How to give your newborn a bath

By: Lisa van de Geyn

Photography by Michael Alberstat Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Michael Alberstat


How to give your newborn a bath

By: Lisa van de Geyn
Most parents have a slew of questions about how to properly wash their infant. (How warm should the water be? Are babies slippery?) So we asked Kimberley Healey-Fernandez, a certified labour and postpartum doula and founder of the Toronto Doula Group, for step-by-step instructions on how to make bath time a relaxing experience for everyone.

Do babies need to be bathed every day?

No, they don't. As Healey-Fernandez explains, the only part of a baby to get dirty every day is being cleaned six to eight times per day with diaper changes. 'Babies have natural oils in their skin and scalp, so we don't want to constantly be washing them and drying out their skin,' she says. 'A good rule of thumb is to bathe her every other day, and to wash her hair every other bath to prevent cradle cap (scaly patches on a baby's scalp).'

When is the best time to bathe a baby?

It is fine any time of day, but Healey-Fernandez suggests it be part of an evening routine. 'A bath can calm and relax a baby for a good night's sleep.''
Sponge baths
Many parents prefer this method until their baby's umbilical cord stump falls off, but Healey-Fernandez says the stump can be submerged, just make sure the area is dried off completely after the bath.

You'll need: a flat surface near a sink or basin of warm water, a small bowl of more warm water beside the sink, a cup, mild soap, washcloths, a hooded towel and a large receiving blanket, as well as clean clothes and a fresh diaper nearby. 'Get everything you need before you start, because if you forget something and you're alone, you can't leave the baby unattended,' says Healey-Fernandez. Remember to keep one hand on your baby at all times.

1. Undress the baby (leaving her diaper on), lay her on her back and wrap her in the blanket. 'Babies can get cold quickly, so whatever part isn't being washed should remain covered,' says Healey-Fernandez.

2. Starting with her head and face, and using warm water and a washcloth without soap, clean from the inside to the outside corners of each eye (using a different part of the cloth for the right and left sides). Clean her ears the same way. 'Never go deeper than the surface,' says Healey-Fernandez, 'even if she has vernix (a waxy substance common to newborns) in her ears. You don't want to push anything in even deeper.'

3. To wash her hair, rub a little water and a drop of mild baby shampoo on her head. Using a football hold, position the baby over the sink or basin and rinse the shampoo out using a cup of warm water or a damp washcloth.

After her hair is washed, dry her completely before moving onto cleaning underneath her neck, where—as you've probably already noticed—remnants of breast milk or formula can collect.

5. To clean the rest of her, Healey-Fernandez suggests placing her on a flat surface (whether it's her play mat or the bedroom floor) in a warm room, then using a damp washcloth to wipe her chest and under arms. Afterward rinse and pat dry, then cover her with the blanket, taking off her diaper and moving onto the lower part of her body, paying special attention to skin folds and genitals. Don't forget to wash between tiny fingers and toes.

Submersion baths

When your baby is old enough for submersion baths, start by filling an infant tub or sink with warm water—just two or three inches (five to eight centimetres) is enough. Test the temperature with your forearm—it should be warm to the touch, not hot. 'Babies love warm water. It may even remind them of being in utero which, for them, is very calming, especially in those first few days and weeks,' says Healey-Fernandez.

1. Start by doing everything the same way you did with the sponge bath. After you've washed her face and head, unwrap her—supporting her upper back and neck with your forearm and lifting her lower half with your free hand—and place her in the warm water.

2. Use a mild baby soap to wash her from top to bottom. For her back and buttocks, lean her forward, supporting her chin and chest on one arm, then wash those areas with the other hand.

3. Dry each area well, especially the folds. If you choose to use a lotion on your baby, be sure to choose a hypoallergenic one that's made for babies.

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How to give your newborn a bath