How to Give a Newborn a Sponge Bath
A newborn’s first bath in the hospital is one of those core-memory moments. You are so worried about every reaction as they experience all the new sensations: warm water, soft sponges, shampoo. But the nurses in the hospital seem to do it all with such ease and you, as the new parent, clumsily try and manage the task. And somehow you’re supposed to do this on your own at home?! Don’t worry–there are so many tricks and tools to make bathing your baby safe and happy for both of you.
When can you first give your newborn a bath? What about the umbilical cord?
You actually should not give your baby a traditional bath right off the bat. The stump from their umbilical cord needs to be kept dry and left alone until it falls off on its own. This could take days or even a few weeks. Even after watching the process six times over it’s still amazing to watch. The stump starts rather soft and gooey-looking and then gradually hardens and one day, usually while you’re changing a diaper, it just pops off all by itself and their tiny belly button heals on its own. If you are worried about how it’s looking along the way, have your pediatrician take a look at it.
So while you’re waiting for that darling little belly button to make its debut, you can keep your baby clean by giving her a sponge bath. This is exactly what it sounds like: a gentle cleaning of your baby using a sponge or a washcloth without putting their body in water. A few tips for a successful sponge bath:
- Make sure the temperature of the room is warm, as your baby’s body temperature will inevitably lower a little bit during the sponge bath.
- Use only clean towels and washcloths.
- Lay a towel on the ground and lay your baby on the towel.
- Wet a washcloth in warm water and carefully clean your baby. I always like to start with their face and work my way down so I know the washcloth is the very cleanest when I do their eyes and face.
- If you choose to use soap, do not put it on the washcloth until AFTER you’ve cleaned the face. Make sure it’s a mild soap and that you rise it off thoroughly. (I honestly don’t really use soap on sponge baths because it’s so hard to rinse it off!)
- Carefully clean in armpits and around their neck. You’ll be surprised at the amount of stuff hiding in there–usually lint!
- Wrap your baby in the towel to dry off and then diaper and dress her.
Babies are actually incredibly clean, so they don’t need to be bathed every day. They don’t sweat, they don’t really get dirty, and any diaper changes should result in a thoroughly-cleaned bottom. Bathing too often can dry out their delicate skin, so most pediatricians recommend bathing a couple of times a week at first.
Once the umbilical cord has fallen off, you are ready for the first official bath! There are a ton of different products that can help make the process easier–and safer–for your baby. Infant bathtubs usually have a padded area for your baby to lay that helps keep their squirmy, soapy body still and gives you a more manageable size of tub to fill. They are especially useful if your home does not have a bathtub. We used infant tubs with our first few children, but honestly, because we did have a bathtub the thing that we found easiest for bathing was to lay a clean towel in the bottom of the tub, fill just a couple of inches of warm water, and lay the baby directly on the towel.
Once your baby is in the water, you NEVER step away, even for a moment. Make sure you keep a hand and eyes on her at all times. It’s a good idea to make sure that you have all the supplies handy before you start the bath.
While the baby gets used to the water, we have found that our kids have loved to have water gently poured on their abdomen, being careful not to let it splash on their faces. Since they are not fully submerged, the exposed parts of their body get cold and keeping some water on them helps. We also often lay a washcloth across their abdomen so that they stay warmer, too.
Here, too, I always start with the baby’s face so I know the washcloth is clean and doesn’t have any soap on it to get in baby’s eyes. Once the face is done, gently wash your baby’s hair, being sure not to let any soap get near her eyes. Carefully rinse out all of the suds. Check the base of the head well–I swear there are always more bubbles hiding there! Work your way down the body, cleaning armpits, the creases in her neck, and hands especially well.
How to calm your newborn during a bath? How do you make it more enjoyable?
If your baby is not a fan of the bath, try speaking in a soothing tone or even singing to distract her. And if that doesn’t work, bathe her as quickly as you can and soothe her when she’s done. We haven’t had a baby who didn’t learn to like the bath.
Toys are a fun addition when babies get a little bit older, but don’t worry about them initially. If you choose to use toys, we’ve found simple cups to be our kids’ favorites. And we always avoid anything that squirts water because those never seem to dry all the way and can harbor mold.
The bottom line when bathing your baby is to keep her safety and comfort as your top priorities. Make sure the water is a safe temperature. Make sure NEVER to leave her unattended. Make sure to use safe products and to wash her gently.
And know that, just like with all of parenting, there’s a learning curve. The first bath is always tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it.