How To Bathe A Newborn: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide


If you’re a new parent or a new mom looking for a step-by-step guide on how to bathe a newborn via sponge bath/ tub bath/ swaddle bath, then this ultimate guide is for you.

This article will cover the basics and safety tips on bathing your baby, as well as the 3 ways on how to give your baby a bath. I have also provided some step-by-step guides on what to do when your baby poops while bathing them! 

Yup, that happens. I should know, my baby did it twice.

I will also cover some common questions that new parents have before bathing their newborns.

Let’s start with some FAQs first on how to bathe a newborn baby for the first time.

Jump to FAQ | Safety Baby Bath Tips | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

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List of Contents

Common Questions On How To Bathe A Newborn

When to give your newborn a bath?

According to the AWHONN guidelines, the first bath should occur between 6 and 24 hours after birth, and up to 48 hours your child was delivered by the cesarian section.

This is done for a number of reasons. One of which is to maintain the temperature of your infant and to leave the vernix (a natural moisturizer that protects against infections) on the skin for at least 6 hours. 

I think the moment you’re discharged and your doctor and/or primary nurse gives you the green light is when you should give your newborn a bath.

How long should a newborn’s bathtime be?

It’s a teeny, tiny human being so there’s not much to clean. 

5 minutes or so would be enough. Anything longer than 10 minutes would be overdoing it, making your newborn feel cold or worse.

If it’s your first time and your baby seems comfortable, then it’s okay if you go longer than 10 minutes. It’s perfectly understandable as you’re quite new to it but try to keep it as short as possible.

How often should I bathe my newborn baby?

Based on popular recommendations, it’s best to give them a sponge bath at least 2x to 3x a week – while their umbilical cord is still attached and if their circumcision hasn’t healed yet (for boys).

But honestly, it’s entirely up to you.

When to start bathing a baby daily?

There are no hard rules about it as most of the time, the decision to bathe your baby daily can be based on a number of factors: climate, infant’s needs, family beliefs, cultural values, etc.

However, studies suggest and based on popular opinion, you can start giving your newborn their daily baths once their umbilical cord falls out and their circumcision heals (for boys).

Giving a daily bath to newborns might dry out their skin and getting their umbilical cord and circumcision wound might cause infections.

Until then, you can give your newborn a bath at least 2-3 times a week.

But again, it also depends on personal preference.

Personally, I gave a bath to my newborn every day and she had no issues or whatsoever.

If your newborn has eczema, it’s best to consult your pediatrician on when to give a daily bath.

Where to bathe your newborn?

The perfect place to give your newborn a bath is:

  • Somewhere warm
  • Where you can comfortably hold your baby in a stable position
  • Optional yet best would be is where there’s enough space for you to put and wrap your baby in a dry blanket
  • No chance of you or the baby slipping
  • No pets can go near your baby or baby’s essentials

I added that last part because, as a new and frantic mom then, my cat came in contact with my newborn’s clothes while I was giving my newborn a bath then proceeded to lie down on it.

But I digress. You don’t need to necessarily bathe your baby in a bathroom or the kitchen sink.

The bottom line is, just as long as the room is warm, the baby won’t feel cold, you feel comfortably safe holding and drying your baby, then any place should be fine.

Personally, I used our dining table which I thoroughly cleaned, before and after bathing. 

I lay down some huge towels covering the area, making it non-slippery for the bathtub and I made sure that our cats were inside their cages. I learned my lesson the hard way.

When is the best time to bathe a baby – at night or day?

That entirely depends on you. 

Some parents like giving their newborns morning baths while some prefer it to be part of a calming bedtime ritual.

As long as you don’t feel rushed and your baby is calm (or seems like it! kidding) then any part of the day should be fine.

Should I bathe my baby before or after a feeding?

It’s recommended to bathe your newborn first then give them a feeding.

But some parents prefer to give feeding and then a bath 30 minutes after. If the babies spit while bathing then it’s easier to clean them up.

Is a sponge bath good enough?

Based again on popular opinion and some studies, yes, a sponge bath can be good enough, especially if your baby hates bathing in a tub.

But there’s been some research lately about how sponge baths can actually be more stressful for the whole family. Most babies cry during their sponge bath, making it a distressing time for parents as well.

A bathing option called swaddle immersion bath, seems to be the better option, according to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Women’s Care Unit in Colorado, USA, and a whole lot of other hospitals.

It’s also recommended for preterm babies, as based on the research review company from New Zealand’s leading specialists.

