Getting your baby home from the hospital is an unnerving experience. There is a huge weight of responsibility that comes with it and a sudden terror that you’re now the one in charge. It seems crazy to have been let out of an adult’s supervision with no experience for the job. It's like lying to get a job you have no clue how to do and then turning up for work waiting for the moment you get found out. Except in this case, with a real person’s life in your hands.
It’s a common feeling for all new parents (whether they admit it or not). I remember those anxious first hours unable to sleep – despite the exhaustion – for fear that we were doing something wrong. Getting up constantly to check that our baby was still alive. Listening and feeling for their breath in the dark.
Whether it’s the first nappy change or getting your baby dressed, the new experiences come so thick and fast it’s hard to know whether you’re doing any of it right. But it’s a reminder that sometimes we’re able to do more than what we think. Being thrown in at the deep end with the knowledge that you simply must succeed leads to incredible outcomes.
Your baby’s first bath is certainty one of those capacity stretching moments. It can be hard to figure out how exactly to get this little infant bag of skin and bones into the water, wash them and dry them while keeping them alive. There’s crying, pooping in the bath, and your own paranoia about not scolding them or giving them pneumonia. It’s a miracle anyone baths their kids at all.
Do newborns need baths?
So, the good news is that newborns don’t need baths, no really!
Until they’re 4 weeks old, it’s best simply to wipe them down, rather than give them a full bath. And even then, you can be sparing with proper baths. If you want the short reason, sitting babies in water just isn’t great for their natural moisturising factors - or MNFs (the stuff that helps naturally moisturise your baby’s skin). Baby skin can dry out easily which makes it more prone to damage. Additionally, avoiding skincare products, or using very little, is an important part of looking after their skin. So all that adds up to needing less 'proper' baths. To learn more, read more about the baby skincare science here.
The best thing to do with newborn babies if they’re a little dirty in the creases and folds of their skin is to lay them on a changing mat with a towel around them, strip them down and then use warm water (boiled and then cooled if you want to be extra cautious) to wipe them down.
Sometimes this is call Top and Tailing. Using separate bowls for the bottom half and top half to reduce the spread of any bacteria. There are even special bowl sets you can get for this very purpose.
Alternatively, use one bowl and just take pieces of cotton wool (as a super gentle, natural wipe) and clean each fold before discarding the cotton wool. Ensure there’s no double dipping in the water so you’re not polluting the next wipe with what you’ve just cleaned up. This will prevent bacteria building up in nooks and creases of skin, and carefully wiping once and disposing of the cotton wool will ensure you don’t spread any bacteria around the baby's body. This can sound more time consuming than it really is, but a quick wipe down is all you’re really doing.
The best time to bath newborn after birth
There’s no right time to bath your baby after they're born. You might find that after your baby’s first poo (Meconium), that it’s a bit tricky to clean them up (that stuff is so sticky!) so a bit of a wipe down with warm water is the easiest way to go. If you’re top and tailing this might be as good a time as any to also wipe down their upper half as well.
But otherwise there is no rush to get your baby washed up. When there’s so much else to focus on, this is one thing not to be worried about. Clean clothes, regular nappy changes and a little bit of coconut oil to treat dry, peeling, skin that many newborns get will keep their skin in great condition.
There are plenty of benefits to delayed bathing for your baby. Baby skin is very delicate, so prolonging when they have their first bath is no bad thing. Even limiting what parts you wash to when they’re strictly necessary can also be a good way to keep skin better protected from over-bathing in those early days.
Your newborn’s first bath
When you’re ready to do your baby’s first bath there are several things to consider.
- When you’re going to bathe them
- What you’re going to bathe them in
- The temperature of the water
- What you’re going to wash them with
- How you’re going to dry them
The best time to give your newborn a bath
The best time of day to bathe your newborn is very variable. The best time is probably when you are calm, your baby is settled and you’re not under time pressure (so maybe never!)
There’s no perfect time to bath them. Despite often idyllic pictures of bathing your baby before bed to settle them down, a crying baby worked up about being in the water doesn’t always match that ideal.
As your baby grows and you start using skincare with fragrance, there are properties to lavender and chamomile (commonly added to fragranced skincare) that are calming and can help ease your baby into wind-down mode, but probably more important is the routine around what you do. Helping them understand that bed time is close is more important than any fancy smells.
