Bathing a Newborn the Ultimate Step by Step Guide to Bathtime Fun

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 2 February 2021

Bathing a newborn is probably one of the daily routines that new mothers find quite daunting and understandably so.

When I was working at Queen Charlotte's Maternity hospital and new mothers stayed in the hospital for two weeks, the most popular class I held was teaching mothers how to bathe a newborn.

Bathing a Newborn Pin

Taking a squirming newborn, making him all wet and slippery then moving your baby in and out of a bath takes some practice.

And that's why I created this post... I wanted to ensure every parent felt confident and informed about taking their first steps when bathing a newborn.

Are you a first time mum, dad or career?

Perhaps you just need a refresher!

Whatever the reason, this post will cover everything from topping and tailing ↓, to baby's first bath ↓, my top safety tips ↓ to remember, where to bathe baby ↓, and of course, the countless benefits of bathtime ↓!

When Should Newborns Have Their First Bath?

It is good to remember that in the early days there is no need to bathe baby every day.

Ideally, you should leave baby's first bath until the umbilical cord has fallen off which is usually after 10-14 days.

Until then, it is perfectly fine to ‘top and tail’ or sponge bath until you feel ready to move onto baby's first bath.

How Often Should You be Bathing a Newborn

You may decide to bath your baby every day especially if they enjoy it, and as it is something that I feel is essential to the bedtime routine for years to come, it is good to get your baby into the habit of bathing at the end of the day.

However, in the early stages, it is by no means essential.

If you should decide not to bathe your baby every day you should aim for around 2 to 3 warm soapy baths per week.

Once they become more mobile and start solid foods you will probably want to bathe them more often.

However, if you decide that you want to introduce bathtime early or as part of a regular bedtime routine, then you should ensure that you use a mild soap so that baby’s skin does not dry out.

In fact, it is not necessary to use soap in the early months for every bath. At this stage, it is not necessarily about cleaning baby, but rather having them get used to and enjoying the experience.

Where To Bathe Newborns?

When it comes to where to bath your baby, there are many options.

It is not necessary to buy a special baby bath. If you are tight on space or budget then a clean sink will do. Just ensure that there are no hot taps that will touch your baby if you choose this option.

As far as baby baths are concerned, there are many options to the cheap and cheerful to the more expensive.

However, I do not feel it is necessary to spend a lot of money on a baby bath.

The most important thing is that you are in a comfortable position where you feel able to hold your baby safely. The advantage of a free-standing baby bath is that it can be put anywhere and at a height that is safe and suitable for you and your baby.

If you are happy to crouch down at the bathtub then a bath support is the way to go. The advantage of these is that they can help support your baby for you, which many parents prefer.

Setting Up A Bath For Newborn Babies

When getting ready for baby’s bath, be sure to follow these top tips when setting up!

Make sure the bathroom or room in which you are bathing a newborn in is warm with no drafts.

Always check the water temperature beforehand by dipping your elbow into the bath water. Your hands can stand far hotter temperatures and that is why it is best to test the temperature using the elbow method.

If you are concerned about not judging the water temperature correctly use a bath water thermometer. The water should be between 37-38℃.

Have everything ready and to hand before you undress baby.

Have a warm towel and clean nappy ready for when you finish the bath.

If you are bathing your baby only once or twice a week there is no need to use lotions and powders at the end of the bath as your baby's skin has plenty of natural oils to keep their skin supple and smooth.

Always use mild and fragrance-free products on your baby’s skin.

11 Tips For Bathing Your Baby Safely

Bath time should be fun but there are some important rules to follow to ensure it is also safe.

  1. Never leave your baby alone in the bath. Not even for a second.
  2. Never leave your baby alone in the bath with a sibling.
  3. Put cold water in first and then add the hot water.
  4. Mix the water well to avoid hot spots.
  5. Don’t have the water too deep (8-10cm should be fine).
  6. Ensure the bathwater is the correct temperature (use a bath thermometer or your elbow to test). 37-38℃ is ideal.
  7. Always support baby’s head and shoulders if not using a bath support.
  8. If using a big bath, put a rubber bath mat on the bottom of the bath to make it less slippery.
  9. Don’t let baby get near hot taps.
  10. Ensure the bathroom or room is warm.
  11. Wrap baby in a warm towel as soon as you take them out of the bath.

