Bathing Your Baby

Your baby will get her first bath when she is about six hours old. Before bathing your baby, the nurse will take her temperature. If she isn't warm enough, she will put her under an electric baby warmer until she is nice and warm. At home, your baby will be older, so cold stress won't be as much a concern, and you don't need to check her temperature before a bath.

An experienced nurse explained to me how
she gives a baby her first bath:

  1. Bath 1 First, I make sure the water temperature is nice and warm. I check the temperature against my wrist, not my hand. I leave the warm water running.
  2. I open the soap and the soft scrubber, and I use two washcloths. One washcloth is soapy and the other is for clear water rinsing.
  3. Bath 2 At home, the family should make sure the room is at least 65 degrees and they should take no more than 15 minutes to give the baby her bath.
  4. After I have everything set up, I make sure the baby is on a safe surface. Here at the hospital we can do the bath in the plastic crib. At home the parent may want to bathe the baby on a thick blanket or towel laid on the bathroom floor or laid on a bed.
  5. I leave the baby dressed and use plain water to wash her face, hands and feet. Then I take the shirt and diaper off to wash the rest of her body.
  6. Bath 3 I use the soapy washcloth to wash her back, belly, legs and creases. At the hospital, we leave the white vernix in the creases under the baby's arms, at the groin, and in a baby girl's vulva. The vernix is protective. It will dry and come out on it's own. I pay attention cleaning under the chin and in the genital area.
  7. After washing with the soapy washcloth, I rinse with the plain water washcloth until all the soap is off.
  8. Bath 4 Now it's time to scrub her hair. I wrap her up in a soft warm towel, hold her firmly with one hand and, with her head over the sink, I use my other hand to pour water gently over her scalp several times. Then, with a little soap on the soft brush, I gently scrub her scalp all over. The babies usually like this part and stop crying, but not always.
  9. Bath 5 Last, because the baby is still under 24 hours old, I put her back under the warmer until her temperature is safe and warm.

How often should I bathe my baby?

Parents often wonder how often they should bathe their new baby. "Not often" is a good response. New babies don't sweat much, and their skin dries out very easily. You do need to clean the diaper area with each diaper change, and you will need to clean around the mouth and in her neck creases where milk drips. The rest of her body only needs to be bathed two or three times a week. Remember to do sponge baths until the umbilical cord has separated.

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Thanks to Janelle Aby MD, Stanford School Of Medicine, Newborn Nursery, and Lucille Packard Children's Hospital for the use of occasional photographs.