However, toddlers and young children can dislike bed-time routine baths for that very reason. As we wrote about here, in our experience it might sometimes be better to just mix things up to ensure not every bath time routine is the same.
Newborn bath temperature
The right temperature for a baby bath is between 37 and 38 degrees Celsius – in other words, body temperature. Some tips for getting this right and making it a comfortable, stress-free experience for you and your baby:
- Make sure the temperature of the room is warm. Baby’s have very little fat to help them regulate their body temperature so they get cold very quickly. To save on the panic of a cold baby crying and desperately trying to wrap them and dry them frantically, try and bath them in a warm room. If your bathroom is cold, consider bathing them somewhere else with some towels down to keep things dry.
- Consider buying a bath thermometer to make sure you get a feel early on for how warm the temperature should be. No one really knows how warm 37 degrees Celsius is to begin with. The old tips of putting your elbow in are also great, but if you are also able to double check with your partner (something we still did with our third newborn) that can be a bonus.
- Get the right temperature before you put your baby in the bath. It sounds obvious, but it's very easy to think that you can adjust it with a bit of hot or cold afterwards which can be dangerous. Best to make sure the bath is run and you’ve given it a good mix to keep the temperature even. This can be a tricky one to remember as your kids get older and can get in the bath themselves. Always make sure you’ve checked the temperature before they get themselves in.
When to do a sponge bath for newborns?
The right tools for washing your newborn are key. Often forgotten is what you’re going to wash them with. Not just the skincare products, but what flannel, cloth or sponge you should use.
You can read more about the best options for baby skin here. But the key choices to consider are whether you’re using something that will work everywhere on the body, whether it will be gentle enough on skin and whether it will be naturally antibacterial.
While there are a number of options from sea sponge, to bamboo flannels to Konjac sponges and baby loofahs, each one has some benefits and drawbacks.
Our own GRASP Pebbl brush is a great solution once you’re past the newborn phase. However, for newborn babies, it’s often easier and gentler on skin to just use a small cup and your hand to pour water and massage in any skincare products once they’re older than 4 weeks.
Best newborn bathtub
Where you bath, and what you bath them in is a tricky question. While it sounds straightforward, managing a slippery baby in and out of your regular bath tub is difficult, so it’s important to decide what your set up will be before hand.
Bath time can get pretty uncomfortable on the knees if you’re kneeling beside a tub, or it can just be a strain on the back if you’re leaning and reaching all the time. Here are some suggestions for how to make bath time more comfortable.
It’s worth considering some key questions before purchasing your bath tub.
- Where will I bath my baby?
- How will I be comfortable?
- What space do I have?
Our favourite was the Shnuggle bath for newborns. We put it on the floor of our bathroom when our kids were little, and then moved it into the bath tub once they were old enough to kick and splash and we were tired of it making a mess.
We loved the Shnuggle because it was compact and small and we knew that once our babies could sit up comfortably by themselves we would move them into the regular bath.
Best foldable infant bath tubs
When space – or just not wanting a total baby takeover of your space - is a key consideration, great foldable bath tubs are the way to go.
The best foldable bath tubs:
Stokke flexi tub is super compact and sits perfectly in your regular bath tub or on a floor space you’ve set up.
The Babydam might not be quite the right option for your newborn, but it makes regular bath tubs a lot easier to manage. Plus it saves a lot of water and is easily packed away after bathtime.
Best infant bath seats and mats
As your baby grows and is able to support themselves you’ll want to think about transitioning them into your regular bath tub. Here’s some key products to think about adding to your bath time setup
Best affordable bath seat
Best natural non-slip bath mat
From Hevea is an all natural rubber that will keep your little one stable and make it a bit easier to wash without them sliding all round the bath tub.
Best transition bath tub
From Skip Hop is large and a little awkward, but it helps ease kids through from newborn to child with a comfortable and adjustable seat.
Best newborn skincare essentials
For newborns skincare itself matters less than you might think. But what we often under estimate is the importance of regularly moisturising kids skin.
3 best moisturisers for your newborn baby
Best affordable moisturiser
Dove baby moisturising cream. Richer than the lotion with lower water content and great for small newborn nourishment
Best plant-based moisturiser
try Waleda’s calendula based formula for highly natural and very gently moisturising.
Easiest to apply moisturiser
great for daily care, the Aveeno baby lotion is good for sensitive skin and is easy to apply regularly which is what your newborn needs.