How to Bathe a Newborn Baby

Parents giving baby a bath

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Bathing a newborn is something many new parents eagerly look forward to. After all, there is nothing sweeter than a tiny baby getting gently soaped while kicking and splashing in the water. Nevertheless, you may also have questions and concerns when it comes to giving your baby a bath.

Maybe you have a little one who seems to dislike baths. Or maybe you're unsure of how to find the right water temperature. Rest assured, bathing your baby doesn’t have to be complicated. A few basic tips can go a long way toward helping you feel confident with this parenting task.


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Step-by-Step for How to Bathe a Newborn

Baths in the early weeks of life will look different compared to the baths you'll give your infant when they're a bit older.

At Birth

The first 24 hours after birth is a unique time in your baby’s life. They are just learning about the world around them, adjusting to life outside the womb, and perhaps learning how to breastfeed.

To make this transition as smooth as possible, experts recommend delaying your baby’s first bath. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends not bathing newborns for the first 24 hours, if possible. If 24 hours is not possible, the WHO recommends at least a six-hour delay. The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) also advises parents to delay the first bath in accordance with the WHO's recommendation.

Your baby is born with a waxy coating called vernix, which is a natural moisturizer and also has antibacterial qualities. While it may seem counterintuitive, delaying the first bath allows your baby’s skin to stay soft, healthy, and clean. Bathing soon after birth can also cause a drop in body temperature and may cause low blood sugar.

Taking a baby away for a bath too soon after birth can also unnecessarily interfere with important parent-child bonding time. In addition, studies show that delaying the first bath increases the rate of exclusive breastfeeding after birth as well as chances of continued breastfeeding success.

Before the Umbilical Cord Falls Off

Florencia Segura, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Einstein Pediatrics in Vienna, VA, notes that the AAP recommends sponge baths until the umbilical cord has fallen off and healed, which is known as dry cord care. "Keeping the umbilical cord as clean and dry as possible as it's healing to minimize infection is optimal," she says.

How to Give a Baby a Sponge Bath

The AAP advises following these steps to sponge bathe your newborn:

  1. Gather all of your supplies, including a washcloth or baby sponge, a basin of water, and a towel.
  2. Clean your baby on a secure surface such as a changing table or bed. You can also lay a towel or blanket on the floor to soften it, or place your baby in your lap. If your infant is on an elevated surface, be sure to keep one hand on them at all times so they don’t fall.
  3. Be careful not to get water in your baby’s eyes, and don’t directly sponge their healing umbilical cord stump.
  4. Make sure you keep your baby warm during the process, as newborns can get cold quickly. One way to do this is to wrap them in a towel, uncovering each body part as you clean it.

After the Umbilical Cord Falls Off

Your baby’s umbilical cord stump should fall off within the first three weeks of life. After this point, you can begin giving them tub baths. Experts recommend using an infant tub with a non-slip surface inside to keep your baby secure.

How to Give a Baby a Tub Bath

Follow these steps to give your newborn a bath after the umbilical cord has fallen off:

  1. Gather your supplies, including a fresh diaper, a change of clothes, a washcloth, and baby wash.
  2. Place an infant tub on a flat, level surface or inside a sink or bathtub.
  3. Fill the infant tub with a few inches of warm water. Check the temperature with your forearm or elbow to make sure it's not too hot.
  4. Undress your baby and gently place them in the water, making sure the back of their head and neck are supported by your hand. Use your other hand to wash.
  5. Wet the washcloth and add a small amount of baby wash if needed. Gently clean your baby's face first, and then work your way down their body. Be sure to get into all creases and folds.
  6. Rinse well, making sure to remove all soap.
  7. Lift your baby out of the tub and wrap them in the towel to keep them warm. Gently pat your baby's skin dry.
  8. Apply a bit of baby lotion, if needed, and finish up bath time with a new diaper and clothes.

Make sure to keep one hand on your baby at all times. If you need to step away even for a second, pick them up wrapped in a towel and bring them with you. Infants can quickly drown in just a few inches of water.

baby bathing

Verywell / Caitlin Rogers

How Often to Bathe a Newborn 

Growing up, you may have heard that babies and children must be bathed daily. However, this isn’t the case according to current recommendations.

"Two to four baths per week with a mild unscented cleanser/soap during the first couple of months is a good range because newborns rarely sweat or get dirty enough to need a complete bath more often," explains Dr. Segura.

Florencia Segura, MD

Your newborn does not need a bath every day if you wipe and wash the diaper area thoroughly during diaper changes.

— Florencia Segura, MD

Dr. Segura also cautions that bathing too frequently can dry out an infant's skin. You can spot clean any areas of concern—such as the hands, face, and genitals—in between full baths.

As your child enters the toddler years and begins exploring and playing outside, they will definitely need more baths! Until then, a few times a week is plenty.

Best Time of Day for a Bath

What time of day you bathe your baby is really up to you. Many families adopt the "bath before bed" routine, as baths can help your child relax before bedtime, signaling that sleep is coming soon.

Evening is also when many parents and caregivers have more time to devote to bathing their baby. However, if you prefer to bathe your baby in the morning or during the day, that’s perfectly acceptable.

