Bathtime is a chance for you and your baby to have fun, play and interact. A bath 2 to 3 times a week is enough to keep your baby clean.
Your midwife or public health nurse (PHN) will show you how to bathe your baby for the first time. You can ask to see it done once or twice before you try.
You can wash your baby in the main bath or in the sink, or in their own small baby bath.
You can also give your baby a 'top and tail' clean instead of a bath. Or you could have them in the bath with you.
Bathing your baby
When bathing your baby, take the following steps:
- Get the room ready and warm before you start - babies can get cold quickly.
- Gather everything you need before you start the bath - this includes towels, cotton wool, clean nappy and clothes.
- Fill the basin, bath, baby bath or sink until it has 8cm to 10cm or so of water in it. The water should be just high enough to cover your baby's tummy.
- Make sure the bath water is the right temperature - about 36 degrees Celsius.
- Undress your baby and remove their nappy.
- Wash your baby's face and bottom before you put them in the bath.
- Hold your baby's head over the basin and wash their hair.
- Lower your baby slowly into the water so they do not feel as though they are falling.
- Lift your baby into the water with one arm behind their shoulders and neck, holding their outside arm with your hand.
- Place your other hand under their bottom.
- When their bottom is resting on the floor of the basin or bath, you can free that hand to wash them. Use your other hand to keep your baby's head out of the water.
- After you've bathed them, slip your free arm back under their bottom.
- Hold their legs with that arm as they will now be slippery, then lift them out onto the towel.
- Pat them dry. Do not forget their skin folds and creases.
- Empty the basin, bath, baby bath or sink.
What you need
Have everything you need ready before you start:
- a baby bath or basin with warm water - plain water with no soap is best for babies under 1 month
- a clean nappy
- clean clothes
- some cotton wool
Do not use any soap, shampoo or products when they're very young. Plain water is fine, and safer for your baby's skin.
Babies under the age of 1 year are at greatest risk of drowning in the bath. Drowning can happen very quickly, without any noise. It can happen in a very small amount of water.
Children who survive near-drowning often have long term health effects from brain injury.
Never leave your baby alone in the bath, not even for a second. Babies can drown in very little water. They can also be at risk of scalds.
If you need to leave, bring your baby with you. Never let an older child supervise your baby at bath time. Adult supervision is necessary for your baby at all times.
Always empty the bathwater when you are done.
Do not use bath seats
Do not use bath seats. They are not safety equipment. Your baby could slip out, or tip forwards or sideways into the water.
How often to bathe your baby
You do not need to bathe your baby every day, but you can if it relaxes and soothes them.
Two or three baths a week is enough to keep your baby clean. Choose a time when they are not too hungry or tired. It is best not to bathe them directly after a feed.
Your baby's skin needs cooler water than your own. Water that may feel barely warm to you could be painfully hot for your baby.
Put the cold water in the basin or bath first. Then put the warm water in. Finally, put cold water in again to make sure the taps are cool and will not burn your baby.
The temperature should be about 36 degrees Celsius. Use a bath thermometer to test this.
Always check the temperature of the bathwater with your elbow. Your hands are not sensitive enough. Mix the water well to ensure there are no 'hot spots'.
Never put your baby in the bath when the water is still running. The water temperature can change quickly.
Make sure the room you are bathing them in is warm. Close windows to prevent a draught.
Amount of water to use
The water level should be just high enough to cover your baby’s tummy when they are lying down. Make sure you always keep your baby's head clear of the water.
Bonding with your baby during bath time
Bath time can be a special bonding time with your baby as you massage and play with them. It will help your baby to relax if you keep talking while you wash them.
After the bath
Dry them and pay particular attention to their skin folds.
This is a good time to massage some oil or cream into your baby’s skin. Do not use aqueous cream for dry skin conditions as it may cause damage to their skin.
Do not use any oils on your baby’s skin if they are under 1 month old. Do not use anything that contains peanut oil, as some babies are allergic to it.
Cleaning the rest of their body
Use fresh pieces of cotton wool to clean around your baby’s ears (but not inside them).
Never use cotton buds inside your baby's ear canal
Dip the cotton wool in the water. Make sure it doesn't get too wet. Wipe gently around your baby's eyes from the nose outward in.
Use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye, so you don't transfer any stickiness or infection.
Wash the rest of your baby's face, neck and hands in the same way and dry them gently with the towel.