Bathing a newborn can be tricky at first, especially if your newborn seems unhappy in the bath. A few simple steps can make bath time enjoyable and easy for you and your baby.

How often to give your newborn a bath

A bath 2-3 times a week is enough to keep your newborn clean. But if your baby really likes baths, you can bath him once a day. Bathing more than this can dry out your baby’s skin.

You can keep your baby’s genitals clean between baths by using warm water and cotton wool.

About 5-10 minutes is long enough for a newborn bath. This is especially important if your baby has dry or sensitive skin.

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 her 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 her clothes on while you do it.

When to give your newborn a bath

You can bath your baby at any time of the day. It’s a good idea to pick a time when you’re relaxed and you won’t be interrupted. And it’s best to avoid bathing your baby when he’s hungry or straight after a feed.

If your baby likes a bath and it seems to relax her, you can use bathing as a way to help settle her for sleep in the evening. 

Where to bath your newborn

You can give your newborn a bath in a small plastic bath or even in the kitchen sink. The kitchen sink might be easiest in the first few weeks. A plastic baby bath is probably the best option once your baby gets bigger.

You can bath your baby in any room that’s warm, safe and clean – it doesn’t have to be a bathroom.

You can also shower with your baby. Keep your baby’s face away from the pouring water and make sure to use warm, not hot, water.

Setting up a newborn bath: tips

Here’s how to get ready for a newborn bath:

  • Take the phone off the hook or turn your phone off while bathing baby. You’ll be less likely to get distracted.
  • Make sure you have everything you need at hand – for example, towel, washcloth, lotion, clean clothes and clean nappy. Avoid using soap because this will dry out your baby’s skin. If needed, use a gentle non-soap cleanser or fragrance-free oil.
  • Position the bath somewhere stable and at a height where you can comfortably hold your baby. A kitchen table is often best.
  • Fill the bath with about 5 cm of water for babies up to six months old. Use jugs of water to fill the bath if you’re planning to bath your baby away from the tap.
  • Take off your watch and jewellery and wash your hands.
  • Check the water temperature is 36°C before you put your baby in. If you don’t have a thermometer, use your wrist or elbow to test the temperature – it should be comfortably warm, not hot.
  • Before bathing your baby in a sink, briefly run cold water through the tap once you’ve finished filling the bath.
  • Don’t add extra water while your baby is in the bath.

Giving your newborn a bath: steps

These steps make bathing your newborn easy:

  1. Before undressing your baby, wipe his eyelids (from inner eye to outer eye) with cotton wool dipped in lukewarm water. Use a new piece of cotton wool for each eye. Then wash his whole face. Be careful not to put anything into his ears or nose.
  2. Undress your baby, taking her nappy off last.
  3. Cradle your baby’s head with one arm, supporting his head and neck with the other arm. Gently lower him into the bath, feet first, keeping a close hold at all times.
  4. Supporting her head, lay your baby down in the bath so the back of her head is submerged. Gently splash some water onto her head.
  5. Gently wash your baby’s genitals and bottom last, using water only. Also clean out any bits of poo or vomit from his body creases.
Children can drown in a few seconds in very shallow water. Never leave your baby alone in the bath, even if you’re using a bath seat or cradle. Never leave older children or siblings to supervise. If you’re disturbed by the phone or another task, take your baby out of the bath.

Drying and dressing your newborn after a bath: steps

Here’s how to take your newborn out of the bath, ready for drying and dressing:

  1. Supporting your baby’s head and neck, lift her out of the bath then place her on her back on a clean, dry, soft towel. Also keep her warm.
  2. Wrap your baby in a soft towel and pat dry. Pay attention to skin creases, including armpits, groin, under the chin, around the neck and behind the ears.
  3. If your baby’s skin is dry, or if he has nappy rash, you might want to apply a mild lotion like white soft paraffin, or zinc and castor oil. Pawpaw cream might also be helpful.
  4. Dress your baby, putting her nappy on first.
  5. Place your baby in a safe place, like a cot or bassinette.
  6. Empty the bath water.
Bathing your baby takes practice, so try to relax and take your time. You might like to start by bathing your baby when someone else is around to help. If you’re worried about losing your grip on your baby, you can make the bath less slippery by lining it with a clean cloth nappy or towel.

Helping baby enjoy bath time

It’s normal for newborns to find bath time distressing at first. But most babies quickly learn to like bath time. To help your baby enjoy bath time, you can try placing your hand gently on his tummy. This can help your baby feel safe and secure in the bath.

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.

Video

Bathing a newborn safely

1:13

This short video takes you through bathing a newborn safely, including demonstrations of setting up the bath, bathing techniques and baby bath temperature. When you’re bathing your newborn baby, it’s important to look after your baby’s comfort as well as her cleanliness.

For more information, check out our illustrated guide to bathing a newborn.

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Last updated or reviewed
04-10-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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