Baby Maintenance: Baths, Nails, and Hair

Unfortunately for new parents, babies don't come with instruction manuals. So when it comes to even the simplest tasks, like baths and nail trimming, some parents feel confused.

If you're unsure about the baby grooming basics, here's a handy guide to help make hygiene as easy as loving your baby.

Taking Care of Baby: Baby Baths

Until your baby's umbilical cord falls off, which usually happens after the first week, don't give any baths. Instead, give your baby a sponge wash, or ‘top and tail’. Circumcised boys should not be bathed until the penis has totally healed. Here's how:

  1. Lay your baby on a towel. If it is cold, you can take off one item of clothing at a time while you wash your baby.
  2. Gently wash your baby's face with a lukewarm, wet washcloth. Don't use soap.
  3. Add soap to the wet cloth to wash your baby's body. Wash the diaper area last.
  4. Rinse your baby off with water and pat your baby dry.
  5. Cup your hand under warm water and gently pour it over your baby's head to wet your baby's hair.
  6. Put a small amount of baby shampoo on your baby's hair. Gently rub in a circular motion, and then use a plastic cup or your hand to rinse off the shampoo.

Don't use any lotions on your baby, and especially avoid adult products. 

Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off, you can graduate to baths. Your baby doesn't need a bath every day -- two to three times a week should be fine.

Whether you bathe baby in a baby bath, the sink, or the bathtub is up to you. But considering that babies are slippery when wet, some parents feel better able to handle giving a bath in the smaller space of a baby bath or the sink.

The most important thing to remember about baths is to never leave your baby unattended. Babies can slide down and quickly become submerged in even a few inches of water. Using a baby bath seat is no assurance that your baby will be safe in the bathtub. Many seats can easily tip over. If you need to leave the room, wrap your baby in a towel and take her with you.

Here are tips for giving your baby a tub bath:

  1. Put the washcloth, soap, and shampoo -- everything you'll need for the bath -- close by. That way, you don't have to leave the room once your baby is in the tub. Also, lay out a diaper and clothes where you can easily reach them after the bath.
  2. Fill the tub with 2 to 3 inches of water. The bath should be warm but not hot. To be sure the water is the right temperature, test it first with your elbow. Make sure your water heater is set to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit so that you can't accidentally scald your baby.
  3. Wash baby's face gently with a wet washcloth. Use a wet cotton ball or washcloth (no soap) to clean your baby's eyes and face. Wipe from the inside of each eye to the outside. Make sure you get any dried secretions out of the nose and eyes.
  4. Soap the washcloth (use a gentle, no-tears baby soap or wash) and clean your baby's body from top to bottom and front to back. Make sure you clean inside all of the little folds. Wash the diaper area last.
  5. Fill a cup with water to wet baby's hair. Put a small amount of baby shampoo on her head. Rub in a gentle circular motion. Keep your baby's head tilted back so the shampoo doesn't run into her eyes.
  6. Fill the cup again with clean water to rinse your baby's hair and body.
  7. When lifting your baby out of the bath, support her bottom with one hand and the head and neck with the other. Make sure you have a firm hold so your baby doesn't slide away.
  8. You don't need to use lotion, but you can apply it after the bath if your baby’s skin is especially dry.
  9. After the bath, wrap your baby in a towel and gently pat her dry.

Continued

Taking Care of Baby: Cradle Cap

It's common for babies to develop flaky, red patches of skin on their scalp called cradle cap. It's not a big concern and is easy to treat. Here's how:

  1. Before a bath, massage a little bit of petroleum jelly, olive oil, or baby oil into your baby's scalp to loosen the dry skin.
  2. Gently rub the oil into your baby's scalp with a soft brush or washcloth to release the flakes.
  3. Wash baby's hair with a gentle baby shampoo.

Cradle cap should get better on its own. If it sticks around or spreads to baby's face, neck, or other parts of the body, see your doctor. You may need a stronger prescription shampoo for your baby's hair and a cortisone cream for your baby's body.

Taking Care of Baby: Cutting Nails

Because your baby's fingernails grow very quickly and babies can easily scratch themselves, file or cut the nails about twice a week. Your baby's toenails don't grow as quickly. You can probably get away with cutting them a couple of times a month. Just watch out for any jagged edges that you may need to trim.

Whether you opt for baby scissors, a baby nail clipper, or a nail file is up to you. Considering the tiny size of baby's nails, decide which one you're most comfortable using. Filing generally runs less of a risk that you'll cut your baby's skin. Never bite off your baby's nails -- you could give her an infection.

Here are some tips to make cutting nails easier:

  • Cut nails after a bath, when they're softer. Sometimes it helps to trim a baby's nails when the baby is asleep and relaxed.
    If you use scissors or a nail clipper, press the skin under the nail down so you can get to the nail more easily. It may help to have your partner hold the baby's hand steady the first few times so you can concentrate on cutting.
  • Trim her fingernails following the natural curve of the nail. Cut toenails straight across.
  • Use a nail file after clipping to smooth any jagged edges.
  • If you accidentally nip baby's skin with the scissors, apply gentle pressure with a tissue or piece of gauze. Use a tiny bit of ointment on the cut. Don't put on a bandage because your baby could choke on it.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 27, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Dr Christopher Tolcher, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, USC School of Medicine; spokesman, American Academy of Pediatrics.

National Safety Council: "Baby-proofing your home."

March of Dimes: "Giving your baby a bath."

Consumer Product Safety Commission: "CPSC warns of drowning hazard with baby bath seats or rings."

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination

Subscribe to the Pregnancy & Child Development Newsletter.

Get essential updates about your growing baby and what to expect each week.

Sign Up