Woman washing a baby

Washing Your New Baby

Bathing your baby for the first time is one of parenthood’s truly memorable rites of passage. However, for the uninitiated, giving your baby their first wash can feel a bit nerve-wracking.


Until your baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off you might choose just to sponge bath your baby with clean water only. (See top and tailing below.) There is no necessity to bath or wash your baby in the first few days, but you may wish to sponge her down, especially if there is any blood or amniotic fluid on your baby’s skin or in her hair.

Vernix, the white waxy covering which might still be on your baby’s skin, might look off-putting but it’s a natural moisturiser and has protected your baby’s skin in the womb. There’s no pressing need to wash it off and it can even protect your baby’s skin in the first few days of life.

Preparing to bath your baby

The key to bathing your baby with confidence is to be prepared for this special event – the better prepared you are, the calmer you will be and the more positively your baby is likely to respond. So, before getting her wet be sure to:

  • Wash her at a time when she is awake, relaxed and not hungry, although it is best to avoid washing baby immediately after a feed.
  • Warm the room and ensure it is draught-free.
  • Have a fresh towel to hand.
  • Have a clean nappy ready.
  • Prepare a clean change of clothes.
  • Wash your hands.

Getting the bathwater ready – what is the right temperature?

Getting the temperature and depth of the water right is essential to ensuring a safe and comfortable first bath for your baby – a positive experience the first time is likely to make subsequent baths that much easier.

You can wash your new baby in your main bath (make sure it’s clean and follow the guidance below) or you may choose a baby-specific bath tub – there are lots of specialised products out there including standalone miniature tubs which can be placed in a kitchen sink or on a table top.

Prepare the bath water as follows:

  • Fill the bath with plain water only and ensure it is the right temperature: 37˚C is good. You can use a thermometer if you’re unsure what 37˚C feels like or dip your wrist or elbow into the water to test its safety and suitability.
  • The best way to ensure the right lukewarm temperature is to first fill the bath with cold water and to then add warm water until you have achieved the right temperature.
  • Water depth: you will need to fill the bath about 8 to 10 cm deep.
  • Don’t be tempted to run more water in once your baby is in the bath – keep the depth at 8 to 10 cm.

Remember that a baby can drown in even very shallow water. As such, always hold your baby when she is in the bath, never leave her unattended (even for a few seconds), never leave her in the charge of a child and never become distracted by a phone call or indeed anything else.

Giving a baby bath – step-by-step

If you are bathing your baby after a dirty nappy, remove as much of the solids as possible and wipe with a baby wipe or damp cotton wool. Keep close to baby and stay calm as you prepare to lower her into the bath and always do the following:

  • Keep one hand under her head and shoulders to support her and lower her onto her back.
  • Use your free hand to gently wet her body and hair.
  • Use a clean soft cloth or piece of cotton wool to gently rub baby clean.
  • If she has folds of skin around her neck, thighs and wrists, you should gently clean these areas, as milk and other substances can become trapped here and irritate the skin.
  • Wash gently around the umbilical cord stump to clean away any discharge. Don’t worry if it smells a bit – this is entirely normal. It is likely that the stump will fall off by the time baby is 10 days old – although it may sometimes take a little longer.
  • Raise baby out of the bath while still supporting her head and shoulders.
  • Immediately dry her using a soft warm towel.
  • Put her in a clean nappy and change of clothes.

Can you use body wash, soap and shampoo on a new baby?

The short answer is, no. Even hypoallergenic unperfumed products can irritate your newborn’s skin so you should avoid all soap, baby bodywash and shampoo until your baby is around 4 to 6 weeks old. If you decide to start using a bath additive, choose an unperfumed baby bath formula and be careful to only use a little so you don’t damage your baby’s delicate skin.

Babies with longer hair may need a drop of mild shampoo on wet hair, lathered and rinsed off thoroughly.

What about topping and tailing?

Topping and tailing is a great way to wash baby without the stress of having to run and give a regular bath. To top and tail you will need:

  • A bowl of warm, clean water.
  • Cotton wool balls or two clean, soft cloths.<?li>
  • Clean nappy and change of clothes.

Once you have these things ready you can begin.

  • Wash your hands.
  • Take your baby’s clothes off and put her on her back on a changing mat or soft towel with her nappy on – or you can place her across your knee if you prefer to be seated.
  • Dip a cloth or cotton wool ball into the water then gently wipe your baby’s neck, face and ears – be sure to use fresh cotton wool for wiping around each eye as you don’t wish to transfer any potential infection from one eye to the other.
  • Similarly, wipe clean your baby’s underarms, arms and upper torso.
  • Pat dry gently
  • Remove your baby’s nappy, wipe clean any discharge from around the umbilical cord and then, ensuring the cloth or cotton wool is clean, wipe clean the bottom and genitals – if you have a girl, be sure to wipe from front to back; if you have a boy do not try to clean under the foreskin.
  • Gently pat your baby dry then put her in a clean nappy and clean clothes.

How often should you bathe your baby?

Once your baby is old enough it’s fine to wash her every day, especially if she enjoys it. However, there is no need to wash this often. In fact, as long as you keep your baby’s bottom and genitals clean, two to three times a week should be enough.

General notes

Some babies will take to bathing and washing more easily than others. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go brilliantly at first – it is quite normal for the first few baths to feel a little stressful. The more you talk to baby and make bathtime a fun time, the easier the routine will be.

Some parents enjoy having a bath or shower with their child and this can be a good option to try if your baby seems to dislike being put into a bath. However, you must ensure the water temperature and depth is correct so as not to put your baby at risk.