How to Bathe a Baby? Step by Step Guide

Last Updated on March 11, 2021

Bathing a baby for the first time is a big deal for most parents. I was so well prepared as if I had been invited to Oscars. I had my video camera in one hand, a phone in another and the DSLR camera strap was hanging from my neck. No pressure, right?

It’s understandable if you’re a little nervous before doing it for the first time as your partner is probably filming the event for the future generations, but no worries, I’ve got your back here!

Just keep reading to learn how to bathe a baby.

When Should you First Bathe a Baby After Birth?

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests waiting 6 hours after birth to wash an infant so the baby can adjust to life outside. The early bonding with parents and breastfeeding are more critical than clean skin.

You can find many blogs suggesting that you should wait until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off before bathing your newborn in a tub. I found a ten-year-old article endorsed by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that recommends waiting that long and many blogs may refer to this piece.

That said, life goes on…

Studies suggest that tub bathing has many benefits over sponge bathing:

  • Babies are happier and calmer
  • The body temperature of tub-bathed babies dropped less
  • Parents are more relaxed
  • There cord healing is not prolonged

As a conclusion, it‘s safe to start washing your newborn in a bathtub after four to six hours of birth, and there are no benefits of giving your baby a sponge bath. 

Newborn washed in a tub

Bathing Routine: When and How Often Should You Bathe an Infant?

You don’t have to bathe a baby more than 2-3 days/week and the suitable time usually depends on your baby.

That said, we washed our infant every day for a couple of reasons:

  1. Babies sleep better after bathes
  2. We wanted to establish an explicit evening routine (although our boy didn’t seem to care)

The only real downside is that constant bathing dries the skin, but you can fight it by always using a moisturizer.

How to Bathe a Newborn?

As I’ve already pointed out (sorry for repeating myself), bathing a newborn is essentially the same as bathing a 3-week old baby. There’s nothing overly complicated about it (unless you want to leave him or her a bottle of zinc cream…well you can scroll down to read about my mishap).

1. Decide Where To Bathe Your Baby

It’s best to wash your baby in a quiet, warm room.

Some baby tubs are designed so that you can use them in a sink. That said, you usually have to find a stable surface where to place the bathtub.

We have a relatively large bathroom with underfloor heating, so we always keep the tub on the floor.

Many parents find the height of a table or a kitchen isle more comfortable though.

2. Get Ready

You don’t need any distractions when washing your newborn so turn your phone off.

The immune system of your infant isn’t ready to deal with harmful germs, and so it’s important to dry to keep him or her safe. Before washing your baby, remove your watch and other jewelry and wash your hands.

Another reason to remove them is to avoid scratching the delicate skin of your little one.

3. Gather The Baby Bathing Essentials

Gather all the essentials, so you don’t have to leave the room before finishing with the bathing procedure.

List of Baby Bathing Essentials That You’ll need:

  • Baby bathtub
  • Bath toys– Bathing toys are essential for older babies as they keep them occupied and make the procedure a little more fun for dads too
  • Baby shampoo– Baby shampoos should not have harmful chemicals in them
  • Baby soap– Soap is useful for cleaning dirty or oily areas. That said, you probably don’t need to use it every time
  • Washcloth
  • Baby towel– Baby towels should be soft and large
  • Moisturizer- Bathing and soap can dry up your baby’s skin so you may need to use the moisturizer
  • Nappy rash cream
  • Cotton swabs and pads
  • Baby brush
  • Clean Diaper
  • Clean Clothes

Baby Bath Steps

Below you can see a step by step approach to washing a baby.

STEP 1: Fill the Bathtub With Warm Water

There should be enough water in the tub so that the shoulders of the baby are covered with it. Choose proper water temperature for bathing a baby. The suitable temperature for babies is about 98,6 F (37 C). I use the bath thermometer to get the heat right, but I always double-check with my elbow to make sure that it doesn’t feel too hot.

TIP: If you have separate taps for cold and hot water, then it’s safer first to fill the tub with cold water

STEP 2: How to Hold a Baby When Bathing?

Before placing your newborn into the water for the first time, take a second to think how are you going to hold him or her and is the tub on the right side of you.

You should always keep one hand behind your infant’s head and upper back. It’s best to encircle his or her armpit with your thumb and fingers as seen in the picture below. It’s known as the armpit hold.

Picture showing the armpit hold

It’s more comfortable to hold the baby with your non-dominant hand and use the other one for washing.

STEP 3: Undress Your Baby, Leave the Diaper for Last

STEP 4: Place The Baby Into the Water

Place your newborn into the water feet first and use your dominant hand for cleaning.

TIP: Never leave a baby or a toddler unattended in a bathtub. If you have to go out of the room (even for a couple of seconds), then take your little one out, swaddle him or her in a towel and take with you or place in a crib.

