Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Baby baths

Updated: 02-27-2013

It's bath time!

Photo of baby wrapped in a towel

Baby baths can be fun for parents and babies alike. Sometimes bathing a slippery, squirming baby can be difficult, however — especially if your baby's not too keen on the idea. Before you plunge into baby baths, make sure you're comfortable with the basics.

Consider sponge baths

Photo of parent washing baby's forehead

You might consider giving your newborn a sponge bath, at least until the umbilical cord stump falls off. To give your baby a sponge bath, lay your baby on his or her back on a soft towel or pad. Wet a washcloth, wring out excess water and wipe your baby's face. There's usually no need to use soap. Use a clean cotton ball or cloth to wipe each eyelid, from the inside to the outside corner.

Getting into the creases

Photo of parent washing behind baby's ear

When you're ready to clean the rest of your baby's body, stick with plain water. If your baby is smelly or dirty, use a mild moisturizing soap. Pay special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the diaper area. Also wash between your baby's fingers and toes. To keep your baby warm, expose only the parts you're washing.

Washing baby's hair

Photo of parent washing baby's hair

Your baby's hair might not need to be washed during every bath. If it seems dirty, gently massage a drop of mild baby shampoo into your baby's scalp. Rinse the shampoo with a damp washcloth, cupping one hand across your baby's forehead to keep suds out of his or her eyes.

Breaking out the tub

Photo of baby tub and supplies

When you're ready to give your baby a tub bath — whether you do so right from the start or you try sponge baths first — you'll have plenty of choices. You can use a free-standing plastic tub specifically designed for newborns, a plain plastic basin or a small inflatable tub that fits inside the bathtub. Lined with a towel or rubber mat, the kitchen or bathroom sink might be another option.

Remember, though, safety is the most important consideration — not necessarily the type of tub. Gather your supplies and a cup of rinsing water ahead of time so that you can keep one hand on the baby at all times. Never leave your baby alone in the water.

Checking the water temperature

Photo of hand testing water temperature

To prevent scalding, set the thermostat on your water heater to below 120 F (49 C). Always check the temperature with your hand before bathing your baby. Be sure the room is comfortably warm, too. A wet baby may be easily chilled.

The ideal amount of water for a baby bath is debatable. A common recommendation is 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) of warm water. To keep your baby warm, pour warm water over his or her body throughout the bath. Some research suggests that using slightly more water — enough to cover a baby's shoulders — can be calming and help reduce heat loss. With any amount of water, be sure to hold your baby securely.

Use a secure hold

Photo of parent washing under baby's arm

A secure hold will help your baby feel comfortable — and stay safe — in the tub. Use one of your hands to support your baby's head and the other to hold and guide your baby's body into the water, feet first. Support your baby's head and torso with your arm and hand. Wrap your arm under your baby's back, grasping your baby firmly under the armpit.

Washing baby's back

Photo of parent washing baby's back

When you clean your baby's back and buttocks, lean him or her forward on your arm. Continue to grasp your baby under the armpit.

Remember the creases

Photo of parent washing baby's toes

Pay special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck and in the diaper area. Also wash between your baby's fingers and toes.

Rinsing baby's hair

Photo of parent rinsing baby's hair

When your baby moves beyond a washcloth for rinsing hair, you might want to try a football hold under the faucet. Support your baby's back with your arm, keeping a firm hold on your baby's head while you rinse.

When baby cries

Photo of baby crying in the tub

If your baby cries in the tub, stay calm. Clean what you can and then wrap your baby snugly in a towel. You might want to wait a few days and then try again. In the meantime, use sponge baths to clean the parts that really need attention — your baby's face, neck and diaper area.

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