The Ultimate Guide to Bathing Your Newborn

You're finally home from the hospital, you've spent several days in the bliss of newborn life, cuddling and sleeping and trying to adjust to life as a mom. But now, one task is looming and you're kind of sort of dreading it … The time has come to give your newborn baby her first bath.

It's a task that should be totally simple, right? What could be easier than a bath? You're a mom, you've just brought an entire human into the world. It shouldn't be this scary to just give your baby a bath, right? 

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Except it can be. Trust me, I get it. I've been a mom for nine years now. And just between you and me, I still hate giving my kids a bath. For some reason, it just stresses me out. There is water and splashing and somehow, I always end up soaking wet (more than my kids). But if you're starting to smell something funky and it's not you, it is time to do the deed. Here's what you need to know about giving your newborn baby the first bath. You've got this, mama. 

Image via Flickr/ Donnie Ray Jones

Step 1: The Supplies

The first step in giving your baby a bath is to gather all your necessary supplies. It's a good idea to get everything ready before your baby is crying and squirming and soaking wet because that's just a recipe for disaster. If you're sponge-bathing your baby, which is generally the recommended first bath for your baby before the umbilical cord stump falls off, you'll need a basin of water, a flat surface to bathe your baby on, a towel to lay him or her on, baby soap, and a fresh towel to dry the baby. It's also helpful to have that little comb they send you with from the hospital and some baby lotion to apply after the bath is over. 

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Step 2: How To Sponge Bathe a Baby

To sponge bathe a baby, you can get a clean washcloth wet with warm water, then apply your baby soap directly to the washcloth. Start washing your baby's limbs first, then get into the creases. Check their little armpits, between the neck rolls, and in between their fingers especially for that white cheesy build-up that babies are notorious for. (I learned this the hard way!) Rinse the soap away with another clean washcloth filled with just water, then pat dry.

Save your baby's private areas for last, just so you're not spreading that bacteria around. If your baby is a little girl, be sure to use a washcloth with only water to clean her labia. You don't want to use soap, as it can really irritate the area. Clean in between the labia folds and if your baby is having discharge, wipe that away too. If you notice your baby girl has a lot of whitish, bloody discharge–don't panic! It's totally normal and it's just from the hormones that she was receiving from your pregnancy.


If you have a baby boy and he has been circumcised and it's been at least two days, take a washcloth and squeeze warm water over the penis to wash it gently. If he hasn't been circumcised, you can just clean the penis normally, as you would any other body part. Don't ever force the foreskin down on a baby boy's penis–the foreskin doesn't separate until around age 5, so there's no need to move it before then.

You can wash your baby's hair the same way, or alternatively, wrap your baby up in a towel and wash their hair under the running water of your sink. If your baby has any scalp build-up, you can use the comb to exfoliate their scalp while you wash it.

Finish your baby's bath with patting their skin dry and a baby massage with baby-safe lotion, if you'd like. Keep in mind that baby skin has the appearance that it is “cracked” and peeling from time in the womb and that's very normal. 

Step 3: How to Deal With The Umbilical Cord

For the longest time, common medical advice has said that you shouldn't get a baby in a regular bath until the umbilical cord falls off, both because it could introduce an infection and delay the cord falling off. But studies have shown that immersing a baby in bath water actually doesn't cause infection or delay the umbilical cord falling off either. Even hospitals have taken to actually immersing babies in water instead of sponge bathing, noting that the babies tend to enjoy the experience a lot more. 

So if you'd like to, check with your doctor about giving your baby a regular bath and caring for the cord afterward. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can give your baby a bath in a baby tub or regular tub with a towel or bath mat down so they don't slip everywhere. Just be sure to keep baths to every two to three days and keep the stump dry to facilitate healing. 

Good luck with that first bath, and all the baths to follow!

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The Ultimate Guide to Bathing Your Newborn

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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