Bath time basics
Bath time can be a great time to bond with your baby. A bath isn’t necessary more than every two to three days, until the child is crawling around and getting into messes. However, it is important to wash the baby’s face, hands and neck frequently (at least once or twice each day) with plain warm water and thoroughly clean the diaper area after each diaper change.
When you do bathe your baby, keep a firm grip on your wiggly little one who is all soapy and slippery. Bathe the baby in a warm room free from drafts. Be sure to collect all the supplies you will need in advance and keep them within reach. These include: warm water, mild soap/shampoo, a washcloth, two towels and a clean diaper. Make sure to keep your full attention on your baby during bath time. Do not use the phone, TV or computer during bath time.
New babies need sponge baths only until the umbilical cord falls off and circumcision heals (for boys) in order to keep these areas free from infection and allow them to stay dry and heal.
- Fill a small basin with warm water. The water should feel warm, not hot, when tested with your wrist. Babies like cooler water than adults (about 90 degrees). Lay your baby on a soft towel or blanket. Keep the baby covered to stay warm.
- Dip a corner of the washcloth in plain warm water and squeeze out the excess. Wipe the eye from the inside corner to the corner away from the nose. Repeat on the other eye with a clean corner of the washcloth.
- With the clean, damp washcloth, continue to wash the baby’s face. Do not use soap on the baby’s face. Wash one side at a time to avoid covering the baby’s face, which may frighten the baby. Wash baby’s ears as well. Do not use cotton swabs inside baby’s ears. Dry using a soft towel.
- Uncover the chest and stomach area. Use a mild soap and wash the neck, chest, back, arms and hands. Rinse with clear water. Dry with a soft towel and re-cover these areas with a dry towel/blanket.
- Uncover and wash baby’s legs and feet. Make sure to get into all the creases, under arms, and between fingers and toes. Dry well.
- Remove baby’s diaper and wash the area front to back. Rinse well, dry and reapply a clean diaper.
Uncircumcised boys: The uncircumcised penis does not require any special care. Do not force the foreskin back; it is still attached to the glans (head) of the penis. This will detach as the baby grows. Clean with mild soap and water.
Circumcised boys: Clean the area by squeezing clear water over the penis until the area heals (about five to 10 days). Starting 24 hours after the circumcision, you should push the skin down the shaft of the penis gently with each diaper change, to prevent scar tissue from forming. The head of the penis may be very red initially. As it heals, a yellowish-white tissue may form. Do not try to wash this off; it is normal healing tissue. If there is a pus-like discharge, call the pediatrician. Any mild bleeding should stop within 24 hours. If you notice more than a few drops of blood, apply gentle pressure and call your pediatrician. Until the penis heals, place a quarter-size amount of A&D ointment on a 2x2 gauze pad over the penis after each diaper change as instructed in the hospital; this helps keep the penis from sticking to the diaper. Once the area heals, bathe with soap and water as usual.
Baby girls: Baby girls may have a cheesy film covering the inner folds of the labia. It is not necessary to remove all of this when bathing. It is normal for girls to have some white or pink mucous discharge from the vagina in the first several weeks. Spread the labia and gently wash front to back. Use a clean part of the washcloth for each wipe to avoid the risk of infection. Be sure to rinse well and dry.
Shampooing baby’s hair
Always wash the hair last to prevent baby from getting too cold. Swaddle and hold your baby securely in the football hold with the head tilted slightly downward over the basin, tub or sink. Wet the hair with clean warm water. Apply a small amount of tearless shampoo/baby wash. Rub with a firm but gentle motion, keeping the shampoo out of baby’s eyes. Rinse with clear, warm water. Towel dry well, and brush or comb as desired.
Umbilical cord care
The umbilical cord usually falls off within seven to 21 days. It is important to keep the area clean and dry. Make sure to fold the diaper down to leave the cord open to air. There may be a few drops of blood if the area gets irritated or as the cord separates from the skin. Never try to pull the cord off. Watch for any signs of infection, such as redness, green or pus-like discharge, foul odor, or if the cord gets soft and mushy. If your baby develops any of these, contact your pediatrician. Do not give your baby a tub bath until the cord falls off and the scab inside the bellybutton heals.