Baby Bath Time: How to Bathe Your Newborn Baby

Giving your baby their first bath can be intimidating, but these simple steps will make you a pro.

Kacie Goff Contributor
Kacie is a contributor to CNET.
Kacie Goff
5 min read
Baby taking bubble bath in a portable tub

The thought of bathing your newborn can be panic-inducing. What if they get too slippery? What if you get soap in their eyes or water up their nose? What if they lose that precious new baby scent? 

Take a deep breath. When you know how to give your baby a bath, the process can be relatively easy -- and maybe even enjoyable for both of you. Here, you'll learn all the must-know info, from what to gather up before bath time to each step of the process. 

Read more: 9 Tips to Help Your Baby Enjoy Baths

When should you bathe a newborn baby? 

Before we talk about how to give your baby a bath, let's talk about when to start. 

While people frequently bathed their newborns immediately, research says that delaying that first bath at least 12 hours after birth could be beneficial for your baby. It can make latching easier when breastfeeding and protects their vernix, a waxy coating on their skin. The World Health Organization recommends waiting at least 24 hours for their first bath. 

You don't need to feel rushed here. Ideally, you should wait until you feel settled at home and have plenty of time to tackle that inaugural bath time. 

As you get ready for the first bath, don't worry. You're not going to be dunking your newborn in water. Until their umbilical stump has fallen off, which usually takes between one and three weeks, they should only get sponge baths. 

baby with a small segment of an umbilical cord

How often do you need to bathe a baby? 

While you might have pictured making bath time part of your daily ritual -- and it will almost certainly get to that point -- your newborn doesn't need a bath every day. Because newborns aren't mobile, they don't get exposed to much dirt or other grime. As long as you thoroughly clean their diaper area each time you change them, they shouldn't get dirty very quickly. Plus, bathing your baby too frequently can dry out their delicate skin. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends bathing your baby three times per week during their first year. Also, if your baby has been circumcised, it's best to stick with sponge baths until their penis has healed unless your doctor advises you otherwise. 

What is the best water temperature for your baby's bath? 

When it comes to figuring out how to give your baby a bath, the water temperature plays a big role. You might even want to invest in a bath thermometer

Generally, you should feel the water with the inside of your wrist as you draw your baby's bath. It should feel warm, not hot. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using water below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This applies to water for a sponge bath or the water you draw for a baby bathtub.

Don't forget the temperature of the bathroom, too. Babies get cold quickly, so you want the room to be warm, if possible. You can turn up the thermostat in or near the bathroom to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

What you'll need for your baby's first bath 

For a sponge bath, you'll want to gather up the necessities before you get started. This makes the process easier for you and your baby, and it can prevent them from getting too cold while you work. 

Before you get started, prepare your bath area. You might lay a blanket or towel down on a hard surface to cushion your baby during their first bath. Then, grab:

  • A big bowl of warm water
  • Gentle baby soap (regular soap can be too harsh for your baby's delicate skin)
  • A baby towel
  • A washcloth
  • A clean diaper for afterward
a mother with a newborn in a portable bath

How to bathe your baby

Now, let's walk through how to give your baby a bath step by step. We'll focus primarily on sponge baths, but we included some considerations for when you move to the baby bathtub, too. 

Get prepared

If you're giving your baby a sponge bath, prepare a cushioned, flat surface. You can use a towel for this. 

If you're using a baby bath, make sure you have everything you need within arm's reach before you get started. Your baby should never be alone in the bath.

Wherever you set up, make the room warm. Again, it should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Ease them in

Your baby will let you know when they're ready to transition from the sponge bath to a baby bath. Even if their umbilical area has healed, if they get ultra fussy in the bath, try sponge baths for a little while longer. When you do move to bathing your child in water, lower them into the water gently and keep the baths brief so they don't get too chilly. 

Keep them warm

As you sponge bathe your baby, keep any areas you're not cleaning wrapped in a towel to keep your baby from getting too cold. Once you move to a baby bathtub, gently splash water over your baby periodically to keep their body temperature up.

Start with their head

Gently wipe your baby's face with a damp, warm washcloth. Don't introduce any soap yet. Be sure to wipe the top of their head, behind their ears, around their eyes, under their chin and in their neck folds. 

Until your baby grows a lot of hair, this wipe-down method should be sufficient. Eventually, you'll want to shampoo their hair with baby shampoo, but doing this too early or too often can remove the oils their scalp needs. You can skip the shampoo while you're sponge bathing, and only introduce it when your baby's hair seems like they really need it. 

Clean their body

Once you have their face and neck cleaned, add a couple of drops of baby soap into your water bowl. Mix it up, wet your washcloth with the sudsy water and wring it out.

Now, gently wipe your baby's body. Pay special attention to their diaper area and under their arms. If they were circumcised, avoid cleaning that area and keep it dry until your doctor says it's okay for them to receive a bath.

Dry them off

Once you've cleaned your baby's whole body, get them into a dry towel. Carefully dry each part, using the towel to gently dry in any folds. 

baby wrapped in a towel being held by a parent

Get them dressed and enjoy

Put your baby in a clean diaper and, if you want, clothes or pajamas. Give your newly cleaned newborn a snuggle. You both did great. 

Figuring out how to give your baby a bath can be intimidating for those first few bath times, but most parents get the hang of it quickly. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to bring them up with your pediatrician. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.