Your baby’s first bath is one of the earliest milestones in your parenting journey, and a moment to treasure. Especially as those baths will become regular bonding moments you’ll soon cherish. Read on to learn all about when and how to give your newborn baby a bath, and how often you might need to bathe your little one during these first few months.

How Often to Bathe Your Newborn

You may be surprised to learn that your newborn doesn’t need bathing every day – although that’s fine too, if he or she really enjoys it. Otherwise, two or three bath times a week is enough, as long as you give your baby a daily clean-up of the face, neck, hands and bottom (known as ‘topping and tailing’), and thoroughly clean the nappy area at each nappy change. In terms of when to give that first official bath, it’s up to you! You may like to wait a few days and just give ‘top and tail’ cleanses in those first few days instead of proper baths, but you might also like to start a bathing routine as soon as you bring your baby home.

Topping and Tailing: Washing Your Baby Without a Bath

Instead of giving your baby a daily bath, sometimes it’s enough to just ‘top and tail’ your newborn – this just means giving the face, neck, hands and bottom a quick clean. You also might prefer topping and tailing to a ‘proper’ bath in the first few days after your baby is born, until you feel more confident about handling your newborn and looking after the umbilical cord stump. Although you might sometimes hear this referred to as a sponge bath, you don’t need a sponge for topping and tailing your baby. Cotton wool is far better from a hygiene perspective, because you’ll need a fresh piece for each part of your baby’s body that you clean. Before getting started, you’ll need

  • a bowl of warm water

  • a towel

  • some cotton wool

  • a fresh nappy

  • clean clothes.

Here’s how to top and tail your newborn:

  1. Hold your baby in your lap or on a changing mat, in just a vest and nappy, and wrap him or her in the towel.

  2. Dunk a piece of the cotton wool in the water (it should be damp, but not dripping wet), and gently wipe around your baby’s eyes. Start at the nose and move outwards. Use a new piece of cotton wool for each eye.

  3. Take another piece of cotton wool and use it to wipe around the ears, but not inside them. (Never put cotton buds or anything else inside your baby’s ears.)

  4. Use the same technique to wash the rest of your baby’s face, neck and hands.

  5. Remove the nappy and wash your little one’s nappy area with a fresh piece of cotton wool. If your baby is a girl, it’s important to wipe from front to back, to avoid spreading any germs from the bottom to the vagina. If you have a boy, wipe gently around the testicles and penis. There’s no need to pull back the foreskin.

  6. Dry your baby’s skin gently, but thoroughly – taking care to dry in all the creases – and put the clean nappy on.

Bathing Your Newborn in a Bath

You’ll still want to give your baby girl or boy a proper bath every few days or so. If you feel a bit nervous about giving your newborn his or her first bath, don’t worry. Bathing a slippery, squirming newborn baby can take some practice, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Bath time is also a great time for your partner, a grandparent or other close relative to lend a hand. Delegating bath duties isn’t just a fantastic bonding opportunity for the person doing the bathing, it can be an opportunity for Mum to grab a little extra ‘me time’ – especially during the whirlwind first few weeks with your newborn. When the time comes, it’s important to be prepared, so make sure the room is warm enough and get everything ready before you start giving your baby a bath:

  • Your baby’s bath – this can be a special baby bath or you could use a clean washing-up bowl. A smaller baby bath might help your child feel more secure.

  • Two towels

  • Some cotton wool

  • A small sponge (optional)

  • A clean nappy

  • Clean clothes.

We didn’t add soap to the list because in the first month it’s best not to use anything other than plain water. Later, after the first month or so, your baby’s skin will develop its own protective barrier. Even then, an emollient cream might be better than soap, especially for areas of dry skin. Unlike soap, emollients won't dry out the skin, and they also add an extra layer of protection. Any products you use to wash your baby should be mild, alcohol-free and non-perfumed, without artificial colouring. Always use baby soap and skincare products sparingly - even a tiny amount usually goes a long way.

