Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Baby baths

Updated: 11-16-2016

It's bath time!

Photo of baby wrapped in a towel

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

Consider sponge baths

Photo of parent washing baby's forehead

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump falls off — which might take a week or two.

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. Wipe each eyelid, from the inside to the outside corner.

Getting into the creases

Photo of parent washing behind baby's ear

To clean your baby's body, use plain water or 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

If your newborn has hair and you think it needs washing, go ahead. With your free hand, gently massage a drop of mild baby shampoo into your baby's scalp. Rinse the shampoo with a cup of water or 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

Once your baby is ready for a bath, you might use a plastic tub or the sink. Line the tub or sink with a clean towel.

Gather the supplies you'd use for a sponge bath, a cup of rinsing water and baby shampoo, if needed, ahead of time. This will allow you to 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

Always check the temperature with your hand before bathing your baby. Aim for bath water around 100 F (38 C). To prevent scalding, set the thermostat on your water heater to below 120 F (49 C). Be sure the room is comfortably warm, too. A wet baby might be easily chilled.

A common recommendation is to fill the tub or sink with 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) of warm — not hot — 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 your nondominant arm to support your baby's head and neck and the other to hold and guide your baby's body into the water, feet first. Continue supporting your baby's head and back as needed. You might reach behind your baby and hold onto his or her opposite arm throughout the bath.

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. Grasp your baby under the armpit.

Remember the creases

Photo of parent washing baby's toes

Be sure to wash the 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. First, test the temperature of the water. 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 your baby's face, neck and diaper area.

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