Getting Started Bathing Your Newborn

In this post, I talk about:

  • Three types of baths
  • Getting started with bath time routines with a newborn
  • Short list of simple bath time supplies

Types of Baths
The newborn bathing advice I received as a new mom was to give sponge baths. Did you know there are more options, though? In my hunt for info., I learned co-bathing and submersion baths are great options to add to the list.

Sponge baths: baby sits in a sink or tub in a few inches of water while caregiver sits or stands next to her to clean

Co-baths: baby and caregiver take a bath together; lots of skin-to-skin contact and water sensory experiences

Submersion baths: baby either sits in a sink or tub, or co-bathes with a caregiver, but is immersed in warm water up to her shoulders

Bath Time Routines
Prep everything ahead of time. I wish I’d learned this habit earlier in life…

Gather all your bath supplies and place them within arm’s reach of your bathing station; you will need to keep a hand on your baby at all times.

Decide how to firmly and safely hold your baby in a way that allows you to clean her with one hand… take your time getting comfortable. One suggestion is to support her upright body with one hand, the back of her shoulders resting against your forearm as you hook your hand under her far armpit. Holding under her armpit will prevent her from slipping. You’ll clean her with your free hand.

In the early weeks, a washcloth and 5 minutes is all it takes, especially while the umbilical cord and belly button are still healing.

Sponge baths are fine and considered a standard of practice, but try a submersion bath if your baby gets fussy. Wait until the umbilical scab falls off before submerging your baby to avoid bacterial infections, though. Once that happens and the area is healed, you can sit your baby in a tub of warm water filled to cover her body, resting in a sling, or in your arms (if you’re co-bathing in the tub.)

Channel calming energy, talk to her, and sing songs; try to make this moment gentle and wonderful for her. Use a different part of the washcloth for each eye, and a separate washcloth for bottoms to prevent the spread of germs. Start in the folds of her neck and work your way down, washing her head last to keep them from getting too cold.

Then finish it up before your baby gets cold. Baths are quick in the beginning. (Read more about cords and circumcision scabs on Dr. Sears’ website.  I like their advice on bathing newborns! Great article on approach, technique, frequency, soaps, and babies who fuss about bathing.)

When one parent bathes the baby alone, keep a rocker in the bathroom (and put your baby’s towel into it for post-bath coziness.)

List of Supplies

  • A rocker. We kept one in the bathroom. This was a game changer for us. Laying an open towel in the rocker before the bath makes a cozy space for baby to lay afterward while you get out of the tub (if you’re co-bathing), empty the water, put away toys, etc. Place your wet baby in the rocker and wrap her up. Now she’s safe and your hands are free! A Boppy pillow can also cradle your sparkling clean babe.
  • This towel by Clevamama is genius and my favorite: it’s thick enough to absorb water, wears like an apron to protect mama’s clothes, and has a hood for baby, but really ANY absorbent towel is good; a lot of those baby towels are way too thin to soak up any water.
  • A tub with a sling. It holds the baby in a cradle and the rest of the baby tub can be filled with water. We used this when we didn’t want to co-bathe or when she was older and we wanted to shower at the same time. It sits on a counter or inside a full-size bathtub. 
  • Baby soap. Grown up soap is too harsh. We’ve tried Mustela and Honest Company, and liked both scents. Currently, we’re using Babyganics, and we like it so far. Molly cries when California Baby soap runs into her eyes.
  • Duck thermometer – I loved this guy as a fast visual to tell if the water is too hot for her. I always feel the water, too, before I put my baby in it. One thing I’ll add is that I never took the temperature of the water and compared it to the duck’s reading, but mostly found that there were times I thought the water felt fine that the duck declared it was too hot. The water should be a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees), otherwise babies will get too cold.
  • 2-3 soft washcloths. My mom bought us some by Circo. They’re nice for washing and also for covering parts for baby bath photos. 🙂

Tips:

  • Never leave your baby alone, even for a second
  • Feel the temperature of the water before your baby enters
  • Talk to your baby; tell her what’s happening before, during, and after
  • Keep your newborn baby’s mouth and nose above water
  • Allow your baby to explore and experience the water
  • Channel your inner calm & share calming energy with your baby
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