A swaddle immersion bath is basically giving a swaddled baby a bath in the tub. Yes, that’s right, you put them in a tub with water, completely swaddled.

Here’s a demo of how it looks like:

Here’s more:

Which is blowing my mind because I have never seen this bathing technique! Not until I was doing my research for this article! 

I feel like this should be the standard way to give newborns a bath.

I wished I knew about this. I did the traditional bath, bathing her in a bathtub without the swaddle. Which my newborn hated initially. 

But I discovered a trick – she stopped crying when I started singing to her! Also, I noticed a draft coming into the room and once I’ve taken care of that, my baby started enjoying her traditional bath.

Here’s some water and washing related Q&A on how to bathe a baby

How much water should I put in the baby’s bath?

Just enough for washing and rinsing. You don’t need to fill the tub with too much water. 

You can pour in at least 2 inches or 5 cm of warm water.

What I’d do before is I’d have a container of warm water beside the tub so I can just readily reach it and pour it in if I need more water for my baby’s bathtub.

That container is also part of my “poop paraphernalia” so that was quite helpful.

What should be the water temperature for a baby bath?

A water temperature that ranges from 38°C (100.4°F) to less than 40°C22 (104°F) would be best.

Also, make sure that you’re in warm room temperature of about 26°C (78.8°F) to 28°C (82.4°F). Close doors or windows that might cause air currents or cold drafts that can make your newborn uncomfortable.

Should I shampoo my newborn’s hair?

Not a daily requirement but yes if you have a very hairy baby. 

Mine came out with a full thick hair and we have a hot and humid climate here so washing her hair became a necessity.

But you can also just wash their hair for only 2x to 3x a week.

If your baby has a cradle cap, please consult your doctor on how often to wash or shampoo their hair. 

What if my baby pees or poops when bathing?

Ah yes, I remember when mine pooped in the middle of her bath. Experience then was my very best teacher.

Check out my baby bathing essentials here which includes a “poop paraphernalia” and here’s what I did when my kid pooped during her bath.

Check out a few questions about baby bath essentials and products

What type of baby tub is best?

The usual baby bathtub with BPA-free materials, with non-slip features and as its own removable infant support should do.

But of course, that depends on your preference and where you’re giving your newborn a bath.

There are bathtubs that can fit in sinks, bathtubs with stands, a bathtub that comes with the whole shebang – diaper changing table, cabinet, etc.

Just think of your available space. And if you’re okay with using a tub only for the baby phase or you want something big enough for a more mobile baby or toddler.

Is it okay to use baby powder, lotion, or baby oil on my baby?

It depends on you. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if your baby’s skin is very sensitive.

Lotions are not really necessary, (unless your newborn’s skin is very dry) and the AAP even recommends avoiding the use of baby powder on your newborn.

I personally never used any products on my kid, other than her baby soap/ shampoo and her skin was fine.

Jump to FAQ | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

Safety Baby Bath Tips on How To Bathe A Newborn

Choose a spacious bathing place

Ideally large enough to place the bathtub and still have space to undress/ dress your baby.

What I did initially when we were staying with my in-laws was place the bath tub on the dining table then drag the pack n play beside the table.

That way, I can immediately transfer my baby from the pack n play to the tub and vice versa.

When we got home, I used our entire dining table to bathe my newborn. Everything was on it – tub, towel, dry place to undress and dress my baby, “poop paraphernalia” and her clothing and diapering essentials.

If you really don’t have enough space, don’t worry, there’s still a way to cover and dry your baby. 

Which I’ll explain later on, under the step-by-step guide on how to bathe your newborn.

Visualize and practice the whole bathing process

I know this sounds crazy but hear me out.

Everything might sound safe and okay on paper, but that might not be the case when you’re actually giving your baby a bath.

The floor might be too slippery, your baby’s towels might be too far away to reach, there might not be enough space to turn around, there might be a cold draft, etc.

You might find it less comfortable to give your baby a bath in the bathroom. You might find it better on the dining table or inside their bedroom, or you might prefer to get those tables that changed into a bathtub and so on.

So before you actually give your baby a bath, try visualizing and doing every baby bathing step. 

You can try it out with a doll or without but at least, have a sort of bathing test drive. You don’t need to do this every time to give your newborn a bath of course.

You just need to do it once, before actually giving your baby a bath. Just so you can gauge and change things up if anything doesn’t seem to go as planned and have a less worrisome and less stressful bathing time.

