Postpartum Doula Tips: Baby's First Bath
Bringing your baby home is unlike any other experience you’ll ever have. It is a perfect combination of love, excitement, nerves, and even some fear. That is why having a postpartum doula is such an asset. We are there to meet you exactly where you’re at, help you honor that excitement while also calming the nerves.
One of the most nerve wrecking things you’ll go through as a brand new parent is that first bath. It doesn’t seem that difficult, but once you’re in it, you’re so scared you’ll hurt your baby, that your baby will be too cold, or that your baby will slip out of your hands! Add those nerves to your sleep deprivation and being sore from giving birth and you can imagine how overwhelming that moment can be.
This is why the first bath is one of my favorite moments to guide new parents through. It is a transitional moment, one that once completed, helps boost your confidence as a parent and strengthens your bond as a couple and a family.
Though each bath after that first gets easier and easier, it can still be a stressful process for several weeks or months. So here are a few tips from me to you on giving your baby a bath.
The answers here vary and it’s entirely up to you to decide when you should give that first bath. Experts agree that you should wait until your baby’s umbilical cord stump falls off before giving a bath that submerges your baby in water. Until then, sponge baths are the way to go. Here is a great how-to video for a sponge bath.
Babies are not dirty and studies show that leaving vernix cases (that thick, cheese-like coating that is on your baby’s skin at birth) or even rubbing it can help regulate your baby’s temperature, and encourage bonding and attachment. It is also highly moisturizing and provides an anti-microbial layer to protect your baby’s skin.
Over time your baby may start to get stinky, so follow your instincts on when to bathe and how often.
The sink tends to be the easiest place for most parents to learn how to bathe their baby confidently. I love it because parents don’t have to lean over too far like in a bathtub. If you aren’t down with having your baby directly in your kitchen sink the following are some good options until baby is big enough to be in the full bathtub
Make sure baby is well-fed and well-rested before the bath. Giving a hungry or overtired baby a bath can make things a bit tougher. This is a bonding and learning experience for you both and ideally should be a positive one, so make things as easy on yourself as possible!
Get your supplies ready first (see below for our list!). Having everything you need near by will make the process much easier and keep you from getting frazzled.
Turn the heat up a half hour before you plan to give baby a bath - 75 to 80 degrees is ideal. This helps keep your baby warm and calm. If it’s Summer time and the house is already pretty warm, keep a bucket of warm water next to you to place washcloths in and then use these warm wash cloths to help keep baby warm without turning on the heat.
If you have an extra pair of hands, put a towel in the dryer to warm baby up after the bath.
Check temperature of the bath. 100 degrees is the ideal temp - not too cold, not to hot. You can use a bath thermometer or test with your elbow - it should feel slightly warmer than skin temperature. If it’s too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for your baby.
Lay a blanket on the floor nearby, then a warm towel on top. Undress baby and have pajamas nearby for after the bath.
Now you’re ready to start… gently place baby in the bath slowly. I like to start with the feet and give baby a few seconds to kick around or just experience the sensation of the water. Then I gently lower baby into the bath supporting the head as you go. If you have a reclining bath you can gently lay baby down - if the warm water doesn't cover the belly you can place one of your warm wash clothes on baby’s chest and belly. If you don’t have a recliner for the bath, keep both hands on your baby and have your partner do the washing.
If baby is unhappy, speak calmly near babies ear or shush quickly to help soothe. You can also try singing some lullabies. If baby seems to be enjoying it, let him or her kick before starting with the cleaning portion.
Start with your baby’s face. Using a corner of a wet washcloth or a damp cotton ball gently wipe one eye from the inner corner outward. Then use a different corner of the washcloth or a new cotton ball to clean the other eye. It’s okay to use a small amount of milk soap on your baby’s face if necessary but avoid the eye area if possible. To continue the face, wash around the mouth, under the chin and neck folds (this is where milk and drool can make baby stinky!) and then move on to the inside of baby’s ears and behind his ears. Don’t use q-tips or cotton balls to clean baby’s ears.
Move on to wash baby's body. Rewet the washcloth with warm water and wash your little one's neck and torso. Gently maneuver around the umbilical cord if there's still a stump; it's okay to gently wipe away any dry skin or crustiness around the belly button or umbilical cord stump. Then clean under his arms and between the fingers. Make sure to get into skin folds and creases.
Next, baby’s genitals. Use a clean, wet washcloth and gentle soap. For girls, wash the area from front to back and gently wipe between creases. For boys, gently wipe his penis clean. If your baby boy is uncircumcised, do not pull back the foreskin. Lastly, clean that cute little tooshie and make sure to use a small amount of soap!
Newborn skin is sensitive so keep the soap use to a minimum. It’s also not necessary to wash baby’s hair for now. You can gently wipe the top of baby’s head down with a wet wash cloth after cleaning baby’s face if you like.
Once you’re done with the steps above, you’ll want to give baby one final rinse to wash away any soap residue. You can use a small cup with clean, non-soapy water and gently pour over baby. If you have that towel in the dryer, send your partner to go grab it before rinsing. Then gently bring baby out of the tub and pat dry with a soft, warm towel. Before diapering, make sure the bottom and any skin folds are thoroughly dry!
Keep lotions and powders to a minimum in the early days as baby’s skin is adjusting to life outside of the womb. If you feel baby’s skin is dry or flaky, a little olive oil or coconut oil can help but use sparingly to start.
Now that baby is dry, put on a diaper and jammies and voila! You just gave your baby a first bath!
If you baby is a upset after the bath, take some time to gently soothe with swaddling, cuddles, breastfeeding or anything you feel your baby needs to relax. These new experiences can take some time to adjust to and if your baby hates the first bath, don’t be discouraged. The more practice you all get, the easier it will be!
Here is our list of supplies to have handy for bath time. Remember, it’s best to keep these organized close by so that you don’t have to go looking for them while holding a squirmy baby. We also highly recommend having an extra pair of hands helping you just in case.
3-4 soft washcloths
2 cotton balls
1-2 clean towels
Mild baby soap
Clean diaper & wipes
Blanket & towel for floor (for changing post-bath)
As baby gets older you can add some fun bath items like sponges, rubber duckies, or other toys. Once you get the hang of bathing baby, it can be a wonderful, calming addition to your nighttime routine. You can add a drop of lavender essential oil to the bath, or dilute some with coconut oil for a post-bath infant massage before getting baby dressed. Follow that up with a book or two and a lullaby and your baby will be ready to fall asleep peacefully!