Your Baby’s First Bath

Helping parents gain confidence with tub baths for their newborns is frequently part of my job as a postpartum doula. Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, you can switch from sponge bathing your baby to immersive baths. These often become lovely bonding times for parents and babies.

There are many ways to go about the bath, but the safety concerns always include correct water temperature, proper support for the baby’s head, and attending baby at all times.

This post assumes that you are using a newborn tub on a secure surface or within the bathtub.

Here are the steps I wrote up for a father preparing for his daughter’s first bath.

Choose your moment

After a feeding, but before the baby has fallen asleep is often a good time for a bath. The time of day is flexible–with newborns, it doesn’t really matter whether you bathe them in the morning, afternoon or evening. What will work best for you and your energy levels?

First, gather all of your supplies:

  • Towel
  • Multiple washcloths—I like to have three or four for washing and drying different parts of the baby
  • Soap/shampoo if you want (using soap once a week is plenty for newborn skin).
  • Cup or bottle for rinsing
  • I like to have a second towel ready on the changing table too, so she can have a dry one while I get her dressed
  • Gather baby’s fresh clothes within reach of where you will dress her.
  • If you think the bottom of the tub might be too slippery for her, you can put a towel down in it.

Water temperature

Next, fill the baby tub with warm water, approximately 98.6 Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius. (It should feel warm but not hot on your inner wrist.) If you are delayed getting the baby into the bath, make sure to warm up the water if needed before putting her in.

Keys to success

Immerse the baby slowly the first time to give them time to understand what is happening. I put feet in first, wait until baby relaxes a little, and then slowly put their bottom in, then slowly lay them back. It helps to speak reassuringly and maintain eye contact.

Keeping the baby warm during the bath is another key to success. This means pouring warm water on her, or keeping a warm washcloth on her chest, and also keeping the bath short enough that the water doesn’t get cold. (Turning on the tub faucet for more warm water is usually too loud for newborns although a sink might be okay.)

  • Wash her face and neck first, then the hands
  • Then wash the top of the head, ears (if you get the top of the head wet, dry it off or put a hat on her to help her stay warm.)
  • Then arms, tummy, back
  • Then bottom, legs, and feet

If you shampoo her hair and need to rinse it, I find rolling a washcloth up and holding it on the baby’s forehead is a good way to avoid dripping water or soap onto her face.

Wrapping up (literally)

For taking her out of the bath, remember she will be a little bit slippery. Holding her back and bottom with one hand (and leaning her head against that arm) and one of her thighs with the other hand might help you feel more confident.

When you have two adults there, the second person can hold the towel and you can hand the baby to them. If bathing her by yourself, lay the towel out beforehand and set her into it, then pick her up again. 

Then you can gently dry her with the towel. When ready to diaper and dress her, consider laying her onto another dry towel and keep her wrapped up where she is not being dressed. For example, when putting on the diaper and any pants, keep the baby’s chest wrapped in the towel.

No pressure

If she gets hungry or otherwise upset during the bath it’s okay to rinse her off and stop. You can always bathe her again another day!

If she pees in the tub, I wouldn’t worry about it. You might not even know. If she poops in the tub, you’ll need to take her out, clean out the tub and clean her off again. Luckily this doesn’t happen often!

I hope you will have a wonderful bath time!

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