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Newborn Baths 101

Soaping up doesn’t have to be a big to-do. Stay above water with these tips.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

For new parents, bath time can be daunting, with all that water and a slippery, wiggly baby. Eileen Costello, MD, a pediatrician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, helps new moms and dads understand how to keep their baby well-washed and safe.

"For newborns, until the umbilical cord comes off, which can take up to 3 weeks, a warm sponge bath on a clean towel on the floor is the best way to start," Costello says.

Once the cord comes off, the baby can graduate to a tub that fits in the sink. But for both situations, safety comes first. "Never take your hand off her, and never walk away for even a second," Costello says. "That’s all it takes for a baby to slip or slide, or worse, fall."

Bath time shouldn’t come every day. "Babies don’t sweat, and they really don’t get dirty," Costello says. "So you only need to give your baby a bath two to three times a week." Nor does it have to last very long. While giving her extra time in the tub may seem as though you’re adding moisture, it can irritate and dry out your baby’s skin. So can some lotions, so you can skip those, too.

For soaps, choose an unscented bar suited for sensitive skin. With a gentle washcloth, focus on cleaning her face, hands, neck, and diaper area. Once you’re done washing and rinsing, wrap her up fast, since newborns can’t maintain their body temperature well and can easily get cold.

After a few tries, bath time should be easy -- and could even help your baby fall asleep faster.

Expert Tip

"Make sure that the timing of Baby’s bath is strategic. Hungry or over-tired infants typically don’t respond well to the stimulation of a bath."-- Sara DuMond, MD

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on January 15, 2014

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