It is important to get the timing right when bathing a newborn.

And as a general rule of thumb, you should avoid bathing baby after a feed or when baby is sleepy or hungry.

Eventually, bathing will become part of the bedtime routine and so the first few times you bathe your baby should be when you are both calm and ready to do so.

As I mentioned before, how many times a week you bathe your baby is up to you. It could be every day, three times a week or once a week.

You can also mix and match between a full bath and top and tailing.

When you are both ready to have a go… Here's how to top and tail your baby, followed by my tips and advice for bathing a newborn.

How To Top & Tail

Firstly, make sure the room is nice and warm when you undress your baby and ensure to have everything on hand before you begin!

You Will Need The Following:

  • A bowl of warm water
  • Cotton wool swabs
  • Wash cloth
  • A towel
  • Fresh nappy
  • Change of clothes

If you're not sure which products to buy, sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox. There I have compiled all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are non-toxic, eco friendly and of course, baby safe.

How To Top and Tail:

  • To top and tail, you need to start by laying your baby on a changing mat covered in a towel then take off baby’s clothes apart from his nappy.
  • Dampen a piece of cotton wool in the warm water and clean each eye starting from the nose and wiping gently outwards. Use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye. This is to prevent spreading any stickiness from one eye to another.
  • Use a fresh piece of cotton wool to then clean around the outside and behind the ears. Never clean the inside of your baby’s ears.
  • Now wash the rest of your baby’s face with another piece of dampened cotton wool including the creases under the chin.
  • Take a washcloth or a soft sponge and wash the rest of your baby’s body paying special attention to between the toes, fingers and under the arms. Take care around the umbilical cord and avoid getting it wet.
  • Now take off the nappy and wash the nappy area with a washcloth and water. Once you have finished make sure you dry the nappy area thoroughly including inside all the skin folds.
  • This is a great bonding experience for you and your baby so keep talking as you go. The sound of your voice will be comforting and reassuring.

You can then dress your baby in clean clothes.

Here's a handy infographic for you to save and refer back to later!

Topping and Tailing Infographic

Bathing A Newborn Step By Step

When you decide to move onto having a full bath, here’s how...

You Will Need The Following:

  • Baby bath or bath support for full size bath
  • A bowl of warm water
  • A baby towel with hood
  • Cotton wool swabs
  • Wash cloth and or baby sponge
  • Fresh nappy
  • Change of clothes

As I mentioned before, if you're not sure which products to buy, sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox. There I have compiled all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are non-toxic, eco friendly and of course, baby safe.

How To Bathe Baby:

  • Firstly, clean their face as you would if topping and tailing. You can do this by laying baby on your lap on a towel or alternatively do this on a changing mat.
  • You can also do this in another room first and then wrap baby in a towel to take them to the bathroom. Or use the water from the bath and top and tail next to the bathtub.
  • It is important to keep your baby’s head and hair clean to prevent cradle cap. You can either wash baby’s hair whilst in the bath or alternatively, you can swaddle her in a towel and tuck her under your arm whilst holding her over the bath and wash her hair that way.
  • This is more easily done when bathing a newborn but some mothers may not feel confident enough to do this. Either way is acceptable but it is important to keep the head and hair clean.
  • Lower your baby gently into the bath supporting baby's head and the upper part of the body with one hand and the other supporting their bottom.
  • Once in the bath use the hand that supported your baby’s bottom swish water over their body. Try not to splash. As before, keep talking. Using a washcloth or baby sponge gently wipe baby all over.
  • Baby supports are very useful when bathing a newborn as they allow you to have both hands free. They can be used from birth to 6 months or until your baby is able to sit up in the bath.
  • When you take your baby out of the bath wrap them in a towel immediately so they do not feel cold.
  • Pat dry and make sure you get into all the little folds and creases.
  • If your baby’s skin appears to be dry you can use a fragrance-free moisturiser.

Never leave your baby alone in the bath.

7 Tips For Drying And Dressing Newborns After Bath 

Lift baby out of the bath and wrap in a warm towel.

Then return to the changing mat to pat dry ensuring that you dry in all the little creases and folds.

