A common question that is asked by parents at their first visit to the pediatrician is, “when should I bathe my newborn?”

While there are numerous cultural beliefs, old-wives tales, and family traditions regarding how newborns and infants are washed, there are a few facts and tips that everyone should know about bathing babies.

Safety

  • About 100 children less than five years old drown in bath tubs each year. Never leave a child alone in or around water for any amount of time. Young children can drown in less than one inch of water.
  • Never allow a child to bathe a baby; this job should only be given to a responsible adult.
  • Bath toys and bath mats can harbor bacteria, make sure to disinfect all toys and mats after each bath and allow them to dry prior to using them again.
  • Always check the water temperature before placing a child into a bath or running the water over them.
  • It is generally recommended to have the water temperature be around the same as a normal body temperature (between 98-100 degrees).
  • What may be a good water temperature for you in the shower is typically too hot for a baby.
  • The depth of bath water for a newborn or infant should be about 2 inches.
  • Water depth should be no higher than their hips – when they are in a seated position.
  • Avoid using sponges to wash a baby – use a soft wash cloth instead.
  • Sponges are associated with an increased risk for contamination by bacteria and fungus.

The Bath

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children are bathed with a wash cloth only on a padded, flat, surface until the umbilical cord stump falls off (usually around 1-2 weeks).nOnce the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, newborns can be bathed in a tub, sink, or “baby bath.” Pediatric dermatologists recommend that a bath be no more than 5-10 minutes in length, with many pediatricians recommending less than 5 minutes for bath time.

Research in older children and adults has shown that a bath taking place just before bedtime is associated with a decreased amount of time it takes to fall asleep.  Consider making bath time occur just before putting your baby to bed.

Newborns and infants typically do not require more than 2-3 baths per week. More frequent bathing can actually dry out a baby’s skin more than no bathing at all.

When do I start bathing my child everyday?

Once your baby begins to crawl and get dirty is the time that they will start requiring daily baths. Always remember to wash in between all skin folds.

Avoid adding any cosmetic bath oils to the bath water as these can irritate an infant’s skin.

Water vs. Soap

Recommendations from pediatric dermatology societies state that using a mild non-scented liquid soap is ok, as long as it is mild in strength and non-irritating to the skin. Water only baths are also ok for this age group.

Do you have “hard” water? “Hard” water has been associated with increased risk for developing eczema, a type of dry skin rash. You can purchase hard water testing kits at many hardware stores or online.

Mild liquid soaps are better at removing fecal material and urine residue from the diaper area than just water alone.

Adult soaps are typically too strong and harsh for a baby’s skin; look for washes indicated for babies.

Shampoo is not usually necessary at this age, but can be used if desired. Look for baby shampoo that is non-irritating and mild in strength.

The After Bath

Babies should be dried immediately after bathing to prevent them from losing too much body heat. Infants should be patted dry after the bath and placed immediately into clothing.

Never put damp clothes onto a baby.

Rubbing hard with a towel can actually damage an infant’s skin which is still maturing until 12 months old.

Use a moisture protectant (emollient) on their skin after the bath to protect the skin from becoming too dry and cracked. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations on which moisture protectant to use.

Immediately discontinue the use of any bath product that irritates your baby’s skin or causes a rash.

For more information on newborn and infant bath recommendations and techniques, please consult with your pediatrician.