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Bathing a Newborn

Your baby's healthcare provider will probably recommend that you bathe your baby just two or three times a week during his first year. Until your baby is eating "real" food and walking, he probably won't get very dirty. Babies have sensitive skin and are uncomfortable in cold air, so make sure that wherever you opt to bathe your baby, the room is warm. You might even bring a warm towel fresh from the dryer to make getting out of the water a bit more comfortable for your baby.

Should I wait until his umbilical cord falls off and his circumcision site has healed before I give my baby a bath?

Yes. You should give your baby sponge baths for the first week or two. You can use cotton balls soaked in water to clean your baby's face, his neck, and behind his ears. For the rest of his body you can use a soft cloth. (Baby wipes can be a bit rough to use on your baby's entire body).

Do I need a special bathtub for my baby?

You can bathe your baby in a small plastic tub, the kitchen sink, or a regular bathtub. No matter where you opt to bathe him, just fill the sink or tub with a couple inches of warm water. Be sure to have all the supplies you need handy for the bath and afterward -- for example, soap, a washcloth, a towel, a clean diaper and clothing -- before you undress your baby. When you put your baby in the tub, hold him carefully, supporting his head. He will feel more secure if you rest him along your forearm than he will if you lay him flat in the tub.

The most important thing about bathing your baby is to never leave him unattended in water for even one second.

How warm should the water be?

It should feel warm but not hot to your touch. As part of your earliest babyproofing efforts, you should turn the thermostat on your water heater to below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which will help prevent scalding burns.

How do I wash my baby's hair?

Your baby may hate having you soak his head while he's in the tub. If your baby's hair needs to be washed, it may be more comfortable for him if you bathe him first, wrap him in a towel, and then hold him in a "football" hold (with his head cradled in one hand and his legs between your arm and side) to wash his hair. Position him so he faces upwards and the back of his head is over the sink or tub. Then pour a cup of warm water on his head to wet the hair. If you're washing with shampoo, put just a drop on his head, gently lather the soap, and then rinse with clean, warm water.

Do I need to use special soap?

At first you really don't need to use soap at all. If you like the scent of a mild baby shampoo and soap, however, it's fine to use one occasionally. Just don't use deodorant soaps on your baby's sensitive skin. They can be very drying.

When is the best time of day to bathe my baby?

Some babies find a bath very soothing and relaxing -- if yours is one of them, right before bedtime might be an ideal time. When your baby is able to sit up on his own, at around 7 months, he might like playing in the bathtub, so you may prefer to bathe him earlier in the day, when you're not likely to be rushed.

What do I do if my baby hates having a bath?

Some babies love baths from the beginning, but many don't. If your baby loathes the water, it's fine to give him sponge baths, using a soft cloth that you have soaked in warm water. Keep two large bowls of water next to the area where you bathe your baby so you can rinse it out. At first, the only parts that really need to be cleaned are his bottom, hands, face, neck and feet. When he starts eating real food and making the sticky messes that go along with that, a bath will become an essential part of your routine.

How should I clean my baby's bottom?

Allow your baby to lean forward on your arm while you clean her back and bottom, separating the buttocks to clean between them. Cleaning the genitals depends of course on your baby's gender. If you have a girl, gently spread her labia and rinse with water. (Soap is unnecessary.) If your boy is uncircumcised, rinse under the scrotum, but don't try to retract his foreskin to clean there. Be especially careful when your infant is slippery and wet.

Should I put lotion on my baby after his bath?

It's not necessary but it won't hurt. Just be sure to choose a mild formula. You could use a lotion made especially for babies or even rub on some olive oil as an after-bath lubricant. Save your heavily perfumed lotions, and any that contain harsh exfoliating ingredients such as alphahydroxy acids for yourself.

References

Nemours Foundation. A Guide for First-Time Parents. http://www.kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=nemours&ps=104&article_set=22989&cat_id=20053&lic=60&pg=2

Williams, Dr. Frances. Babycare for Beginners: Parental Survival Skills Shown Step-By-Step. 2002. Carroll & Brown Publishers Limited.

Johnson, Robert V., editor. Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy & Baby's First Year. 1994. William Morrow and Company, New York.

Journal of the American Medical Association. Caring For A Newborn Baby. Patient Page, September 1999, Volume 282.

Bryanton, J. et al. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological, and Neonatal Nursing. Tub Bathing Versus Traditional Sponge Bathing for the Newborn. 33, 704-712; 2004. http://jognn.awhonn.org/cgi/content/abstract/33/6/704

Children's Hospital Boston. Bathing and Skin Care. http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site621/mainpageS621P0.html

Nemours Foundation. Childproofing and Preventing Household Accidents. http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/childproof.html

Dr. Spock. Sitting Up: What It Means to Your Baby. http://www.drspock.com/article/0,1510,5725,00.html

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