february 2023

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Bath a Newborn Baby

Our expert midwives have given you all the advice you need to give your newborn baby their first bath with complete confidence.

10 min read Jayne Airey baby Recommended Products
A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Bath a Newborn Baby

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As midwives with many years of experience supporting new parents, we know that bathing your newborn baby can be exciting and scary!

In this article, we will guide you step-by-step so you can feel confident about the following:

  • When to give baby their first bath
  • How often to bathe your baby
  • Giving your baby a sponge bath or ‘top-and-tail’
  • How to bath your baby safely from the first bath
  • Bathing with your baby in a bathtub

We will also look at your baby’s skin and microbiome and how you can help protect these by:

The newborn baby's skin

Many parents ask their midwives, family, and friends when to give their baby their first bath and how to bathe their newborn. Before we answer these questions, it is helpful to know that a newborn baby’s skin differs from an adult’s in three main ways:

  1. It is at least 30% thinner
  2. It dries out more quickly and has lower moisturising properties
  3. A newborn’s skin surface has a neutral pH (6.3-7.5) and takes around two weeks to fall to pH 5, similar to an adult's. This is known as the acid mantle, which helps to promote the development of your baby’s skin flora and microbiome

Read more about how baby skin differs from adult skin here.

The microbiome

Everyone has skin flora and a microbiome which live in our gut and on our skin, as well as other areas of the body. The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, which help to protect us from diseases and infections throughout our lives.

Vernix Caseosa

When babies are born, they may have a creamy substance called vernix caseosa on their skin. Vernix protects against infection, decreases water loss, moisturises, and facilitates skin microbiome development.

Vernix is quickly absorbed, and the baby needs to develop their skin microbiome to protect them from the outside world. They develop this through contact with their environment and from skin-to-skin contact with those around them, usually their parents.

Bathing can disrupt the microbiome

Washing your baby can disrupt the development of their skin flora and microbiome. To avoid disrupting this process, wait at least 24 hours before bathing your new baby.

However, if you need to bathe your newborn for cultural or religious reasons, aim to wait at least 6 hours.

A sponge bath or top-and-tail wash is enough in those first few days. Over the following weeks, a maximum of 2 or 3 baths a week is sufficient unless your baby is visibly dirty.

Our step-by-step guides below will take you through the following:

  • How to top-and-tail your baby
  • How to bathe your baby safely in a baby bath
  • How to bathe together with your baby

Baby sponge bath or top-and-tail wash

A top and tail wash - also known as a sponge bath - is a handy way to wipe away those milk dribbles and deal with those inevitable nappy explosions. This type of wash also allows the umbilical cord stump to dry and drop off.

Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Gather together the following:
    • Cotton pads
    • A sponge
    • A bowl of warm water
    • A mild cleanser
    • A clean nappy
    • A nappy bag
    • Clean clothes
    • Towels
  3. Start by washing your baby's face. Use plain warm water and a clean cotton pad for each eye (this reduces the chance of cross infection) and sweep over the closed eye starting from the nose
  4. Using a fresh pad, wipe around the face, avoiding the eyes. Clean around the ears (never inside the nose or ear canal) and under the chin. Pat dry
  5. You may apply a thin layer of our Totally Immense Dribble Defence to your baby’s chin, cheeks and neck, especially if they’ve got dribble rash
  6. Check the baby's hands for hair wrapped around a finger which may become sore. Wipe with a damp sponge or cloth, and dry
  7. Remove the nappy and then thoroughly cleanse the nappy area using a damp sponge or cloth. Pat dry and apply a thin film of our award-winning No Harm Bum Balm nappy rash cream

Your baby's first bath

Giving your baby their first bath is a memorable experience. Here are a few tips to make it more enjoyable for all involved:

  • Have an extra pair of hands the first few times so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming
  • Choose a time when your baby is calm and at least half an hour after a feed so their tummy has settled down
  • Decide where you are going to bath your baby. You may feel safer sitting on the floor or standing up, with the baby bath in a sink or on a worktop surface
  • Ensure the room is warm, as babies quickly lose heat. Clear any trip hazards, and never leave your baby unattended
  • Be prepared for your baby to cry initially. This is normal. Talk or sing to them to help soothe them

How to safely bath a newborn in 8 steps

Follow our steps to bathe a newborn safely, and you will soon feel confident and enjoy this bonding time with your baby.

  1. Wash your hands and gather everything together. You will need: cotton pads, a sponge, a clean nappy, clothes, and two towels (warm up on a radiator)
  2. Using a jug, fill the baby bathtub with cold water and then hot until the bath water feels warm (between 37°-38°C on the baby thermometer). Use your wrist or elbow to check. When using a sink, finish with cold water to cool the taps
  3. Place your non-dominant arm under your baby, so their head and neck rest in the crook of your elbow and hold their upper arm. Use your other hand to hold your baby's legs and nappy area. Slowly introduce your baby into the water, keeping their head clear
  4. Wash your baby with a sponge. Remember to clean under their armpits and into creases around their legs and neck. Refer to the steps in the sponge bath guide above to clean their face. Talking or singing helps to relax both you and your baby
  5. After a few minutes, carefully lift your baby out onto a warm towel. Wrap up and dry thoroughly
  6. Before replacing their nappy, apply a thin film of No Harm Bum Balm nappy cream
  7. Remember to have skin-to-skin with your baby for a few minutes to encourage the repopulation of their skin’s microbiome
  8. Then apply our Super Settle Moisture Milk to keep your baby’s skin soft and smooth before dressing

How to bathe a newborn baby with you in a bathtub

Thinking about bathing with your newborn baby together in the bathtub? It definitely helps to have an extra pair of hands!

Follow these steps:

  1. Fill the tub with warm water (37°-38°C) and add some Mega Mild Cleansing Wash if you wish to
  2. Lower yourself into the bath first and let your partner place your baby onto your abdomen, facing you
  3. Make sure your baby's face is out of the water
  4. To help your baby feel safe, place your hands on their back and nappy area
  5. Your partner can gently swirl the water and use a sponge to cleanse them
  6. After a few minutes, your partner can lift your baby up and into a warm towel. This is an excellent opportunity to do skin-to-skin contact
  7. Finish by massaging some of our Mega Mild Cleansing Wash, into your baby’s skin

Safety considerations

Water temperature

  • Add cold water first, then hot water and mix well so your baby is not touching a hot surface
  • If using a sink with mixer taps, rerun cold water to cool the faucet and then place a cloth over it
  • Check the temperature with your wrist, elbow, or baby bath thermometer. It should feel warm but not hot (37°-38°C)

Other safety considerations

  • Never leave your baby unattended. Your focus should be on your baby. If you need to leave the room, take your baby with you
  • If you feel unwell, bath time can wait
  • If you live in an older house with lead water pipes, run the water until it is clear

Always use the mildest baby skincare products

A newborn’s skin benefits from minimal cleansing in those first days and weeks to reduce the drying effects and aid the development of their skin microbiome. We recommend waiting at least 24 hours before washing your newborn and giving a top-and-tail wash in the first days to allow time for the umbilical cord stump to dry and drop off.

There is no need to bathe your baby every day. A maximum of 2-3 baths a week are sufficient unless your baby is visibly dirty.

Our newborn skincare collection has been specially formulated by our expert midwives to protect the gentlest newborn skin. Explore the range today.