Newborn Hygiene and Bath

Congrats! You did it! Baby is finally here and you are at home with your little one. Now what? There are likely a ton of questions running through your mind right now about newborn hygiene. One of the questions I often get asked is, “How often do I need to bathe my baby?” …and “how?”.

Your baby may have had the first bath in the hospital before going home. However, it is common practice to delay the newborn bath longer now, the World Health Organization recommends that it should be delayed for the first 24 hours of life. This blog mentions the health benefits for your little one in delaying the first bath. All your sweet baby needs in the hours after birth is some amazing skin-to-skin with their parent(s).

So, if you get home and a bath was not done at the hospital, don’t panic, there is no rush! Take some time and plan it out. This bath will be one of the “firsts” with your baby, so enjoy it! Make a list, collect the items, and dive in!

Preparing to Give the Bath:

The kitchen counter/table or the kitchen sink is a great place to do baths for your newborn. It’s hard to get down and crouch over a tub after just giving birth, save your back, mama! There are several countertop baby baths available for just this purpose. Next, you want to gather some supplies: towels, washcloths, mild (scent-free, irritant-free) soap, diapers, diaper cream, wipes (because they are going to pee as soon as they are out of the tub!), a change of baby clothes, hair comb, etc. Make sure to have all these things within arms reach. You never want to leave your baby unattended so once the baby is in the tub you shouldn’t leave them, you are committed! Fill the tub to shoulder level with warm water, it should be comfortable to the touch. Hold the baby securely with one hand and use the other for cleaning. You can place a warm wet face cloth over the baby’s belly while bathing to help keep them warm. After the bath, pat baby dries and you can use an unscented mild lotion to moisturize the skin. Try to make the bath quick-ish, babies lose heat fast but also they will protest louder if they are not liking this bath or are cold! 

Example of a Bath Sequence: Face, eyes, ears, mouth, hair/head, neck folds, armpits/arms, trunk, legs/feet, groin, genitalia, back, and bum.

Newborn Bath Tips:

Face, Eyes, Ears, Mouth: Use a clean part of the face cloth for each area. For eyes, use clean warm water to gently wipe from inside the corner of the eye to the outer area. For your baby’s ears use the face cloth around your finger to wipe the outer/back of the ear, nothing small like a cotton swab should ever be used in your baby’s ears or nose. When you are wiping the inside of your baby’s mouth, use a clean part of the cloth wrapped around a finger to gently wipe the gums, you can use this opportunity to take a quick look in the baby’s mouth to assess for thrush, especially if you are noticing any symptoms. 

Skin folds: Babies don’t really have necks, their little heads rest directly on their chests so make sure to get in those neck folds! The groin, armpits, leg rolls (so cute!), behind knees, and in between toes shouldn’t be overlooked either!

Genitalia: With baby girls make sure to wipe from front to back, so you don’t transfer any bacteria from the back to front. Also, ensure you are wiping the labia and area well to remove any stool that traveled around while in the diaper! If have a baby boy who is not circumcised, you do not need to pull back the foreskin and do not ever force it. Canadian Pediatric Society states that the foreskin is not fully retractable until 3 to 5 years of age or later.

Back: To wash baby’s back gently tip them towards you with the hand you are holding them with, or turn baby over and hold baby’s chin and chest securely (you can anchor ring and little finger under baby’s armpit), making sure their face is not in the water!

You do not need to bathe your newborn every day, once or twice a week is fine. You can always do a quick sponge bath in between tub baths. Just take care to wash their face and hands often and thoroughly clean their genitals and bum area with each dirty diaper change.

Other Newborn Hygiene Considerations:

  • Nails: Babies’ fingernails should be kept short to avoid scratching and skin breakdown. Use caution when using baby clippers or use an emery board to file them down.
  • Umbilical Cord: Gently wash around the base of the cord during your baby’s bath then pat dry and allow to air dry. Turn the diaper down in the front to avoid irritation until the cord has fallen off. Take care to notice if there is any new redness, discharge/bleeding, or funky smell coming from the cord base. If you notice anything concerning, make sure to mention this to your healthcare provider.
  • Diaper Rash: Common skin irritation from wet or soiled diapers. Some babies have more sensitive skin and the use of a barrier cream such as a Zinc Oxide based cream may help to decrease skin breakdown. When bathing and at diaper changes allow the area to air dry completely before placing the diaper back on. Change diapers frequently, wash your hands before and after changing diapers, and avoid scented products. Contact your healthcare provider if the rash lasts longer than 5 days, has pus/blisters, crusty or peeling patches, and/or the rash is mainly in the skin creases or folds.
  • Baby Nasal Aspirator: Do we normally think of booger removal as newborn hygiene? Probably not. However, if a baby is breastfeeding and has extra secretions in their little nose, it is great to remove these with a gentle nasal aspirator such as the hydraSense or NoseFrida. Babies can suck better if they can breathe through their noses more easily. The aspirators are easy to use and make a world of difference. Follow the instructions! 

If you have any questions about newborn hygiene or postpartum care for you or your baby, please reach out to a Mama Coach in your area. We would love to answer questions and offer support! 


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