Newborn and infant Baths

Health advice, Postnatal

Last update: November 2020

Bathing a newborn isn’t difficult, but for first-time parents, it can be challenging. Practice makes perfect! You can’t learn it during prenatal classes with a doll, as it really doesn’t reflect the reality of a real baby.  Bathing a baby is not only basic hygiene, but also an important relationship and sensory moment for him.

While there is no one way to give a newborn a bath, there are some basic principles you should follow. You should only bathe them every two days, because he is not really dirty, to avoid heat loss and dry their skin even more.  However, a daily toilet with a washcloth for the face, neck, genitals and buttocks is recommended.

You should use soft soaps which is cleansing and hypoallergenic, then apply a hydrating cream to their body to maintain their skin’s protective integrity. Since they lose heat from their head, end the bath with their hair and then cover their head to dry it before dressing them according to the season.

During your first bathing experiences, you should set the bath up on a flat surface, such as a counter or table, to help ease handling your baby. Once you gain a bit of experience, and as long as you never leave the baby alone, you can give them a bath in a baby bath, sink or in the tub with a parent. You can immerse your baby in water if they still have the rest of their umbilical cord. Dry the surrounding area and folds with a Q-Tip so that it dries quickly and falls off quicker. It usually takes three to eight days to fall off. It should never have an off-putting smell, and you should never see a greenish discharge from your baby’s belly button. If this occurs, you should see your health professional as there may be an infection.


In the hospital, a nurse might demonstrate a newborn bath for you, but if your stay is short, they may not have enough time to do so. That said, if you feel uncomfortable, ask them to help you with the first bath!

When returning home, bathing time is up to you, your baby and your daily routine. Choose a time when you have lots of energy. If the bath calms your baby, you might be better off bathing them before bedtime to promote deeper sleep. If, on the other hand, it seems to excite them makes them livelier, mornings would be preferable.

The location where you bathe them should be free of air currents and warmer than the rest of the house, between 22-24 degrees Celsius. For water temperature, you should feel comfortable warmth on your inside wrist or elbow just before placing the baby in the water.

The water temperature should be around 37 degrees Celsius, like body temperature. Using a small bath thermometer can be a good idea, if that bothers you. In addition, it is not necessary to have a large amount of water in the tub. And remember, you are holding the baby and keeping your eyes on him at all times throughout this activity.


You should prepare all the materials you need before undressing your baby, and check the water just before placing them in it. It will cool down quickly which will discomfort them.

Start by soaping your baby’s body. You can move from one part to another, covering the rest to avoid heat loss. Start with their face with clean water, soap their ears and neck, then descend towards their upper limbs, torso, arms and legs. Then turn them on to their side to wash their back, and end with their genitals and buttocks. For a girl, the vulva can be gently washed by spreading the labia majora to clean from front to back without coming back and for the baby boy, the penis and scrotum will be washed without particularly manipulating the foreskin of the glans. Then, as I noted above, you should wash their hair last. Never wash or rinse the baby under running water, as sharp water temperature changes are unpredictable.

After soaping your baby, you have to rinse them thoroughly and then dry their folds to prevent irritation. Once completed, you can apply a moisturizer all over the body before you dress them based on the ambient temperature, season, or whether they are a chilly or warm baby. Generally, irrespective of the season, babies should wear one layer more than you. That said, if your baby’s back is damp, they are too hot. Remove a layer to make them more comfortable and to prevent newborn seborrheic dermatitis that can occur when they are too hot.

Nasal toilet of a newborn

Namely, it is also advisable in the first weeks of a baby’s life to use saline water, when bathing, as basic care, but also to hydrate his nasal passages and avoid congestion related to secretions becoming thicker and stickier from birth. You can use a fogger, a flask of water, etc. For more details, see my post on the subject (in french only).

Nail care for a newborn baby

You don’t have to file or cut a newborn’s fingernails, as their fingernails are soft, brittle, and most often, stick directly to the skin. Better to wait a few weeks before thinking about cutting them. They will become harder over time and therefore easier to work with for the cut. For more on this topic, check out my Baby Nail Cut post.

Bathing an infant

As babies get older, they will hold themselves better and are more alert, bath time can take on a whole new level. Fun activity where the family takes advantage of this time to get together and have fun!

In addition to the information in this text, here are 5 recommendations to consider for safety when bathing an infant and 5 tips for the bath itself:

5 recommendations on safety when bathing an infant:

  1. Never leave a baby alone in the bath or under the supervision of another child. Always keep an eye on him.
  2. Water is never put beyond the infant’s navel while sitting in the tub, as a baby can drown in as little as 2 inches (5 cm) of water.
  3. Health Canada advises against the use of a seat or donut or bath bench for babies, as this often gives parents a false sense of security.
  4. Water is never run in or added to the bath while the baby is in it.
  5. Bubble baths should be avoided to prevent reactions to the baby’s skin or urinary tract infections.

5 tips for bathing an infant:

  1. Set up a bedtime routine at night and incorporate the bath ideally from the age of 2 months. No need to use soap every time, but more for relaxation and the zen side before bedtime. If no bath, small daily toilet at least to wash the face, neck, genitals and buttocks.
  2. Prepare all the necessary bath equipment before undressing the baby and have everything close to you (mild unscented soap, towel, moisturizer, diaper, change of clothes, etc.).
  3. Start with the face: the eyes (near the nose, then outwards), the ears (no cotton swabs or earpicks), the mouth with a clean washcloth with clear water, then, soap the rest of the body and then rinse it well.
  4. Thoroughly dry the baby’s skin all over with special attention to the folds by patting and blotting.
  5. Finish with a nice massage with a moisturizer all over the body. After that, all you have to do is cover it afterwards! The sleeper or sleeping bag is a good idea to prepare him for the night. He will quickly make the association in his evening routine with the bath and the sleeping bag that he will come to differentiate the bedtime routine with naps during the day.

Nasal toilet for infants:

It is often suggested to use saline water in each nostril of an infant at least twice a day when fall arrives, and until summer, routinely morning and evening. This procedure ensures that the nasal mucous membranes and secretions are well hydrated, which in turn promotes better expulsion and fewer respiratory tract infections for the baby. Obviously, during minor colds, we will increase the number of nasal toilets and ideally, before feedings to facilitate nasal breathing during feedings.

I hope this article will help new parents feel more confident in giving their newborn a bath!

Here are videos about care for newborns:

Read these articles:

Talk soon,

The Baby Expert


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