Handling a slippery, wet baby might seem a bit scary, but as you build your confidence, bath time can become a pleasant and relaxing experience that you and your baby can both enjoy, not to mention an important part of the bed time routine.
‘Topping and tailing’
Newborn babies don’t need a bath every day – two or three times a week is fine. In between, keep your baby clean by ‘topping and tailing’.
Babies are born with a sensitive skin so don’t use perfumed soaps and other bath products which may lead to skin conditions like eczema. In the same way, baby wipes can sometimes irritate newborn skin. Just using cooled boiled water is fine for little ones.
Wrap your baby in a warm towel on a changing mat, and clean around their face and neck using cotton wool pads. You can keep their nappy on for now. Using a clean piece of cotton wool for each eye, wipe from the inside outwards. Talk to your health visitor or your GP if your baby’s eyes look red or sticky.
Now take off your baby’s nappy, and using more cotton wool pads dipped in water, clean their bottom and around their genitals. With boys, there’s no need to pull the foreskin back. With baby girls, remember to wipe from front to back to reduce the risk of infection. Don’t worry if there’s some discharge from the vagina – it’s completely normal in newborns, and sometimes can be bloody.
You don’t have to do anything special to clean your baby’s umbilical cord if it’s still attached. It might become a bit smelly while it breaks away, but that’s completely normal. However, if the skin around the cord looks red or inflamed, get some advice from your health visitor or your GP.
Smile at your baby while you’re doing all this, and talk or sing to them. This will soothe and reassure them.
Bathing a little one
Unless you’re an octopus with eight arms, it’s probably a good idea to have someone to help you the first few times you bath your baby. Take some time to get properly organised before you start as well, making sure you have everything you need (such as clean nappies, clothing, towels and a changing mat) to hand. Ideally, bath time for little ones needs to be carried out quite quickly. Babies find it hard to control their body temperature and can get cold and upset easily.
You don’t have to use a special baby bath – a washing up bowl or the sink is fine for bathing a little baby, but watch out for taps which can get very hot. Make sure the room is nice and warm, and run the bath to about 37°C – use a water thermometer if you have one.
Curl your arm into a ‘C’ shape and position your hand under your baby’s arm to support their head and to give you a firm hold. With the other hand, you can gently scoop water all over their body, smiling and talking to them the whole time. Turn your baby over to wash their back, keeping their face out of the water. Wrap your baby in a towel, and then wash their hair by scooping water over their head with your free hand.
Pat your baby dry with the towel – avoid rubbing their sensitive skin. Make sure all the little creases in the skin under their arms and around their legs are dry. There’s no need to use baby powder.
- NHS Choices – more information and advice on washing and bathing your baby.