Secure pets using leashes or keep them inside their cages

I used to give my newborn a bath on the dining table and I almost had a heart attack when my cat decided to jump on my newborn’s clean, dry towel and clothes and lie down there.

So learn from my experience. Don’t forget to lock away your pets, just for a short time, so you can bathe your newborn in peace.

Make sure that the infant support or cradle is stable

The last thing you want to happen is for it to suddenly fall with your baby on it. So test it out, tug at the corners, see if it’s loose or too slippery, check if it can carry weight similar to your baby, etc.

Put in some towels in the bathtub if necessary

If you’re quite nervous about your baby slipping from your hands, put a large towel on their infant support or inside the bathtub.

NEVER EVER LEAVE YOUR BABY ALONE DURING BATH TIME

If the phone rings, if someone is by the door and you need to urgently attend to it, etc., wrap your baby and bring them with you. 

Babies can drown within seconds in the tub. So please, even if your baby seems safe in their infant support or cradle, please, never, ever leave them on their own.

Don’t let other children supervise your baby

I know you think you might have a very mature 5-year old that can look after the baby for a few seconds while you answer the door but please don’t take this risk.

Just bring your baby with you, if needed. 

Always have one hand on your baby

Use one hand to reach for bathing essentials, clothes, towels but always have one hand supporting your baby. 

Always check the water temperature

Make sure that the water is warm, not hot. 

Water temperature that ranges 38°C (100.4°F) to less than 40°C22 (104°F) should be okay.

The old practice is to put in your elbow but I don’t really buy that. I think testing it out with your hand and wrist is the best way to see if the water is too hot or even slightly cold.

You can also buy a baby bathtub thermometer but honestly, I don’t think you really need one.

However, there’s nothing wrong with having it, especially if you’re quite nervous about giving your baby a bath.

Jump to FAQ | Safety Baby Bath Tips | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

Essentials for Bathing a Newborn Baby

You’d need the following items prepared before giving your newborn a bath:

  • Bathtub with infant support
  • Hooded towel
  • Baby soap/ shampoo If you want, you can prepare a drop of shampoo or soap and place it in a small bowl or container, so you don’t need to open the bottle. 
  • 2 washcloths 1st towel for your baby’s face or you can opt for some cotton balls or cotton pad in a separate clean bowl with warm water, to use for their face.  2nd towel is for cleaning your baby’s body and/or covering them up when they’re cold. You can put both towels in the bathtub or separate one towel in another small bowl, to use on their face, your choice.
  • Clothes + diaper + diaper rash cream

That’s it, you don’t need that much.

Now the ones below (which I call “poop paraphernalia”) are not required but it’s good to be always prepared when your baby poops, in the middle of the bath:

  • Extra towel (must be okay to be covered with poop)
  • Extra washcloths
  • Plastic bags
  • Baby wet wipes
  • A large basin
  • Container with warm water

It’s better if all these essentials are right beside your baby’s bathtub. But if you don’t have the space, make sure that you can at least easily reach for the extra towel, the designated “poop” towel.

Now let’s get on with the steps on how to bathe your newborn baby.

How To Bathe A Newborn in a BathTub: A Step By Step Guide

Now assuming you’ve done all the safety tips, it’s time to bathe your newborn baby. Here’s how to bathe your newborn in the bathtub:

Hold your baby gently and securely

Wrap them first in a towel then hold them like you’re holding a football in your arm – your arm supporting their body and your hand cradling their head and neck.

You can hold them like that for the first couple of weeks since they’re super small.

But if yours is on the heavy side, you can also just cradle the normal way or put them somewhere safe and dry.

Clean their eyes first then their whole face

You can use some cotton balls or cotton pads or washcloth, whichever you prefer. 

I used a few cotton balls which I placed in a separate bowl of warm water. One for each eye and even for their whole face.

Clean the corners of their eyes first – wipe gently from the inside to the outside corners. Then wipe their face.

Undress them quickly

Assuming you have some space right next to the bathtub (where you can safely put your baby), place them down there then quickly unwrap and undress them.

Their diapers should come off last. If they just peed or poop, clean them up first before submerging them in the tub.

If your baby’s tub is in another room, check first if they pooped or peed, clean them up then wrap them again in a towel and carry them to the tub.

Unwrap them using your free hand while keeping the other supporting them at all times. Lean back a little and place your baby against your chest then unwrap them from the towel.

