New moms have many questions when their baby is home for the first time. Among those questions, ones we hear a lot are “When can I give my baby their first bath at home ?” “How often should I bathe my baby?” and “How do I bathe my baby?” The short answer is to wait till the baby’s umbilical cord falls off. The long answer will give you the reasons why it’s best to wait until that time as well as some tips on making sure your baby’s first bath is as pleasant experience as possible for him/her.
Firstly, please know that your baby technically already had his first bath at the hospital before he came home. After he or she is born, the nurses will take care of this for you. Now once you get home and you are solo, its up to you to keep your baby clean as a whistle.
While the umbilical cord stump is still on your baby, you cannot submerge the baby in water. That means that baths are out of the question. You will need to rely instead on sponge baths in order to keep the baby clean. The stump must be kept clean, dry and free of any dampness. This will help avoid any malodor as well an infection from occurring in this area. Leaving the stump free to “breathe” will help it dry up and fall off sooner. The cord usually stays attached to the baby anywhere from a week to the time he or she is 4 weeks old. If you notice a fold smelling odor or notice discharge coming out from the baby’s umbilical area, please contact your doctor immediately
What is the best way to take care of the umbilical stump?
- Keep the stump dry and clean – use alcohol with a clean cotton swab
- Keep the stump as open as possible to encourage it to dry out and eventually fall off
- Try not to use a onesie body suit and fold the baby’s diaper down to keep the cord stump exposed
- Give the baby sponge baths to keep him clean until it falls off
A sponge bath means giving the baby a cleansing bath without any submerging or dousing with water. Get yourself ready before hand and have the following ready:
- A flat, safe surface to lay the baby on. Spread a towel or changing pad on this area
- A warm room
- Bathing supplies such as baby soap, a wash towel, cotton balls, baby shampoo, a towel to wrap the baby in before the sponge bath and a clean towel to dry him with afterwards
- A small basin filled with warm water – please check to make sure the water is not too hot or cold
Once ready, then undress the baby, wrap him in a towel and then get to work. Do not put too much soap on the towel because then you will have soap on the baby that you will not be able to rinse off properly. Place a few drops of soap in the basin instead and then dip the wash towel in the sudsy water. You can use the cotton balls to wipe the baby’s eye lids paying extra attention not to leave any lint behind that can get into the baby’s eye. What to wash? Everywhere you would normally wash yourself; the head, ears, behind ears, face, hands, torso, armpits etc… everywhere except the umbilical cord. Keep this area dry. Simply wash around it.
The first REAL bath
Once the cord falls off then you are ready for baby’s first bath! Make sure to pick a time when baby is most relaxed like after a feeding. This will help her be more likely to enjoy the experience. You will need:
- A free standing baby tub specifically designed for newborns (a towel or rubber lined bathroom or kitchen sink). There are baby tubs with an inclined support to help position the baby as well help hold them more securely while bathing
- A warm room (turn off any fans or air conditioners and allow the room to warm up a bit)
- A soft cotton towel preferably with a hood
- Small tub for babies
- A soft cloth
- Tear free baby soap
- Baby no tears shampoo
- Soft lotion for babies
- Baby powder (optional)
- A clean flat surface
- Clean change of clothes
- Clean diaper
- VERY IMPORTANT – make sure your nails are clean, and trimmed. File them evenly so as not to scratch the baby
Once you have all your supplies readily and handily next to you, and then get your tub filled with warm water. Put in about 2 – 3 inches of water. Check the temperature (should be about 100 F (38 C)) – make sure the water is not hot or cold but warm. Test the temperature with your elbow and see how it feels before you place the baby inside. Be mindful that you will have to constantly pour warm water over the baby as you bathe him to keep him warm. Undress your baby and wrap her in a towel while you transport her to the room where you will bathe her. Now you are ready to bath your precious little one!
Babies have very soft skin so when they are wet they are SUPER slippery. They are constantly wriggling and if your baby is less than enthused about the bath, then he will be even harder to hold safely. With this is mind:
- Hold the baby’s head with one hand and guide the baby into the bathtub with the other
- Once in the bath, secure baby by holding his/her armpit and supporting his/her body with your arm
Start bathing the baby from the top of the baby’s head. Place a few drops of shampoo and wash this area gently – no scrubbing is necessary. You may use the washcloth to avoid scratching the baby. Next continue down his body leaving his/her genital area for last. Make sure to get in between all the crevices and folds. Be sure to clean baby’s neck, behind ears, armpits, in between his fingers, toes etc. Once done with baby’s body, then clean the genital area. As you wash each area, rinse it as well. It will help keep the baby warm.
After the bath, take your baby and lay him down to dry him up. Same as the bath, start drying him from the top of his body to the tips of his toes. Go section by section and gently dry each area. Pay careful attention to drying in between the fingers, toes, neck area and any folds in the skin. Once the baby is dry, you can apply lotion if you wish and also sprinkle some baby powder on the baby. The best places to use the powder are in the neck area/under his chin and in between the toes. You can also put some in the area where the hip and leg join by the leg band of the diaper to keep him dry and fresher longer.
- Applying lotion to your baby is totally up to you. The best way to prevent rashes on your baby is to simply make sure to dry all the folds of his skin. If you opt to use a lotion, make sure it’s hypoallergenic.
- Baby soaps are great soaps to use however a mild moisturizing soap is fine too. Just make sure to pick one that is not strongly scented nor has harsh chemicals in it
- Use a space heater or turn up your thermostat temperature about 10 minutes before you give the baby a bath to give the room a little extra added warmth so the baby will not be chilly especially in the winter months.
- Babies do not need baths every day. If you bath them every day it will dry out their skin. As long as you are consistently cleaning their face, diaper area and neck then a bath a couple of times each week is more than enough.
- The first couple of times do not be shy and ask for someone to help you give your baby a bath. This can be a very stressful endeavor to undertake alone with a wiggling baby who may be very upset. Until you get the hang of it, have someone help you out
We may not have covered EVERY aspect of bathing your newborn so you may still have more questions about the process and we at the NY Birthing Center will be more than happy to answer them. We have an experienced team of OBGYN doctors, nurses, midwives and doulas who have a wealth of happy baby advice! Feel free to contact us anytime or stop by any our offices to schedule a visit.