When considering what time of day to bathe your baby, also think about when you will be the most alert. Bathing babies, and especially newborns, takes good hand-eye coordination, patience, and vigilance on the part of the caregiver.

If you think you will be distracted by other responsibilities or your other children, it's best to choose another time to bathe your baby.

Safety Precautions

Besides keeping your baby happy and getting them clean, safety should be a top concern at bath time.

Drowning Risk

The AAP notes that most child drownings inside the home occur in bathtubs, and more than half of bathtub deaths involve children under 1 year of age. These are sobering statistics, but they are not meant to scare you. Instead, they are reminders to take safety seriously when bathing your baby.

To help ensure your baby's safety, the AAP recommends against using infant bath seats that allow your baby to sit upright in the tub. Because these seats can easily tip over, your baby's nose and mouth could be covered with water, preventing them from breathing.

The AAP also advises caregivers to use a manufactured baby tub with a slip-proof surface. Make sure the tub has not been recalled and was manufactured to meet current safety standards, particularly if using an older or secondhand product.

You can also make a simple basin less slippery by lining it with a towel. Alternatively, you can bathe your baby in a sink. If you are using a sink, make sure to keep your baby away from the faucet and consider lining the sink with a towel to prevent slips.

Always keep one hand on your baby, and don't avert your eyes from your child, even briefly. If you need to leave the bath, bring your baby along with you. Never leave them in the tub unattended.

And finally, keep a towel nearby. That way, it’s ready when it's time to get your baby out of the bath.

Water Temperature

You can experiment to see what temperature your baby likes best. In general, lukewarm temperatures are ideal. You don’t want the bath to be too cold, but you don’t want it too hot either.

Some parents err on the side of heating the bath up too much, at the risk of scalding their babies. The AAP recommends setting your water heater so that the water at the faucet is never more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s also helpful to fill the baby tub or sink with a few inches of water before immersing your baby in it. Test the water first to see if it is an appropriate temperature. If it feels hot to the touch, add cold water until it is mildly warm.

Bath Products

Newborns don’t need much soap, and baby shampoo isn’t strictly necessary. Doctors recommend using the mildest soap you can find, as baby skin tends to be very sensitive.

Unscented soaps are your best bet for a newborn. The AAP also recommends avoiding antibacterial soap or products with chemical additives.

Remember to read the label: If the soap has a long list of ingredients, it’s probably best to try something simpler. After bathing your baby, it can be helpful to follow up with baby-friendly lotion, especially if your baby tends to have dry skin.

If Your Newborn Hates the Bath

You may think you are doing something wrong if your little one cries or otherwise protests during bath time. However, many newborns dislike being bathed at first.

One reason some babies resist bath time is that they don’t like the sudden temperature change. You can lessen this transition by slowly getting your baby into the water. Wrap them in a towel at first and gradually immerse them in the water, keeping the towel on until they are all the way in.

You can also experiment with water temperatures to see what your baby likes best. And always have a warm towel ready when they come out so that the air on their wet skin doesn't feel too jarring.

Some newborns tolerate baths better if you are holding them. As a result, many parents decide to bathe with their babies in their arms. This can be a wonderful bonding experience, but remember to keep safety in mind. Only bathe with your baby when you are fully alert, make sure you have a towel ready, and possibly another grown-up to hand your baby to when you are done. And don’t use soaps and other bath products geared toward adult skin.

Finally, keep bath time fun for your baby! Newborns can’t play with bath toys yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertained by them. Funny faces and games of peek-a-boo can be very helpful as well.

If baths continue to be difficult for your baby, speak to a pediatrician for tips and advice specific to your child. Remember, too, that if you need to pare down on bathing frequency for your baby because they are too cranky at bath time, that’s fine too.

 A Word From Verywell

Caring for a newborn comes with challenges—some of which may surprise you. The good news is that there are not many rules when it comes to bathing your baby.

If you find that bathing causes your baby's skin to become dry or irritated, try adjusting your schedule and looking for gentler products. Remember that newborns don't need a bath more than about three times per week.

Safety should be the top priority when it comes to bathing your little one. Choose a safe bathing location, use a small amount of mild soap, keep the water warm, and most importantly, never take your eyes off your baby in the tub.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. Postnatal care for mothers and newborns.

  2. Gözen D, Çaka SY, Beşirik SA, Perk Y. First bathing time of newborn infants after birth: A comparative analysis. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing. 2019;24(2):e12239. doi:10.1111/jspn.12239.5

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Bathing your baby.

  4. Ady C, Albert N, Bena J, DiCioccio H. Initiative to improve exclusive breastfeeding by delaying the newborn bath. Health Care Improvement and Evaluation. 2019;48(2):P189-196. doi:10.1016/j.jogn.2018.12.008.

  5. University of Pittsburg Medical Center. Step By Step: How to Bathe Your Newborn Baby.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant water safety: Protect your new baby from drowning.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.

Updated by Cara Henderson
Cara Henderson

Cara Henderson is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Her writing and editing experience includes serving on the editorial board of Preemie magazine, and 17 years of experience writing for health and wellness publications.

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