All About Baby’s First Bath

Baby's First Bath
Image via Flickr/ Matt Bargar

Many new parents post photos of their newborn baby on social media soon after they’re born. In these pictures, their baby is usually swaddled tightly in a hospital blanket, a delicate bow or sweet hat covering their head, and laying in either the hospital bassinet or their proud mother's arms. What these pictures don’t show is that a few minutes before this picture was taken, the baby was probably still covered in all kinds of post-birth goop. When babies emerge from the womb they’re often spotted in blood, vernix, and amniotic fluid. While it may surprise new parents to see their baby this way, it’s normal, natural, and absolutely necessary as these are the fluids and coating that kept the baby safe and happy as they grew. After the baby is born, many parents want to know, “When will they get the first bath that gets them looking sweet and clean for all those newborn pictures?” 

Doctors recommend that babies be placed skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest directly after birth and that they remain there for several hours. Skin-to-skin contact helps baby regulate their temperate and blood sugar, ensures they feel safe and warm and encourages breastfeeding. Because skin-to-skin is so important, nurses likely won’t bathe or clean baby at all before placing them on their mother's chest. Once they’ve been on the chest for a few minutes, nurses may wipe them down (while they remain on mom’s chest) with a dry washcloth or a warm wet towel. This “first bath” usually takes places within a newborn's first hour of life but there’s usually no reason parents can’t opt out if they’d prefer to leave baby all-natural for a little while longer or wipe them down themselves. 

{ MORE: This Will Melt Your Heart: Moms Meeting Babies for the First Time! }

Once the baby has been skin-to-skin for over an hour, nurses may offer to give the baby a more rigorous bath. Typically they take the baby to the in-room sink or bassinet and gently clean their whole body with warm water. They also usually soap and (gently) scrub their skin and brush out their hair to ensure it’s all clean. While they have soap on hand, most hospitals won’t object if you choose to bring your own or, again, object to the nurse bathing baby. 

Some parents prefer to give the first bath in the hospital themselves or to wait until their home for the more rigorous scrubbing. Newborns usually only need to be bathed once or twice a week and should be given sponge baths until their umbilical stump falls off so, whether or not baby had a bath at the hospital, most parents will give them their first at home washing within a week of heading home. While it can feel nerve-wracking to hold and wash someone so small and delicate, many newborns enjoy the sensation of warm water or a warm washcloth and welcome bath time.  

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Whatever you decide, be sure that when you finish your baby's first bath you wrap them in a warm towel, give them an extra-long cuddle, and breathe in their magnificent newborn smell!

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All About Baby’s First Bath

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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