If you’re reading this, you may be thinking, “I really thought bathing a baby would seem like a natural, very unmysterious task,” or “Why do I not know how to give my newborn a bath?” But guess what? It’s OK to be a newbie.
It’s OK to realize, mid-task, that you actually have no idea if you’re doing this correctly. It’s OK to be so deliriously tired as a new parent that before you engage in any single activity with your baby, you want to double-check that you’re performing it in a way that makes sense, is safe and is simple. Here are expert tips and a step-by-step guide on how to give a baby a bath.
How to give a baby a bath in 5 steps, according to a pediatrician
Who doesn’t love a simple how-to guide? Neela Sethi, MD, a MAM Baby ambassador and practicing pediatrician, offers the following straightforward tips for giving your baby that first or second or 100th bath.
1. Keep them cozy
To start, Dr. Sethi recommends undressing baby in a cozy place somewhere near the bath.
2. Wash their face first
Before placing baby in the tub, cover them with a towel to keep them nice and warm and prewash baby’s face to avoid water in their face during bathtime. Use a soft, warm cloth to get this done.
Related: 11 best baby bathtubs that don’t require a second set of hands
3. Place them into the bath feet-first
You know that classic baby-hold with baby’s head in the crook of your arm and your hand free to hold their little hand or arm that’s farthest from your body? Adapt that a bit to place baby into the tub slowly, feet first. Let baby’s head rest on your forearm with the hand from that same arm gently but firmly holding baby’s arm on one side. Your other arm can support baby’s bottom and legs as you gently adjust them to the feel of the water.
4. Skip the soap
With young babies (even up to 6 months of age), clean, warm water is all you need—no soap or bubbles necessary. Dr. Sethi recommends gently cleaning baby’s head and hair, then moving to the belly and back, underarms, genital area, and bottom. Sweet little baby rolls are susceptible to inflammation and rashes if they are not kept clean, so don’t forget to focus on the creases!
Related: 3 genius products that make bathtime with baby *so* much easier
5. Gently but firmly pick them up
When bath time is over, lift baby slowly out of the tub with a gentle but firm grip on an arm and the legs/feet, transferring them to a fresh, cozy towel.
Best Baby Bath Tubs
Supplies for bathing baby
We’d like to stress that baby bath time does not need to be complicated. So what do you really need?
- A safe space to bathe your baby. Sometimes, that looks like a sling-style bath seat placed in the kitchen sink when your baby is tiny. For others, that looks like a separate tub that can sit on the bathroom floor or inside the larger tub in their bathroom and filled up to a level just deep enough to keep baby warm while they lay supported in the water.
- A few soft, clean towels and washcloths. These can be specifically made for babies or not, but the key is that they are particularly soft, because babies can have sensitive skin.
- A gentle, unscented baby soap, eventually. But note that using soap at bath time is not necessary in the early months. When babies are small and essentially immobile, soaps and cleansers are an unnecessary step that may irritate or over-dry baby’s skin by stripping away the natural oils.
A few of our favorite baby bath time supplies
5 baby bath time safety tips to keep in mind
As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I’m a big proponent of safety first. Here’s what else you need to know to keep bath time safe and easy for everyone involved.
1. Gather what you need before bringing baby to the bathing area
The temptation to leave baby unattended while you “just grab one thing” will be real. Make sure you have what you need before you start the bath time process to avoid that temptation all together, as leaving babies or toddlers unattended in water of any depth is unsafe.
2. Test the water first
While we as adults may love a nice hot bath, our skin is thicker and heartier, my friends, and can easily withstand temperatures that would burn our babies. Lukewarm water is fine for baby, and testing the water with a sensitive area of your own skin is best. Think the inside of the wrist instead of a finger or other more weathered region of your skin.
Related: How often do kids *really* need to take a bath?
3. Keep it short
Young babies are not great at regulating their body temperatures, so keeping baths brief is best. Five minutes is plenty while still giving baby a chance to become accustomed to the water and maybe even relax a bit.
4. Always keep a hand on your baby
Countless newborns have surprised their parents with a sudden jerking movement that results in an otherwise avoidable fall, and the slippery nature of bath time increases that risk a bit.
5. Don’t leave baby alone
Because it’s the cardinal rule of water time, I’ll say it one more time. Never leave baby alone in the bathtub.
Bottom line? Bathtime does not need to be complex. A few simple supplies and a little preparation are all you need. You’re doing just fine, my friends.
A version of this post was published October 24, 2022. It has been updated.
Neela Sethi, MD, is a MAM Baby ambassador and practicing pediatrician.