Bathing a newborn can be difficult at first, especially if your newborn seems unhappy in the bath. A few simple steps can make bath time fun and easy for you and your baby.
Baby bath time: newborns
When babies do like baths
If your baby likes a bath and it seems to relax him, you can use bathing as a way to help settle him in the evening. Some babies sleep longer after an evening bath. You can also try singing, smiling or gently talking to your baby during the bath to help you both relax.
When babies don’t like baths
Many newborn babies show signs of distress when you give them a bath. Mums and dads can also be worried about losing hold of a slippery baby! Don’t worry – this is all normal.
Most babies soon come to enjoy a bath. Placing a hand gently on their tummy helps make them feel secure to start with.
If your baby doesn’t like baths, give her a ‘top and tail’ bath one day and a proper bath the next. By around three months, it’s likely your baby will love the bath and be relaxed and ready for a sleep afterwards.
A ‘top and tail’ bath is when you use cotton wool and warm water for your baby’s eyes and face, and a washcloth for his hands and bottom. ‘Topping and tailing’ means you can concentrate on the areas that really need a wash, and your baby can keep most of his clothes on while you do it.
Getting ready for bathing a newborn
You can bath your newborn in a small plastic tub or even in the kitchen sink (but watch out for the hot tap). You might find this easier in the first few weeks.
A plastic baby bath is probably the best option once your baby gets bigger. You can bath her in any room that’s warm, safe and clean – it doesn’t have to be a bathroom.
The bath should be positioned somewhere stable at a height where you can comfortably hold your baby (a table is often best).
Here are some tips to make bath time easier and safer for both of you.
- Before you start to get the bath ready, make sure your baby is somewhere safe (such as the bassinette).
Get all the things you
and put them within arm’s reach of the bath. This might include cotton wool, washcloth, towels and lotion. Also organise a nappy and clean clothes and put them wherever it’s easiest for you to dry and dress your baby.
- Take off your watch and jewellery and wash your hands.
- If you’re planning to bath your baby on a table far away from the tap, it can be easier to fill the bath with jugs of water, rather than carrying a full bath from the sink to the table. Try not to add extra water once your baby is in the bath.
- Fill the bath with about 5 cm of water for babies up to six months old. Use only a small amount of water until you get used to holding your baby.
- You can make a bath less slippery and safer if you line it with a clean cloth nappy or towel.
- Test the water temperature with your elbow or wrist. The recommended bath temperature for babies is about 36°C.
Gently support your baby at all times while he’s having a bath.
- To avoid overdrying baby’s skin, try adding bath oil (unperfumed is better) to the water. Avoid bubble baths – they remove natural oils from the skin. Moisturisers such as sorbolene and aqueous creams can help stop newborn skin drying out.
- Newborn babies don’t need shampoo for their hair, and you need to wash their hair only once or twice a week.
Never leave your baby in the bath unattended. Children can drown quickly and quietly.
Bathing a newborn: step by step
- Choose a bath time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted (by phone calls or visitors, for example).
- Before undressing your baby, wipe her eyelids (from inner eye to outer eye) with cotton wool dipped in lukewarm water, using a different piece of cotton wool for each eye. Then wash her whole face. Be careful not to put anything into her ears or nose. You can read more on ear, nose and eye care.
- Undress your baby, taking his nappy off last.
- Cradle your baby’s head with one arm, supporting her head and neck with the other arm. Gently lower her into the bath, feet first, keeping a close hold at all times.
- Supporting his head, lay your baby down in the bath so the back of his head is submerged. Gently splash some water onto his head.
- Gently wash your baby’s genitals and bottom last, using water only (although oil in the bath is fine too). Also clean out any bits of poo or vomit from her body creases. You can read more about genital care.
- Supporting your baby’s head and neck, lift him out of the bath then place him on his back on a clean, dry, soft towel.
- Wrap your baby in the towel and pat dry. Pay attention to skin creases, including armpits, groin, under the chin, around the neck and behind the ears.
- If your baby’s skin is dry, or if she has nappy rash, you might want to apply a mild lotion such as white soft paraffin, or zinc and castor oil. Paw paw cream might also be helpful.
- Dress your baby, putting his nappy on first.
- Place your baby in a safe place, such as a bassinette.
- Empty the bath water.
Video Safe bathing
This video is available in different languages
This short video demonstrates how to safely bath a newborn, including information on setting up, bathing techniques and baby bath temperature. It is important to look after baby's comfort as well as cleanliness.
How many baths for newborns?
Some babies really like baths and find them relaxing. If your baby is like this, you might be tempted to give two baths a day. But more than one bath a day isn’t usually recommended because babies don’t generally have dirty skin.
Also, many newborns already have dry, flaky skin. Having two baths a day will dry out the natural oils in their skin even more.