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Bathing a newborn

November 19, 2020 • read

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Bathing a newborn

Bathing a newborn is intimidating. They’re so tiny and helpless that getting them slippery in the bathtub is mildly terrifying for a new parent. With any luck, your labour and delivery nurse or your midwife can walk you through your baby’s first bath. But if you’re here, that probably hasn’t happened (or you’re looking for a refresher). Here’s our step-by-step guide to bathing a newborn baby. Just make sure you read it ahead of time — you’ll need both hands for what you’re about to do!

Do I need a baby bathtub?

A basin or a baby bathtub is nice to have, but not necessary. Most kitchen sinks are perfect swap-ins, as long as they’re clean and thoroughly rinsed of cleanser. But you can also bathe your baby in your usual tub as long as you can hold on to them comfortably — you might have to get into the bath yourself if yours is super deep.

When and how often should I bathe my newborn?

You should first bathe a newborn when they’re a day or two old. How to bathe a newborn baby with an umbilical cord used to mean giving your newborn a sponge bath. But sponge baths increase the risk of heat loss. Most doctors now agree that you can safely tub bathe your baby before they lose their umbilical cord — just make sure to gently pat their cord area dry before dressing them.

While it might work for you, bathing your newborn every day can dry out their skin. As long as you clean your baby’s diaper area thoroughly at each change, you don’t need to bathe them more than a couple of times a week. And here’s a hot tip — if your baby still has vernix on them, there’s no need to wash it off. You can gently rub the vernix into your baby’s skin — it’ll increase its softness.

A step-by-step guide to bathing your newborn

Getting the temperature of your newborn’s bath right is probably the hardest part of the whole process. Newborns get cold easily, so it should be warm. Make it too hot, however, and you risk burning them. To figure out the right temperature, dip the underside of your wrist into the water — it should feel warm, but not hot. But the water temperature isn’t the only thing that should be inviting. You’ll want to make sure that the air temperature of the bathroom is comfortable for your baby too. If it’s on the chilly side, run a hot shower for a few minutes before filling the tub to heat up the room.

Once you’ve checked the water temperature, place the baby in the tub, in about two inches of water. Support their head and neck to keep their ears and face above water and run a clean washcloth under warm water. Use one corner of the washcloth to wipe outward over one eyelid, beginning in the inner corner of your baby’s eye. Use a different corner of the washcloth to do the same to the other eye. Gently wipe the rest of the baby’s face and the folds of their neck with the cloth. Then move on to their hair, body, hands and feet. You can use bath products on a baby whenever you’re ready to bathe them in a tub as long as they’re gentle and perfume-free. Most importantly, always keep one hand on your baby at all times and never leave them unattended in the bathtub, even for a second.

How to bathe a baby boy vs. girl

For boys, you’ll need to clean both their scrotum and penis. If the boy is newly-circumcised, soap will sting the circumcision wound, so best to use only water until it’s healed. If the boy is uncircumcised, you can use non-irritating soap and water, but there’s no need to pull back his foreskin. This typically doesn’t retract until a boy turns five — or later.

For baby girls, warm water and non-irritating soap are sufficient for cleaning the genitals. There’s no need to clean inside the vagina as it is self cleaning. And always make sure you clean (and wipe) baby girls front to back, to avoid bringing bacteria into the vagina.

What to do if baby hates the bath

If your baby freaks out the minute they’re in the bath, try getting into the tub with them. Bathing together can be a nice time for doing skin-to-skin and both parents can take turns. You can even nurse in the bath (though this might mean cleaning baby poop out of the bath).

If you find that your baby loves her bath and cries when you take her out of it, it might be because she’s cold. If you’re wrapping her up in a tiny, thin baby towel, try a large, fluffy adult one instead. And if that still doesn’t work, throw one in the dryer ahead of time so it’s still warm when her bath finishes.

The first bath you give your newborn can be stressful, but it’ll quickly become routine. Ask your partner, a family member or friend to help, but know that as long as you never leave your newborn unattended (even for a second) and make sure they stay warm, it’ll be a success. You might even find that it becomes one of your favourite activities to do together.

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