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Bath Basics

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Bath Basics

The following issues regarding bathing your newborn will be discussed here:

  • Topping and tailing
  • Proper baths
  • Bath safety
  • How to give your baby a bath
  • Water-only versus soap

Topping and tailing

For the first week or so, you may find it easier to stick to sponge baths, often called "topping and tailing", with a clean, warm, wet sponge or flannel. Keep the room warm and use a clean warm towel underneath your baby and to dry him off. Wash his face and hands frequently and thoroughly clean his genital area after each nappy change.

Proper baths

You don't need to wait for the umbilical cord stump to dry up and fall off, or for the area to heal completely, before giving your newborn a proper bath. A bath at this stage doesn't increase the risk of infection in the cord. The main issue is keeping your baby warm so that heat loss is minimised. Make sure that the room and bath water is warm.

While a baby is tiny, it makes most sense to use a small plastic baby bath instead of a standard one. Although some parents bath their babies every day for the sheer pleasure of it, newborn babies don't need a daily bath. Until a baby is crawling around and getting into messes, a bath isn't really necessary more than once or twice a week. Provided you wash off any obvious muck, your baby will stay clean enough.

The overuse of strong cleansers, and even tap water, can damage the developing skin of newborns. Look for gentle pH neutral cleansers or mild soaps with a proven safety and tolerance record for use with babies, and use them sparingly in the first few weeks.

When you do bath your newborn, you may find it a little scary at first. Handling a wriggling, wet and soapy little creature takes practice and confidence, so stay calm and maintain a good grip on him. Some babies find the warm water very soothing, if so, let him linger. Others cry through the whole bath, or when you get him in and out.

Bath safety

These tips will help to keep your baby safe:

• Never leave your baby unsupervised, even for a minute. If the doorbell or phone rings and you feel you must answer it, scoop him up in a towel and take him with you.  A child can drown in less than 4 centimeters of water -- and in less than 60 seconds.
• Never put your baby into a bath when the water is still running (the water temperature could change or the depth could become too high).
• Make sure that you test the water with your elbow before you put your baby in there.  You can even make use of the very handy bath thermometers that you get in all shapes and sizes and that can also double up as a bath toy.

How to give your baby a bath

1. Wash your hands. Gather all necessary bath supplies and lay out at least one clean towel, a clean nappy and clothes.

2. Fill the bath with about 10 centimeters of water, or enough to allow your baby to settle in the water with his shoulders well covered. Use water that feels warm but not hot; about 38 degrees Celsius. 

3. Bring your baby to the bath area and undress him completely.

4. Gradually slip your baby into the bath feet first, using one hand to support his neck and head. Pour cupfuls of bath water over him regularly during the bath so he doesn't get too cold.  Make use of a bath stand to put your baby in.

5. Use a cleanser or soap if your baby is very soiled, as the higher percentage of fatty deposits in baby poo can make it difficult to remove with just water.

6. As you wash him, use your hand or a flannel from top to bottom, front and back. Wash his scalp with a wet, soapy flannel. Use moistened cotton balls to clean his eyes and face. If dried mucus has collected in the corners of your baby's nostrils or eyes, dab it several times to soften it before you wipe it out. As for your baby's genitals, a routine wash is all that's needed.

7. Rinse your baby thoroughly, then lift him out of the bath with one hand supporting his neck and head, and your other hand supporting his bottom, with your thumb and forefinger around one thigh (babies are slippery when wet).

8. Wrap your baby in a hooded towel, pat him dry immediately then put his nappy on. Then wrap him in a dry towel or blanket again, and give him a cosy cuddle for ten minutes or so to keep him warm. If his skin tends to be dry, you may want to apply a mild lotion or cream after his bath. Finally, get him dressed, wrap him in a dry, warm blanket and give him a kiss on his sweet-smelling head.

Water-only versus soap

You may have heard that you should only use water to wash your baby but using water alone may not be enough to keep your baby clean.


Please see the following: