Bathing your baby
You can think through when and how you want to bathe your baby. Some parents like to wait days or weeks, so the vernix remains on the baby’s skin as that is also considered healthy and protective. Others like to put the baby in the herbal bath that the mom takes in the first few hours/day after birth. You can think through beforehand what you’d like to do, or just decide in the moment, it’s up to you. I’ll explain here basic information about giving the newborn a bath.
I’d like to start by saying that I personally think it’s important to have a peaceful bathing experience, for the whole family. This is not something worth arguing over or forcing. If you or the baby enjoys bathing, that’s great. If not, you might want to try calming elements, like bathing the baby with you, or using a different tub setting. Or not bathing that frequently if it’s distressing. Babies are very different from each other and they grow quickly—what they dislike one month might be what they love the next.
Basic bathing instructions:
Items you need or might want to have on hand: warm water, baby bath or regular tub, washcloth (optional), soap (optional), herbal “tea” to use in the water (optional), clean towel or two, diaper and clean clothes ready. Free up your time so you’re not rushed; your constant presence with the baby in the water is essential. Don’t leave babies in the bath by themselves or with a sibling who’s not ready for that responsibility.
Simple baby baths just need some kind of tub and warm water. But sometimes it’s fun to add in natural skin care (like an herbal soap) or herbal teas to add to the water (that are already prepared and cooled down).
If you buy a baby bath, the ones with the backs tilted up are really comfortable so the baby can sit up and it’s easy to run water over the baby. If your tub is a flat baby tub or an adult tub, you can consider putting in about 2 inches of water and letting the baby lay in it flat and you keep a hand near their face, not allowing to turn to the side all the way and get their mouth/nose in the water. Babies often love relaxing in the water.
Also, you can consider making a bath for yourself and just having someone hand you the baby. You can spend time letting the baby float around while you support him, and also have the baby lie on your breast with you. All the while, you gently wash him. There are lots of ways to bathe a baby.
It’s important that the baby not get overcooled during the bath. So make the room warm, if possible. (If the room air is cold and you need to bath the baby, consider a washcloth bath, not uncovering the baby all the time and drying off the body part right after as you clean it.)
The water needs to be a good temperature, not too hot nor too cold. If the bath takes a while, add more warm water to keep the temperature warm enough.
Herbs to consider using are chamomile and calendula. There are many other options, so if this interests you, look online! I’m sure you can buy premade mixes also. Follow their instructions, or just make it up as a tea, let it cool off, and add it to the bath water.
If you need a systematic way to start off with baths, here’s a step-by-step method that made a lot of sense to me. When you first put the baby in, the water is cleanest, so use some of the water to rinse the baby’s face. Using soap on the face might get into the eyes, so just water is fine. If you have a washcloth, you can just wipe the face: over the eyes, the nose, forehead down the cheeks, under the nose and over the mouth.
For the rest of the body, you can use soap if you want to use soap. I usually go from the neck down, making sure to get into the creases—neck, arms, legs. Gently wash the genitals and the bottom crease, not being invasive. The legs are usually easy to wipe downwards. I usually soap one part, then rinse that part off. Then, I turn the baby over on one hand and soap/rinse the back.
I pay more attention to the hair, as this usually has a lot of dried fluids and particles from the birth. I wet it, then soap it. I try to be very gentle so the baby likes it, and I spend time massaging out all the things in the hair. I may rinse-soap, massage, rinse-soap-massage-rinse a few times. I make sure to get around the ears and then the back of the head, too.
If you want to have a heating pad on low setting under the towels, that is a nice touch. Get the baby out, covered in a towel, and dry quickly. I dry from the hair down, and sometimes I use two towels, the first to get the bulk of the wetness off and the second for the baby to lay on while I finish drying and putting on the clothes. Drying the hair well can be important, as babies lose heat through their heads.
Putting some kind of healthy natural oil (olive, coconut, etc.) on the bottom helps while the baby is passing meconium, as the mec tends to stick a lot. Putting it under and on the male scrotum, too, helps to make it easy to wipe off.
When not to bathe the baby: if the baby is sick or cold or there is some other common-sense reason that it’s better not to bathe him, there’s no harm in waiting. You can always use a damp washcloth to deal with something troublesome. If you don’t have access to clean water, consider using store bought wipes.
Grace, A. (2022, May 18). I’m not washing my baby for a month because it’s healthier – if gross. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2022/05/18/im-not-washing-my-baby-for-a-month-because-its-healthier-if-gross/
Heidi. (2021, September 27). DIY herbal bath for babies. Mountain Rose Herbs. https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/baby-bath-herbs
Lund C. Bathing and Beyond: Current Bathing Controversies for Newborn Infants. Advances in Neonatal Care : Official Journal of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses. 2016 Oct;16 Suppl 5S:S13-S20. DOI: 10.1097/anc.0000000000000336. PMID: 27676109.