If you have a baby lounger or other portable crib alternatives that you can bring inside the bathroom, that would be better. You can undress and unwrap your baby there.

Put them slowly in the bathtub

Use one hand to support your baby’s head and neck and then use your other hand to support their bottom while slowly putting them in the tub.

Slowly slide your baby gently in the tub, feet first ideally. They might keep raising their legs though so it’s fine if you put them in the butt first.

Remember to always keep your baby’s head above the water.

Be prepared for some crying

At this point, they might start fussing and crying. You can try to pacify them by slowly moving them back and forth in the tub and letting them get used to the warm water.

You can also try covering them with a washcloth or towel. Use one hand to support their head while you use your other hand to reach for the washcloth.

Or you can do what I’ve done – sing to them!

I remember the first few days where my baby would be fussing and crying. But once she heard my apparently golden voice, she totally stopped crying and just seemed to look at me.

I didn’t even sing anything relaxing. I sang some random shit like “Pls stop crying, mommy is hurrying” or something like that but in a gentle, relaxing, lullaby-like tone but it worked for us!

It’s okay though if your baby is still crying, it’s normal so just do the next steps as quickly as possible.

Clean them gently yet thoroughly

Start washing your baby using a washcloth or your hands. Remember to wash the folds and creases – armpits, back of knees, underarms, legs, hands, etc.

Remember to wash as quickly yet as thoroughly as possible. Some sweat, milk, vomit, or dirt might still get stuck between their fingers, and other folds and creases.

Wash their groins last.

Girls might have a bit of discharge but don’t worry it will go away eventually. For circumcised baby boys, some would not recommend giving them a tub bath until after their penis is healed. You can just opt to give your newborn baby boy a sponge bath instead.

If you’ve decided to bathe your baby with their umbilical cord still intact, just take care not to tug on it or even wash it.

Personally, I’ve washed my baby with her umbilical cord. I just didn’t touch it and she never had any issues.

Shampoo their hair

This is optional but I know a lot of parents shampoo their kid’s hair.

I personally shampooed my baby’s hair because she came out with full, thick hair and I just have to, as we live somewhere hot and humid.

Anyway, just dab your finger on a small drop of shampoo then gently shampoo their hair.

Rinse it by using and squeezing a washcloth over their head. Some people use a sponge for rinsing. But whatever you prefer, make sure the foam and water don’t get in their eyes.

Flip them on their tummy

Now, this is the part that I was really freaked out but hey, I was able to do it! And don’t worry, you just need to get used to it.

You need to change your baby’s position to clean their backside – you have to turn them on their tummy.

You do it by holding your baby with the same hand then use your free hand to transfer your baby from one wrist to another.

Watch the video below at the 4:02 mark on how to do it:

You can slower than a youtube video by clicking on the gear icon (settings), then choose your playback speed.

So your baby is on their tummy but you’re still supporting their head and neck with your hand while your other hand is still free for washing them.

Again, make sure that your baby’s face is still above water level.

Others hold their baby in a slightly different way, watch the 5:14 mark here:

I’d say hold your baby whichever way you’re comfortable and as long as you’re not choking your baby and your baby’s head is above the water. 

Clean their back and butt

So again, give them a quick but proper washing. Wash the back of their necks, back, butt, every fold, and crease, etc.

Flip them back on their back

So you gotta sort of flip them back again and I know, it’s quite nerve-racking but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Watch the 5:54 mark here on how to flip them back. 

Wash them a little bit then you’re ready to take them out of the water.

Pat them dry and cover quickly

It would be really convenient if you have enough space right next to the baby’s bathtub, so you can immediately place your baby on it. But if not here are some tips on how to cover them:

Hold them against you with one arm supporting them and a hand holding on to their head and neck and with your other free hand, get the towel and cover them up.

So basically, you’re holding them with one hand while your other free hand is getting the towel. You have to lean back a little and make sure that your hand and arm are supporting your baby.

Another option is to make some space right beside or right outside where you bathe them. Something that would be easy to move from one room to another.

You can use a pack n play, a baby lounger or podster, or anything that you can comfortably and safely towel dry and cover your baby.

Dress them up

You can now give them their diapers and clothes. Apply the diaper rash cream then put on their diapers. 

If your diaper doesn’t have a special umbilical cord cutout, just fold it so it doesn’t cover the umbilical cord. 

If you want a diaper with an umbilical cord cutout, check out Pampers Swaddlers and Huggies Little Snugglers. Check out my comparison review for Pampers Swaddlers vs Huggies Little Snugglers if you’re interested.