How to Bathe Your Newborn Baby Step-by-Step

  1. Fill the baby bath with water, to a depth of around 8 to 10 centimetres. Stir the water thoroughly to get rid of any hot or cold spots, and then check the baby bath temperature. Test the water by dipping your wrist or elbow into the water. It should feel warm, but not hot. If you use a bath thermometer, it should show around 37 degree Celsius, but it’s still a good idea to test the water with your own skin.

  2. Hold your newborn on your lap and clean his or her face with wet cotton wool. Start at the nose and move outwards, cleaning around the eyes. Use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye, and another for cleaning around each ear.

  3. Support your baby over the bath or bowl and carefully wash his or her hair (if there is any) with plain water from your cupped hand.

  4. Gently dry your little one’s hair (or head), then remove the nappy and wipe away any poo.

  5. Now, with one hand holding the upper arm and supporting the head and shoulders, lower your baby gently into the bath.

  6. Keep your infant’s head (and umbilical cord stump, if it hasn’t fallen off yet) clear of the water, and gently swish water over your baby’s body with your free hand. You might like to use a small sponge for this.

  7. Carefully lift your baby out of the bath and pat him or her dry with the other towel. Take care to dry in all the creases and folds of the skin.

When Is the Best Time of Day to Bathe Your Newborn?

There is no one perfect time to give your baby a bath – it’s your decision. Choose a time when you’re least likely to be interrupted and you aren’t in a hurry. As a general rule, you’ll find bathing your newborn is usually easiest when he or she is wide awake and content. It’s best not to bathe your newborn baby when he or she is tired or hungry. If you plan to give your baby a bath after feeding, wait a while to give your child’s tummy a chance to settle. When your infant’s a little older (after around 3 months of age), you might like to schedule bath times for the evening as part of his or her bedtime routine.

More Baby Bath Time Tips

  • Give your baby a massage. Just after a bath is a great time for a soothing baby massage. This may help your child relax and sleep. Don’t use any massage oil or lotion until your baby is at least 1 month old.

  • Have a bath with your baby. If your baby finds bath time scary, having a bath together might help. Check the bath water temperature to make sure it isn’t too hot, and preferably get someone to help by holding your newborn while you get in and out of the bath yourself.

  • Talk or sing to your baby. The sound of your calming voice can help reassure and relax your little one during bath time.

  • Use bath time to treat cradle cap or other skin conditions. If your baby has cradle cap, it might help to wash his or her hair with a baby shampoo and use a soft brush to gently loosen any flakes of skin. If your baby is prone to dry skin or eczema, after a bath is a good time to apply a gentle moisturising cream (prescribed or recommended by your doctor, midwife or health visitor) to the affected areas.

  • Never leave your baby alone in the water. Not even for a moment. If you have to turn away or leave the room urgently, lift your baby out of the bath and take him or her with you, wrapped in a towel to keep him or her warm.

  • Don’t add anything to the water. There’s no need to use any soap or add any cleansers or bubble bath for babies. Experts advise washing your baby’s skin in nothing but plain water for the first month.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • It’s up to you when to first bathe your newborn baby, but you might prefer to wait a few days. Until then, it’s enough to carefully wash your newborn’s face, neck hands and bottom (‘topping and tailing’) once a day.

  • It’s best not to bathe your baby immediately after a feed or when he or she is hungry. Apart from that, any time your infant is awake and content can be a good time for a bath.

  • Your newborn baby doesn’t need a bath every day, although this is fine too if he or she enjoys it! Two or three times a week is enough. In this case, between baths, just carefully wash the face, neck hands and bottom (‘topping and tailing’) once a day5.

  • The ideal baby bath temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius. Before putting your baby into the water, test it with the skin of your wrist or elbow. It should feel warm, but not hot. Stir the water to remove any hot or cold spots.

The Bottom Line

It can take a bit of practice, but bath time could soon become one of the highlights of the day for you, your baby and even the whole family. As your child starts to enjoy splashing around in the bath, at some point it may become more like playtime than bath time. And, once your little one is comfortable in water, you might want to take it to another level with some baby swimming sessions. You can take your baby swimming (under close professional supervision) from a very early age – if you think this might be for you, ask your health visitor what’s available in your local area. Read more about baby skin care for even more on this topic, including cutting your baby’s nails, protecting his or her skin from the sun, and more.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.