November 2, 2018

Baby Bathing 101: A Guide to How Often to Wash Your Baby

Mother Bathing Baby

Bathing your baby can be a fun and playful way to bond with your new little one, while caring for your baby’s sensitive skin. It can also help your baby establish a positive relationship to bath time and the water.

If you’re new to it, though, bathing a baby can seem a little daunting. Babies can’t yet support their own bodies. And, let’s face it, a wet baby is…slippery! With your baby’s skin in mind, here are our answers to some of your baby bathing FAQs to help you get started such as how often should I wash my baby? Baby bathing does take a little practice, but you’ll be a pro in no time.

What should I do before I bathe my baby?

Get the jump on infant bath time (and post-bath time) by washing towels and clothes with a detergent that’s designed to be gentle on sensitive skin—that way you’re ready when baby is squeaky clean. Look for a baby detergent that fights tough baby stains while also being gentle on sensitive newborn skin.

How often should I wash my baby?

Given its reputation for softness, it might surprise you to know that baby skin is actually pretty rough and dries out quite easily. That’s because baby skin doesn’t hold moisture as well as adult skin [1]. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only sponge baths for the first couple of weeks after your baby is born, or at least until the umbilical stump falls off [2]. After that, while there’s no definitive right or wrong answer, a bath two or three times a week should be sufficient to keep your baby clean, while not drying out that adorable newborn skin we know and love.

Do I need a special tub to wash my baby?

Some parents will enjoy having an infant bathtub from the get-go, but you can just as easily wash your baby in the bathtub, or even in the sink. If you do choose a slippery surface, such as a porcelain sink or tub, prevent slippage by placing a small towel down. In terms of quantity of water, you only need a little. The Mayo Clinic recommends two inches.

>What about water temperature?

Since baby skin is quite sensitive to temperature [3], make sure to bathe your baby in water that’s warm, but not too warm. As a precaution, consider lowering the hot water temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees so that baths are always soothing—never scalding. If your baby seems chilly during the bath, drape a warm washcloth over his/her belly and pour cups of warm water over the chest and shoulders.

What kind of soap/shampoo should I use?

When choosing products that will interact directly with your baby’s skin, look to ingredient labels to learn more about what’s in the product you’re using. Additionally, if your baby does have a reaction to a particular product, knowing the ingredients may help you be more aware of sensitivities and allergies down the road. For baby soaps and shampoos, go with products that are free of fragrance or alcohol, which may be less likely to irritate skin. [4] If you do shampoo your baby’s hair, a small drop will do the trick. Also consider saving shampooing until the end of the bath, as having wet hair may make your baby feel chilly.

*Bonus Tip: Consider adding a dollop of coconut oil to the bath water when you bathe your baby. It has great natural moisturizing properties and may help soothe irritated skin [5].

Should I moisturize my baby’s skin after the bath?

If your baby’s skin seems dry after the bath, a moisturizer may help to replenish and retain moisture, though make sure to choose those made without synthetic fragrances. Baby skin is more permeable than adult skin, which means that substances pass through it more easily—including the ingredients in baby products [6]. Consider a moisturizer made with coconut oil, which is full of good fatty acids and proteins and is gentle on skin. Some studies have shown that applying coconut oil to the skin may increase hydration and reduce water loss in very dry skin [7]. Read even more great tips for using coconut oil in your baby’s routine (or your own).

Is bath time a good time to introduce massage to my baby?

Yes! Infant massage can help deepen the bond that exists between you and your baby, and has a number of health benefits, such as soothing colic, promoting quality sleep, and boosting a baby’s immune system [8]. Anyone can do it, and during or after the bath can be a great time, since you’re already connecting physically with your baby. Start small, on the feet, legs, and hands, then if your baby is comfortable, gently massage the arms, chest, and tummy. Our full guide to infant massage by expert Linda Storm is full of great ideas to help you get started.

Any other trade secrets I should know?

We asked our Generation Good community about baby-bathing suggestions, and they offered some tried-and-tested tips for a blissful bath:

  • Bathe your baby during a low-stress time in your day.
  • Set out all your supplies before you start.
  • Make sure your baby is well fed before the bath.
  • Use music or songs to create a fun, relaxing atmosphere.
  • Put a few drops of calming essential oil in the bath, such as lavender or eucalyptus.
  • Massage your baby’s scalp with your fingertips or a soft brush to loosen cradle cap.

Have fun and soak up every minute of this exciting time with your new baby. If you’d like to learn more, you can read our full guide to year-round newborn skin care, and if you crave more knowledge on what makes baby skin tick, read a trained nurse’s insight.