If your baby is happy to lie naked for a while and the room is warm enough then let them have a little kick and play for a couple of minutes.

Generally, there is no need to use lotions and powders as your baby's skin has plenty of natural oils to keep their skin supple and smooth. Your baby's skin is also very sensitive and any product at this stage may cause irritation.

If you do spot some dryness then only use fragrance-free moisturisers or oils on your baby.

Put on a fresh nappy.

Get baby dressed in appropriate clothing.

4 Benefits Of Bathtime For Babies

Once you have become confident in bathing a newborn, you will begin to realise that there are so many benefits to this part of your daily routine.

As your baby grows and develops you will come to enjoy bath time and say that it is one of your favourite times of the day.

1. Calming

Bathing a newborn can be very calming as when you bathe your newborn and rub your baby's skin it has the effect of slowing down your baby's heart rate and this, in turn, leads to both you and your baby feeling relaxed.

Bathing also teaches your baby the importance of touch and skin contact.

When you wrap your baby in a soft towel after her bath, she will feel warm and safe.

2. Sleep Inducing

In many cases, bathing your baby at the end of the day calms them down and gets them ready for sleep.

This is because their body temperature cools after coming out of the warm bath which can help your baby fall asleep more easily.

They will also start to recognise that this is part of the end of day bedtime routine.

3. Bonding

Bathing your baby is also a positive bonding experience as you are both closely focused on each other.

Being face-to-face during bath time promotes eye contact which, together with your voice, provides a positive interaction between you both that will continue for months to come.

4. Baby Massage

This is also a good time to massage your little one as this can help them to relax and sleep.

Newborn babies may appear to be delicate but don't be afraid to start a massaging routine shortly after birth.

Routine massage, even at this age, helps to grow your bond and can contribute to happy, healthy baby development.

Helping Newborns Enjoy Bath Time

Bathing a newborn is usually very enjoyable for both baby and parent, but some babies may find the exposure upsetting.

If this is the case you can leave it for a few days and try again.

Remember that giving baby a bath at this stage is primarily to get your newborn used to having a bath as part of the daily routine and not necessary for cleanliness. So do not panic if your baby does not initially like having a bath.

If your baby is struggling with bath time try some of the following:

Co Bathing - Make sure the water temperature is correct as you may like bathwater hotter than is suitable for your baby. (37-38℃)

The skin to skin contact whilst being in the water with you will be reassuring and many babies find this very comforting.

Ideally, get someone to hand your baby to you once you are in the bath and to take baby from you before you get out of the bath.

Placing a warm washcloth on your baby's tummy - This can help newborn babies feel comforted during bath time. You can have a couple of washcloths at hand and alternate them to make sure they don't get cold.

Sometimes just placing your hand gently and reassuringly on their tummy can settle them.

If none of the above helps then leave bath time for a week and try again but by 3 months old most babies are loving bath time!

My Top 12 Baby Bath Time Tips

  1. Before you start make sure you have everything ready that you will need. There is nothing worse than realising you don’t have a towel ready or a sponge to hand when your baby is ready to go or in the bath already!
  2. Ensure the bathroom or room is warm and cosy with no drafts.
  3. Always check bath water temperature (37-38℃)
  4. Start from the top by bathing face and head first and working your way down.
  5. Don’t forget the little hands and feet!
  6. Wash in all the little folds and creases too.
  7. Don’t let baby's first baths take too long as your baby may get cold and this will put them off.
  8. Warm the bath towel on a radiator or towel rail while you are bathing baby.
  9. Remember to dry in all the creases and folds.
  10. It is best practice not to use any oils or lotions until your baby is 4 weeks old. When you do introduce a product, it should be of the mildest kind.
  11. If your baby does not take to having a bath then leave it for a while and try again in a few days time.
  12. Take it slow, breathe & enjoy this bonding time together.

If you enjoyed this post and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share using the buttons below.

As I mentioned in this post, if you're looking for products for your little one and you're not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox.

Within it I have compiled all my favourite products which I've tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, baby proof!

Do you have any blog recommendations that you'd like me to write about? Drop me an email: [email protected] and let me know. I love hearing from you!

Thank you for your continued support!

Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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