouth or ears. Wash behind his ears where spit-up milk can run. Gently wash the eyelids. Not all babies like this; your baby may squirm.

It’s OK to get water in your baby’s ears. Don’t try to dry the inside of your baby’s ears with cotton swabs (Q-tips); you can damage the eardrum. To get the water out, just gently turn her head to the side and let the water run out, then dry the outside of the ear with a soft towel.

Newborns breathe mainly through their nose, especially when feeding. Therefore, it is important to keep this airway free of mucous until he learns to breathe through his mouth. Sneezing is your baby’s way of clearing his nose. Some mucous is normal. However, too much mucous can cause nasal congestion making it harder for your baby to breathe. Clean the mucous from your baby’s nose by suctioning it with a bulb syringe. To do this, squeeze the bulb first, then gently place the tip of the syringe in his nose. Release the bulb to suck out the mucous. Squeeze the mucous into a tissue. Repeat these steps until your baby’s nose is clear. If mucous has dried on the outside of his nose, dab it with a damp cloth until it softens; then wash it off. Do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips) to clean inside your baby’s nose. A sudden movement by your baby could cause him to get hurt. Clean the bulb before using it again.

Your baby may have a clear or milky-white mucous discharge from one or both eyes. This is common usually caused by a clogged tear duct. To clean mucous from his eyes, lay your baby on his back. Turn his head toward the eye you are cleaning. Wipe the eye from the inside, next to his nose, to the outside with a cotton ball and plain water. Do not get the mucous from one eye into the other eye. Use a clean cotton ball for each wipe. If the discharge starts after you get home from the hospital, call your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will tell you how to massage the area to unclog the tear duct. If the mucous is yellow or green, it could mean infection, call your pediatrician.

Skin care

Our skin protects our bodies from infection. An infection starts more easily in broken skin such as a rash or a scratch. Therefore, it is very important to protect your baby’s skin from rashes. Rashes often begin as a skin irritation. So, avoid using soaps and lotions that have harsh chemicals or perfume because they can irritate your baby’s skin. If you use soap, rinse your baby’s skin well to remove all of the soap. Scrubbing your baby’s skin can also irritate it and lead to a rash. Gentle washing is all that is needed.

It is important to know that rashes that come and go are probably nothing to worry about. However, rashes that have pimples and blisters could mean your baby has an infection. If your baby has this type of rash, especially in the diaper area, call your pediatrician.

Be sure to wash all skin creases, such as under the neck where milk runs down the chin and between the buttocks. To clean under his neck, with your baby lying on his back, place your hand behind his shoulders and lift his shoulders up slightly. This will cause his head to tilt back enough for you to clean his neck.

Dry or peeling skin is normal for the first few weeks as healthy new skin lies just below the outer, shedding layer. After a bath, it’s okay to apply small amounts of fragrance-free moisturizing lotion or cream. Avoid putting baby oil on his skin; oil can block skin pores. Your baby should not need any powders, lotions or oils on his skin. Talk with your pediatrician before you using of any of these products.


Be sure to wash your baby’s genitals. In newborn girls, you may see a slight creamy vaginal discharge the first few days. Sometimes, there is a trace of blood. This discharge is normal and should not be a cause for concern. Your hormones get into your baby’s bloodstream and are the cause of the discharge. These hormones should be out of her bloodstream within a few days. If the discharge lasts more than a week, call your pediatrician. To clean her genital area, wash from front to back with plain water. Also, don’t forget to clean her skin folds well.

If your son has not been circumcised, you do not need to retract the foreskin when cleaning his penis. Full retraction may not be possible for several months. You may notice a waxy material, called smegma, on the head of the penis. This is normal, but should be washed off.

If your son has been circumcised, be very gentle when bathing and drying his penis until it heals. To wash it, squeeze plain, warm water from a clean wash cloth over the penis; then let it air dry. Once the penis heals, you can wash it like you do the rest of him.

Baby border

Caring For Your Newborn Booklet

Caring For Your Newborn

Table of Contents
Caring Begins at Birth
Your Newborn’s Hospital Check-up
Ten Fingers and Ten Toes
Special Care for Your Newborn
When Your Newborn Cries
Changing Your Newborn’s Diaper
Feeding Your Newborn – breast or bottle feeding
Feeding Your Newborn – spit ups, weight gain, BMs
Bathing Your Newborn
Dressing Your Newborn
Shhh!! We’re Sleeping
Keeping Your Baby Safe
Your Newborn’s Admirers
Taking Your Newborn Out
If Your Newborn Gets a Cold
If You Have Questions
Well-baby Check-ups
When to Call Your Pediatrician
Take Care of Yourself, Too
Teddy Beat Drying


  1. Shakespeare.Fairy says

    Never give up is the only secret to your dreams

  2. Linda Carroll says

    Thanks for great post! We bath our 10-week-old baby every 2-3 days but due to his bad case of cradle cap we wash his hair every day and lightly scrub with a soft-bristle infant hair brush. Hopefully it will clear up in a week or so.

  3. Retraction of the foreskin may not happen for several years or well into puberty. Please make a correction to this article 🙂

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