How to Bathe a Newborn Safely: A Step-by-Step Guide

Stumped about how to bathe a newborn? Learn why it’s so important to delay baby’s first bath, plus get step-by-step instructions for when the time comes.

Stumped about how to bathe a newborn? Learn why it's so important to delay baby's first bath, plus get step-by-step instructions for when the time comes.

As if learning how to swaddle your baby wasn’t hard enough, try learning how to bathe a newborn. Besides contending with a delicate umbilical cord stump, newborns chill easily and their skin is sensitive and prone to dryness. Plus, a wet baby is a slippery baby. Eek!

Don’t worry, mama! We’ve got it all covered, including:

  • How to bathe a newborn baby
  • When to give baby their first bath
  • How often to bathe a newborn
  • Plus, what products to use when bathing a newborn baby

How to Bathe a Newborn

1. Get your baby bath supplies ready

Yes, before you even begin to bathe baby, get all of your supplies ready and right near the baby bath. You don’t want to leave baby unattended, even for a second, as this can be dangerous.

So, when it’s time to give baby a bath, collect the following supplies:

2. Choose your bathing location

A baby tub set inside the regular tub is the best option. Although many parents find that the sink is more convenient, the average kitchen sink has more germs than the typical toilet—ew! If you don’t have a bath tub, you can still use a baby tub and set inside a shower instead.

3. Fill the baby tub

Fill the baby bath tub with just enough water to puddle underneath baby—two to three inches of water should do. Baby should not be submerged and it’s best to avoid getting water in baby’s ears.

4. Check the temperature

Always find the appropriate temperature before setting baby into the tub. This prevents accidental burns, as well as startling baby with cold water.

Baby’s bath water should be about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just slightly higher than body temperature. You can buy a small bathtub thermometer to make this process easier.

5. Carefully place baby in the baby tub

Cover baby with a dry washcloth or small towel to keep him warm while you wash different parts of his body. Because babies chill so easily, consider running the towels through the dryer before bathing baby. You can also run a small space heater in the room (be sure to keep it far away from the water though!) to make the air a more comfortable temperature for baby. You can also run shower to create a “steam room”, which also keeps baby warm.

6. Clean baby using a soft wash cloth or sponge

Use one arm to support baby’s back, head, and neck; use your other hand to sponge baby’s body parts one at a time. Start with the cleanest parts of your baby (e.g. head) and work to the dirtiest parts (e.g. diaper area). Never retract or “clean” uncircumcised penises or put soap inside the vagina. And be sure to pay close attention to any folds or rolls, under the neck, under the arms, in the upper thigh rolls, and the bum.

What if baby still has the umbilical cord stump??

When it comes to the umbilical cord stump, the best rule is to leave it alone. If it does get wet, dry it in the process, simply dry it with a soft cloth. Read more about umbilical cord care.

7. Rinse baby well

It’s actually best not to use soap or very little for bits and pits (learn more about why you shouldn’t use too much soap). But, some moms like doing the traditional bubble bath. In those cases, be sure to rinse baby well. Soap residue can cause dry, flaky skin and increase baby’s risk of skin conditions, like eczema. This special bucket works well to thoroughly rinse baby without getting soap in baby’s eyes.

8. Dry baby

Wet babies are extra slippery, so be careful! Use both hands to lift baby out of the bath, taking care to support the back of the neck and behind the knees. Use a soft organic towel and gently pat baby dry. Rubbing too vigorously can irritate baby’s sensitive skin. Some parents love these hooded towels to keep baby extra warm.

An Important Safety Note

Never, ever leave your baby alone during bathing—not even for a second! According to the AAP, drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young children. Even scarier? It can happen in less than two inches of water. (source)

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When Should a Newborn Have Their First Bath?

Ideally, you should wait 5-7 days post birth to give baby a bath.