Anyway, put their clothes on and your baby is good to go! You can opt to apply some baby products on them but I don’t recommend it as babies don’t really need lotions or baby powders.

The AAP even recommends not to use baby powder on your newborn. I personally never used any products on my kid, other than her baby soap/ shampoo and her skin was fine.

Jump to FAQ | Safety Baby Bath Tips | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

How to Give Baby A Sponge Bath 

This is similar to giving your newborn a bath but without a tub nor putting them in water.

I’d recommend doing this as quickly as possible because babies are known to cry more when being given a sponge bath. 

So same steps as giving them a bath in the tub:

Clean your baby’s eyes and face first. Wipe gently from the inside corner to the outside corner of their eye. Then clean their face and ears.

Undress and start wiping their whole body.If they just peed or pooped, clean them up then take note to clean every nook, folds, and creases.

Now make them do tummy time and clean their backs. This is easier to do on a flat, padded surface. If you haven’t done tummy time on your newborn yet, watch the video below on how to do it:

Flip them over, dry them, and dress them. Put them on their backs again and that’s it! Just dry them gently, apply diaper rash cream, put on diapers and clothes and your baby is good to go!

(Optional) Shampoo them by holding and covering them. 

If you just want to shampoo their hair but you don’t want to get their entire body wet, just wrap them in a towel, hold them in one arm like a football, wet their hair over the tub or sink and gently wet their hair.

Then get a dab of shampoo, start gently rubbing and shampooing their hair then get a washcloth to wipe and rinse their head.

Bathing Preterm Infants

This is the best way to bathe a premature baby – through a swaddle bath.

It’s a highly recommended way to bathe a preterm infant and is done in many hospitals to provide a less traumatic way of cleaning and washing your baby.

It’s basically a tub bath but your child is entirely swaddled when you put them in the water.

You can watch how to do a swaddle bath here:

Now as you can see, at the last part, you’d need another adult with you to take your baby out of the tub. 

But I think you can just do this on your own.

Hold your wet, naked baby against your body. Lean back a little and support their entire body with your arm, their head with your hand. Then with your other free hand, quickly reach for a towel and cover them up.

Jump to FAQ | Safety Baby Bath Tips | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

What To Do If My Baby Poops in the Bath

I have the first-hand experience of this so here’s what I did before:

  1. Prepare the “poop paraphernalia”

Make sure you have the said items within reach or at least the extra towel if you don’t have the space.

2. Let them finish pooping

Cover your baby with a washcloth if you think she’s cold but make sure to wait until no poop is coming out of that cute butt. 

3. Carry and clean your baby

If you have someone with you, have them hold and clean your baby while you clean the shit in the tub. 

If you’re alone, wrap your baby in an extra towel, and yes I know they are covered with poop and pee but that’s the purpose of your extra towel. So you should have a designated “poop towel.”

If you were in the middle of shampooing their hair or soaping them, use your basin and container with warm water to clean them up while holding them. Use the extra washcloths and quickly rinse the foam out of their hair and body but no need to overdo it as you’re going to bathe them again.

Anyway, go to your baby’s diaper changing table and clean them up using wet wipes. You can choose to put a diaper on them but I think there’s no need since they just pooped/ peed. 

4. Put baby back in the crib

Put them in a safe place – a crib or other crib alternatives while you’re cleaning the tub. Swaddle them if they feel cold and use a baby camera to keep an eye on them. 

5. Clean the tub

Scoop up the poop with a plastic bag, put it in another dry plastic bag, and throw it out. Then clean the tub quickly yet thoroughly.

If you have another extra tub, that would be better but honestly, you don’t need one. Unless of course, your baby has a habit of pooping in the tub.

6. Bathe your baby again

Now you don’t need to do it my way but I’m just sharing what I did to give you an idea of what to do when your baby poops while giving them a bath.

Jump to FAQ | Safety Baby Bath Tips | Baby Bathing Essentials | Step By Step Guide On How To Bathe a Newborn | How To Give Baby a Sponge Bath | How To Bathe Premature Babies | Baby Pooped! What To Do?! 

Takeway

Bathing a newborn baby is daunting at first but don’t worry, you and your baby will get used to it. 

If the tips above are too much, just remember these two things: never leave your baby unattended in the bath and always test the water before putting it in your baby.

Don’t stress too much mama, it takes some practice to bathe your baby, and over time, you’ll eventually get how to bathe your newborn.