Ask the experts: How to bathe my newborn

Baby’s first bath is a big milestone for you and your little one, but it can encourage a lot of concerns and challenges. Allow yourself to unlock the beauty of bathtime by following our expert guide…

Is it time to bathe your baby? Don’t worry if you’re feeling a bit nervous. While your little one’s first bath will indeed be a moment to treasure for many years to come, it’s not unusual to feel a sense of trepidation at first. Will little one scream with delight, or just scream relentlessly? How should you support your baby? And what happens if you don’t get the water temperature just right? This milestone bonding ritual comes with a lot of questions about how to do it well. So, to help put anxious minds at rest, we’ve discussed some of the most common concerns with midwife and expectant mum-of-two, Katie Benyohai, of Better Births Antenatal Classes. Read on for her must-know baby bathing advice. 

When should I bathe my baby? 

You want baby to be clean, but you don’t want to over-wash sensitive skin, so when should you run that all-important first bath? “Your newborn baby’s skin is incredibly delicate, so it’s important that the top layer of skin is not disturbed by excessive washing in the first few weeks of life,” says Katie. “It’s best to wait until the cord has fallen off before you give your baby their first bath. And when bathing baby, ensure that you’re using only warm water for their first bath. Doing this protects the top layer of skin and reduces the likelihood of skin conditions, including eczema, later in life.” There’s no need to bathe baby everyday, but you may choose to ‘top and tail’ your little one in between baths by washing their face, neck, hands and bottom with a moist cotton pad. 

Do I need a baby bath seat? 

There seems to be an endless amount of accessories you can get for baby’s bath time, but which ones are worth the expense? “A bath seat can be useful, especially with newborn babies who tend to be very slippery when wet,” advises Katie, who adds that you don’t actually need too many gadgets at all. “All you need is a clean bath, sink or washing up bowl, warm water, a warm towel, and a fresh nappy and clothes nearby. Your baby will enjoy watching your face and reactions, so interact with them throughout!’

How warm should the bath be? 

Is the water too hot, too cold, or just right? That’s the question that plagues every parent. “A safe bath temperature is around 37°C, and you can get newborn bath thermometers that have a really useful visual guide,” explains Katie. No temperature gauge to hand? Check the temperature with your wrist or elbow, and mix it well to ensure that there aren’t any hot patches. 

Be sure to keep your baby warm after bathing, too. “Their body temperature can drop very quickly,” Katie adds. “Ensure the room is comfortably warm, that you bathe baby for five to ten minutes and have a warm towel ready to transfer them into following the bath.” 

Why does my baby cry when taking a bath? 

The bath is ready and the camera is on standby, so it can be disheartening if your little one starts screaming, but it’s in fact completely normal. “Try interacting with your baby, playing some calming music or singing. It’s also best to bathe your baby following a feed, so that they’re awake and not hungry. Lastly, if you’ve tried all of this and your baby still doesn't enjoy bath time, you could try bathing together and allowing them to enjoy skin-to-skin contact in the bath.’

How to bathe baby: a step-by-step guide 

Follow midwife Katie’s top tips to help your baby have a calm and enjoyable first bath... 

1) Lay everything you’ll need next to the bath so that you can easily reach it, and ensure that the room is comfortably warm.

2) Fill the baby bath, clean the washing up bowl or kitchen sink with around five-ten cm of warm water. Remember, the water should be warm and not hot. Test the temperature and ensure that you mix the water so that there aren’t any hot spots.

3) Undress and gently lower your little one into the water, holding them under their knees and supporting their shoulders and neck. Make sure that you support your baby’s head and shoulders with one arm at all times.

4) Start by cleaning your baby’s face with a soft sponge. To clean their eyes, use cooled, boiled water (already prepared and waiting in a bowl nearby). Dip a cotton wool ball in the water, swipe from the inside of the eye outwards. Discard that ball and repeat with a new one for the other eye. 

5) Wash your baby’s hair by squeezing a sponge gently over their head reclining your baby will ensure the water runs backwards rather than over their face. Use a towel to gently dry your baby’s hair before continuing. 

6) Using a soft cloth or sponge, gently wash your baby’s body. Pay attention to the creases of your baby’s neck, armpits and groin, where dirt can get trapped.

7) Gently swish the water around your baby without splashing. Sing to them, make eye contact and relax as much as possible.

8) After five to ten minutes, take your baby out of the bath and wrap them in a warm, soft towel (our Little Roary bamboo snood is a pretty adorable choice) to keep them cosy and temperate. Dry them by gently patting their skin, rather than rubbing it.

9) Now is a great time to give your baby a gentle massage using a natural oil, and to encourage some nappy-free time.

10) Put a clean nappy on your baby and enjoy some skin-to-skin contact. Dress them whenever you’re both ready and make sure the scene is set for a cosy bedtime routine.

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