While that may sound stinky, adhering to this timeline is actually best for baby. Waiting to bathe baby allows the vernix to absorb. Waiting to bathe a newborn also…

  • Decreases baby’s risk of hypoglycemia: Studies show that delaying baby’s first bath decreases the rate of both hypothermia and hypoglycemia. (source)
  • Decreases baby’s risk of hypothermia: Until your baby’s temperature regulates, he is susceptible to hypothermia. Early bathing can even cause breathing problems due to poor temperature regulation. (source)
  • Reduces baby’s stress levels: Anywhere but mama’s arms can be stressful for a newborn. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines revealed that mothers’ touch (and even just her attention!) can reduce cortisol levels in babies. (source)
  • Enhances breastfeeding success: Studies show that delayed a baby’s first bath can promote mother-child bond and enhance the breastfeeding connection. (source)

If that won’t work, according to the World Health Organization, you need to wait at least 24 hours to bathe baby. (source) This gives baby time to recover from birth and regulate his/her body temperature.

Note: If a bath absolutely must occur before a baby is 24 hours old, the WHO states that the baby must be a minimum of at least six hours old.

How Often Should You Bathe a Newborn

A good rule of thumb is once a week.

While a warm bath before bed is a soothing routine, the truth is: Newborns simply don’t need a bath every night. Over bathing can lead to:

Dry, flaky and peeling skin

Even natural soaps tend to be way too harsh for babies’ sensitive skin. What’s more? Many cleaning products contain parabens and fragrances. In studies, these ingredients are linked to hormonal disruption, eczema, asthma, and other respiratory irritations.

And because there is so much “greenwashing,” deciphering labels can be tricky. Many products are labeled “natural” or “eco-friendly,” despite the fact that they contain harmful ingredients. When you give your baby a bath, use very little soap (if any).

Decrease in overall immunity

Because our skin contains a mix of bacteria (similar to our gut), we don’t want to be constantly washing away the good, protective probiotics. Being exposed to a little bit of dirt and germs can actually help build the immune systems. (source)

But What If Baby Gets Dirty?

I know what you’re thinking: What if baby sweats? Or, worse, has a poop explosion? Babies don’t get sweaty or stinky the way an adult does, but if baby needs to be cleaned take a wet washcloth and clean the localized area. (If you’re on the go, use a natural wipe instead.)

What Kind of Soap Should You Use to Bathe a Newborn?

Use very small amounts of natural, organic soap. Or, better yet, try slathering baby with coconut oil in areas where dirt collects like around neck, in thigh creases, on bum, and hands. Coconut oil is moisturizing, and yet antimicrobial and antibacterial so acts as a cleansing agent. In fact, coconut oil is often used in soap recipes.

Just take extra care when handling baby—coconut oil can make baby even more slippery than usual.

Should You Use Lotion After Bathing a Newborn?

Take a peek in any baby store, and you’ll see two items always side-by-side: baby soap and baby lotion. It’s understandable to think you need to apply a moisturizer daily, but babies don’t need lotion after baths. In fact, many pediatricians don’t recommend it. Too much moisturizer on a newborn’s skin can interfere with the skin barrier function. (source)

What if baby’s skin is looking a bit on the dry side? Or maybe baby has eczema or cradle cap? Rub a little coconut oil on those patches instead.

Can You Use Baby Powder on a Newborn?

Baby powder has long been used to keep the diaper area dry and rash-free. However, baby powder is not recommended.

Many baby powders contain talc, which has been linked to ovarian cancer. (source)

That being said, even natural powders (arrowroot or non-gmo cornstarch) are not recommended. Powder can cause respiratory issues if it’s inhaled, and unfortunately, it is very easy for a baby to inhale these particles. Plus, in many cases, powder can be too drying.

You Got This!

Figuring out how to bathe a newborn is intimidating—no doubt about it! Babies are delicate and so, so slippery when wet. It’s natural to worry about doing it the right way. But, like so many other things when it comes to babies, you’ll be a pro in no time. Just go slow and go forth with confidence—you’ve got this!

How About You?

When did you learn how to bathe a newborn? Did you delay your baby’s first bath? How long did you wait?

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

2 Comments

  1. I have already given my newborn more than a few baths. We do it as a bedtime routine, she loves it. She’s four weeks. I was giving her sponge baths until 3 weeks. Have I ruined her skin? From now on I will give her a bath once per week. Can I rinse her with warm water every day at bedtime? What do you recommend for hair and scalp routine?

    • There’s not really a reason to bathe a baby everyday. Their natural oils in their skin are typically sufficient and bathing washes them away. No need to do anything extra to the hair or scalp either.


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