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Bathing your newborn baby

Read about bathing your newborn baby: advice on how often you should bathe a newborn, tips on how to do it safely and also alternative approaches.

Bathing your baby can be lovely, although it may feel stressful at first. Some babies take to baths well, others don’t seem to like them and bathtime can be more of a struggle, so you may have to try different methods before you find a way that suits you both.

It's also important that you bath your baby safely. Public Health England (PHE) advises parents to 'never leave a baby or young child unattended in the bath, even just for a moment'. Distractions from the phone, other children or someone at the door are really quick events. What feels like a couple of seconds can be a minute or two, which is easily enough time for significant injuries or drowning to occur.

You might find it helpful to watch this video from NHS Choices about how to bath your baby.

Here we look at the different choices for bathing.

Topping and tailing: bathing your baby

If you are anxious about bathing your baby, you don’t need to put them in the bath until you feel confident. Instead you can ‘top and tail’ them, in other words just wash their face and bottom regularly

1. If you can cope with kneeling, you might want to work on a changing mat on the floor, as you won’t need to worry about your baby rolling off as they get bigger.

2. Wash your baby’s face using cotton wool. Wet each piece of cotton wool in a bowl of warm water, and then squeeze it out so it’s just damp when you use it.

3. Start by wiping each eye with a separate piece, working from the inner corner outwards. Use another piece to wipe around their mouth and nose.

4. Finally, take another piece and clean their ears, neck and face, paying attention to the neck creases where milk and fluff can get trapped.

5. Never put anything like a cotton bud in your baby’s ears or nose; just wipe what you can see. You can then wash their hands and feet, looking out for sharp fingernails. Babies often scratch themselves with these, so you can smoothe them with tiny scissors, or you could bite any scraggy ends off.

6. Finally take off your baby’s nappy and wash their bottom; this is the ‘tailing’. If your baby has a dirty nappy and you want to start with this bit, you’ll need to change the water before you ‘top’.

When you are more confident, you can wash your baby in the main bath or in the sink, or in their own small baby bath. You could also have them in the bath with you.

Remember also that however you wash your baby; you don’t need to use any soap, shampoo or products when they’re very young. Plain water is fine, and safer for your baby’s skin.

Bathing a newborn baby

Bathing can tire newborns out so a bath and feed before bedtime can help them to sleep longer at night. Remember that bathtime will be happier though if your baby is not hungry or too tired. A bath in warm water can also sometimes help to soothe a colicky baby. If you are wondering how often you should bathe a baby: bathing your newborn child a couple of times a week is generally enough to ensure that he or she stays clean. 

Here is a step-by-step guide showing you how to bathe a baby:

1. Get the room warm before you start as babies can get cold quickly.

2. Gather together everything you need before you start the bath, such as towels, cotton wool, a bowl of warm water, clean nappy and clothes.

3. Fill the bath until it has 8-10cm or so of water in it. It’s safer to put cold water in first, or have both taps running at the same time, so the hot water doesn’t heat the bath itself. You can also bath your baby in a sink or baby bath using a similar process.

4. Make sure the bath is body temperature; it shouldn’t feel hot or cold but comfortably warm. The standard way to check is to put your elbow in the water (because your hand can cope with high temperatures).

5. Undress your baby except for their nappy. Some babies dislike being unwrapped, as they can feel unsupported and unsafe. In this case you could keep them swaddled in a towel until the last minute.

6. Wash your baby’s face and bottom - topping and tailing as described above – before you put them in the bath.

7. Lower them slowly into the water so they don’t feel as though they’re falling. It might also help to hold their arms by their sides while you lower them.

8. Lift your baby into the water with one arm behind their shoulders and neck, holding their outside arm with your hand. Place your other hand under their bottom. Once their bottom is resting on the floor of the bath, you can free that hand to wash them.

9. After the bath, when you’re both ready, slip your free arm back under their bottom and hold their legs as they will now be slippery, then lift them out onto the towel.

10. Dry them - paying particular attention to skin folds.

After a bath, is a good time to massage your baby, if you like.

Bathing with your baby

You could also co-bathe – babies love to lie on a parent’s chest in the bath. Bathing with your baby can also help you both relax and encourage breastfeeding.

1. Settle yourself in the bath with the water deep enough to come halfway up your bent legs.

2. Ask your partner to pass you your undressed baby and lay them on your legs facing you.

3. Now you can lower as much of them into the water as you and they want by straightening your legs.

4. You can gently splash the warm water over them to wash them and their hair if you want to.

5. When you want to get out, make sure there is someone to pass your baby to, as it can be difficult to get yourself and your baby out together safely.

Whatever way you decide to bath your baby, as time goes on and you become more confident in handling them, bathtime will hopefully become a happy and fun time together.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

See NHS Choices Birth to Five section.

NHS Choices Interactive Health Tools (child development).

Public Health England (PHE) provides guidelines about bathing children under two safely.