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Bathing your baby

Bathing your baby

A bath can be a time of fun and closeness for both of you. Choose a time when your baby is not hungry.

Your baby only needs a bath two or three times a week. Bathing your baby too often may dry out their skin. Use a soap made for babies that does not have perfumes and dyes. Use very little soap during bath time.

There are two ways to bathe your baby: a sponge bath or a tub or sink bath. Give your baby a sponge bath until the umbilical cord falls off.

If your baby's skin is dry, check with your baby's health care provider before applying lotion. It is normal for newborn skin to be dry.

Never take your hand off your baby or leave your baby alone during a bath, even for a moment.

How to give a sponge bath

Gather everything you need before you undress your baby. You will need:

  • a baby tub or a clean sink
  • warm water
  • mild baby soap
  • baby shampoo
  • washcloth
  • towel
  • soft bristled baby brush
  • clean diaper
  • clothing

If your baby boy has been circumcised, wait until the penis has healed (one to two weeks) before giving a tub or sink bath.

Lay your baby on a towel on the changing table or counter. Keep your baby covered with a towel so they doesn't get cold. Keep bath time short.

  • Test the temperature of the water on your wrist or inside of your arm. It should feel warm, not hot.
  • Only uncover the part of your baby you are washing. Pat the area dry and re-cover with the towel.
  • Use a soft washcloth and warm water to clean your baby. Rinse the cloth after washing each body area.
  • Wash your baby from where they are clean to where they are dirty. The order is:
  1. eyes
    Use the clean edge of the washcloth to clean around each eye. Gently wipe outward starting from the corner of the eye by the nose.
  2. face and neck
  3. tummy and back
  4. arms and hands
  5. legs and feet
  6. genital area
    • for a girl: wash the inside of the labia by wiping down toward the buttocks. Use a clean part of the washcloth for each side.
    • for a boy: gently wash around the penis and around and under the scrotum. If your baby is circumcised, only use water on the penis until healing is complete. This usually takes seven to 20 days.
  7. buttocks

When the bath is over, wrap and dry your baby with a soft towel.

Don't use powder. It can get in your baby's lungs and make them sick.

Brush your baby's hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

How to give a sink or tub bath 

baby bath2
A. Use both hands to gently place your baby in the tub.
baby bath3
B. Gently support their head and neck with one hand while you bathe them with the other hand.
baby bath1
C. Hold your baby so their shoulders and head are over the tub when you wash their head.
Gather everything you need before you undress your baby. You will need:
  • a baby tub or a clean sink
  • warm water
  • mild baby soap
  • baby shampoo
  • washcloth
  • towel
  • soft bristled baby brush
  • clean diaper
  • clothing

If you are using a sink or a plastic tub, it is helpful to line it with a towel or receiving blanket to make the surface less slippery.

Test the temperature of the water in the sink or tub on your wrist or inside of your arm before you use the water or place your baby in it. It should feel warm, not hot.

If you are placing your baby in a clean sink or tub, make sure the water covers your baby's body up to their shoulders. This will help keep your baby warm. You can position your baby on their back, supporting their head with your arm. Or, sit your baby up, supporting their head and neck with one hand. (See drawing B.) The water may not reach your baby's shoulders.

Hold your baby firmly. Babies are slippery when wet. (See drawing A.)

Wash your baby from where they are clean to where they are dirty. The order is:

  1. eyes 
    Use the clean edge of the washcloth to clean around each eye. Gently wipe outward starting from the corner of the eye by the nose.
  2. face and neck
  3. tummy and back
  4. arms and hands
  5. legs and feet
  6. genital area
  7. buttocks

Rinse the soap off well after you have cleaned an area.

When the bath is over, wrap and dry your baby with a soft towel.

Don't use powder. It can get in your baby's lungs and make them sick.

Brush your baby's hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

How to wash your baby's hair

You only need to wash your baby's hair one or two times a week. You can wash your baby's head before you put them in the bath, or after the rest of their bath is done.

  • Hold your baby so their shoulders and head are over the tub. (See drawing C.)
  • Scoop up some of the bath water to wet your baby's head and use a small amount of tearless shampoo.
  • Rinse your baby's head well and dry it with a towel.
  • Brush your baby's hair or scalp with a soft-bristled baby brush.

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, eighth edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/06/2021