The first bath
Newborns don’t get a bath straight away after the birth; it’s more important to keep them warm, and the natural vernix on their skin helps give the natural skin barrier a boost if it’s allowed to sink in instead of being washed away. Sometime in the first 24 hours or so, however, you’ll likely want to clean your little one up. You have two options, depending on how you’d like to go about it.
Toping and tailing
This is a bit like a sponge bath, and it’s a great option for newborns (and nervous parents!) Instead of immersing your baby in the water, you use cotton wool and warm water to clean the bits that tend to get messy.
- First, make sure the room is nice and warm, and lay out what you’ll need: a clean nappy, clean clothes, a couple of towels, a bowl or sink filled with warm water, and some cotton wool. Use your elbow to test the temperature of the water. It should feel the same as your body temperature.
- Undress your baby on top of a clean towel.
- Dip a piece of cotton wool in the water and squeeze it out. Gently wipe each of your baby’s eyes, starting from the nose and wiping toward the ears. Use a new piece of cotton for the other eye to avoid spreading germs.
- Use fresh cotton to wipe the rest of your baby’s face, the ears, the neck creases, and the hands. (This is the "topping" bit.)
- "Tailing" is cleaning the bottom half – the part that’s covered by the nappy. If things down there are a bit too messy for just cotton and water, you can try using unperfumed baby wipes or some mild baby cleansing lotion.
- Afterward, pat your baby with a clean towel, making sure any skin creases are dry. Pop on some warm clothing and give your little one a cuddle – you both deserve it!
- Again, it's best to get everything ready before you start – and if you’re nervous, you may also want to recruit a second pair of hands to help. Lay out a couple of towels, some warm clothes, a clean nappy, a soft flannel or some cotton wool. While your baby is very small, you may want to use a plastic baby bath on the kitchen counter or a sturdy changing table, to save your back (bending over a floor-level bath is no easy task!)
- Fill the bath with about 8-10cm of water. If you have a bath thermometer, check that the water is 37-38 C; if not, test it with your elbow. It should the same temperature as your body.
- Undress your baby, then wrap him or her in a towel to keep warm. Clean the baby’s face, neck and eyes with cotton wool as above.
- Next, take off your baby’s nappy and clean the nappy area with cotton or wipes.
- Support the head with one hand and gently lower your little one into the warm water, then use the flannel to gently clean the skin, paying special attention to skin folds. You can use a bit of mild emollient cleanser in the water if you like, to help keep the skin moisturised – just be aware that it will make things a bit more slippery! There are all sorts of bath supports and seats that you can buy to help out.
- It’s also important to remember that you should never leave a baby or young child unattended in the bath.
- Once or twice a week, you may want to wash your baby’s hair; you can do this by supporting his or her head and massaging the scalp with water or a bit of an extra-mild baby shampoo, then rinsing thoroughly. (Having an extra pair of hands helps with this!)
- Lift your baby out and wrap him or her in a towel straightaway to keep warm. (This is a great time for a bit of a cuddle!)
- Smooth on a bit of baby moisturising lotion if your baby’s skin tends to be dry, and a bit of barrier cream in the nappy area if rash is an issue.
- A clean nappy and some warm clothes, and the bath is done!