squeaky clean: managing those first baths

Dad cuddling his baby after their first bath

While your newborn is experiencing the world for the first time, they're not the only one learning new skills. On day one, you'll start figuring out how to hold and feed baby, then you'll tackle the task of dressing their tiny wriggly limbs. When you leave the hospital, you'll clip them in their car seat for the first time (then fist pump the air once you've mastered that fiddly task).

After about a week at home, it's time to begin thinking about baby's first bath (eek). But don't worry: like every other parenting milestone you hit during those first months, bathing a newborn only seems scary because you haven't done it yet. Once I got used to seeing my little one in the water, the routine became easier and easier.

Knowing what to expect – and knowing that you're doing it safely – means you'll soon feel like an expert in baby bathing.

when should you first bathe a newborn?

It's best to wait until their umbilical stump falls off, which usually takes about a week. Until then, just 'top and tail' your new arrival. This means gently washing their face, neck and nappy area with cotton wool dipped in a little bit of warm water, using a clean piece for each part of their face and body.

how often should you wash them?

Aside from the obvious messes newborns create, they don't tend to get too mucky. Once they're ready for proper baths, you don't have to do it every day. Two or three times a week will keep them nice and clean.

where should you bathe them?

Choose a room with a splash-proof floor – like the kitchen or bathroom – and make sure it's warm, with no pesky drafts sneaking in. When you lift your little one out of the water, their bodies lose heat quickly, so make sure bath time happens in a warm room. This way, there's a bit less urgency to get them dried and dressed.

Mum bathing her newborn baby

what do you need?

A baby bath is a good starting point; it keeps your little one comfortable and is much easier to use when they’re still quite small. You can use an adult bath instead, but you’ll need a bath support and anti-slip mat to keep them safe. Once baby is in the tub, you mustn’t leave them alone, even for a second, so make sure you have all the necessary tools within grabbing distance before you begin.

Next on the checklist is toiletries. You can use newborn-specific shampoo and baby wash but you only need a tiny amount and should always rinse well with plain warm water. It’s also handy to have a barrier cream within reach. Gently smooth some on after you’ve patted your baby dry to help keep their little bottom free of nappy rash.

how warm should the bath be?

When you're finally ready to run that bath, reach for your thermometer. The water needs to be around 37 degrees C – roughly body temperature. If you don't have a thermometer, you can check by dipping your elbow in the bath. The skin here is thicker than your hand, so if it's too hot for you, it's definitely too toasty for baby! Take your cues from Goldilocks: the water shouldn't feel hot or cold – it should be just right.

Oh, and make sure the bath is fully run before popping baby in. Tap water can change temperature, so – to avoid any surprising cold or warm patches – run your hand through the whole bath before placing baby in.

what happens once the bath is over?

You should have a fluffy towel, a nappy and a clean vest or bodysuit to hand. Babies can't regulate their body temperature, so they get cold very quickly. Having the post-bath bits and bobs all ready on a changing mat means you won't be in a flap, clutching a wet and screaming newborn. Then you can simply lay your little down on the towel to dry them off before getting them dressed. Just be sure to check you haven't missed any of their little creases, like the top of their legs and under their neck. Once cosy, they'll be ready for a cuddle and maybe a feed while you hope for a well-earned break on the sofa!


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