STEP 5: Bathe a Baby

First, clean his or her face with a moist washcloth.

Wash the rest of the body from the top down (finishing with the diaper area) with water. You can usually tell when water isn’t sufficient to clean the creases, and you may have to use baby soap. Just remember that you don’t have to use soap every time because it dries the skin.

Creases need special attention:

  • Behind the ears
  • Around the neck
  • Under the arms
  • Genital area

We left the hair for last because it was easier to rinse it off when taking a newborn out of a tub. You should use a small amount of baby shampoo and massage it over the entire scalp. After that, you can take your little one out of the tub and use the football hold to rinse the hair.

Football hold: Your baby lies on your forearm so that you support his or her head with your hand. You can use the dominant hand to rinse the hair. You can see it in a picture below. If the room isn’t warm enough, it’s better to swaddle the baby so that the head is left out.

Picture showing a man holding a baby on a forearm

STEP 6: Keep Your Baby Warm

When your baby comes out of the tub, wrap her in a soft baby towel and pat him dry.

How to bathe a newborn with an umbilical cord?

As I’ve pointed out, it’s safe to start washing your infant in a tub from day one, but it’s essential to dry the stump properly after the procedure. You may want to use cotton pads to do that.

STEP 7: Special Considerations

If your baby has dry skin or nappy rash, then now is the time to use a moisturizer or a nappy rash cream. You don’t have to bathe your baby every time because the procedure dries the skin of your little one. That said, if you wish to do it (like I did), then it’s best also to use the moisturizer.

STEP 8: Dress your baby (start with the diaper)

STEP 9: Hair & Nails

Studies have shown that combing the hair of a baby is beneficial for the blood flow of his or her scalp. So it’s best to do it every time.

You should keep the nails of your newborn short. For example, our boy had a habit of scratching his cheek and he could have hurt himself.

You should wait two weeks after birth before cutting the nails for the first time because doing it too early can increase the risk of infections.

STEP 10: Clean Up The Mess

If you read about my little mishap, you understand, that it’s best to clean up the mess right away. Place your baby ta a safe place (a crib or a bassinet) and start cleaning (start by first emptying the tub:)

And now…let me make you feel a little better and tell you how not to do it.

How not to Bathe a Baby: Personal Experience:)

At the moment of writing, my boy is already a 16-month-old toddler, and when my little mishap happened, it wasn’t the first time for me to wash him. I even go as far as admitting that I felt quite confident 

I gathered the essentials, prepared a bath following all the best practices and professionally washed him.

„Nothing to it, I’m the king,“ I thought!

Then I tried him up and applied some lotion as he’s got dry skin. I felt even more confident.

„This parenting stuff is easy!“

I don’t have a clue why my boy loves a particular small bottle of zinc diaper rash cream, but it usually keeps him occupied for a long time. So I always let him play with it when changing the diapers and putting on the pajamas.

As it happens, this time I had forgotten the pajamas to another room. No biggie, right? I took the moisturizer, let him keep the zinc cream bottle as I didn’t want him to start crying and went literally for 20 seconds to the next room to get the pajamas. You probably can guess where this is going.

When I returned, I had a jolly little toddler sitting on our couch with both hands covered with zinc cream. I mean, they were really covered with it. But I stayed calm.

„I do 14-hour shifts in the ER department,“ I thought to myself, „no way is this little problem ruining my mojo.“

I grabbed my little buddy and went to the bathroom to contain the damage.

I tried to wash his hands, but the thing with zinc cream…underwater it transforms into this beautiful white paint. So suddenly my hands were also covered from fingertips to elbows with an eerie white substance. My toddler wasn’t any cleaner either.

Pampers full of water

I put him on the floor to first properly wash my hands in the sink. When I turned back, I discovered my boy sitting in the bathtub (yes, I forgot to empty it right after washing) with his diaper.

Fun fact, Pampers diaper full of water weighs 1073g (38oz)…

In five minutes something that began as a father showing off how to correctly wash a toddler morphed into a 2000s family comedy.

I spent the next 30 minutes rewashing my kid, cleaning the tub and the couch. Yes…my boy managed to get some of the zinc paste also on the couch, and it’s one of the hardest things to clean…believe me:)

So what can you learn from my small accident:

1) If you are a dad and nervous about washing your baby for the first time, relax and just do it. You can’t do much worse than me, and all participants are still healthy and breathing:)

2) Double-check that you have all the essentials with you

3) Don’t leave an older baby alone with lotions etc.

4) After washing, it’s a good idea to empty the tub promptly 

5) If you have an old couch, don’t buy a new one as long you have a toddler at home:)

When you start bathing a newborn, you probably need some tips and ideas on how to do it. Click to read first I how I had a small mishap and learn how to wash your baby correctly