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Pregnancy Health Center - Your baby''s first few weeks

Search Health Information    Bathing, Diapers and Skin Care

Bathing

Bathing can be a very pleasurable experience for you and your baby. The baby's skin is soft, and it should be treated with care. If this is your first experience in caring for a newborn, it is possible that you may have many questions regarding how to safely bathe your new bundle of joy.

How often should I bathe my baby?

Unlike older children and adults, babies don't require daily bathing. While it is important to thoroughly clean your baby after each diaper change, a bathing 2 - 3 times a week is plenty.

What is the right temperature?

Water at the right temperature should feel pleasantly warm on the inside of your wrist. This will usually be between 90°F and 100°F. The room should also be a comfortable temperature (around 75°F). Baby's first bath is a good time to be sure that your hot water heater is set no higher than 120°F (if you haven't already).

What do I need to bathe my newborn?

It is important to be cautious when bathing your baby. For the first week or two, it’s generally recommended that you give your baby sponge baths, until the umbilical cord falls off. Once the umbilical cord is gone you will need to have a sanitized kitchen sink, a basin, or an infant tub. This minimizes the risks associated with bathing an infant in a larger tub. Below is a helpful checklist for the recommended items you may need for "bath-time":

  • Cotton balls
  • Soft washcloths
  • Hooded bath towel
  • Clean change of clothes (including a diaper)
  • Extra towels
  • Baby-formulated soap, lotion, baby oil, and shampoo
  • A thermometer (to check the water temperature)

Helpful tips for bathing

  • ALWAYS keep at least one hand on your baby AT ALL TIMES. Their skin is especially slippery during and after baths.
  • NEVER leave to answer your door or your phone (If there is an emergency and you have to stop, wrap your baby up in a towel and take the baby with you).
  • Only run 2 - 3 inches of water in the tub.
  • Make sure that the area around where you are washing your baby is covered with non-slip rugs.
  • Make sure that the faucet is not hot (If so, cover it, or run cool water through it to cool it).
  • Support your baby's neck and head while bathing.

Diapers

Changing diapers is a skill that will get easier with time. Disposable diapers are very easy to put on; they simply fold over and attach with Velcro or tape. You will learn how to assess your baby and determine what is the most comfortable changing method. Buy diapers with a cut-out space for the cord for newborns, or keep the diaper folded down under it.

Tips for changing baby boys:

  • ALWAYS keep the penis covered through the changing process (otherwise, you might get "showered")!
  • Clean all genitalia gently, and do not pull the foreskin back.
  • Wipe all creases and apply ointment on the genitals and buttocks to prevent a possible rash.
  • If you notice yellow secretions, this is normal. If the penis tip appears swollen, and you notice crusted, yellow sores (containing fluid) at the end of the penis, call your doctor.

Tips for changing girls:

  • Make sure that you wipe her clean in a "front-to-back" manner starting from the vagina and proceeding to the rectum. (This decreases the chance of infection.)
  • Do NOT pull the labia (folds of the vagina) back to clean.
  • Wipe all creases and apply ointment on the genitals and buttocks to prevent a possible rash.

The choice of using cloth or disposable diapers is up to the parents, sometimes with input from the pediatrician. Both types have pros and cons, and you and your partner should decide which type is suitable for your baby.

Skin Care

When you first looked at your baby, you may have wondered why there was body hair (lanugo) or a slimy coating (vernix). This is completely normal and some babies have more than others.

The hair and coating protect the baby from the hard trip through the birth canal into the "new world." Within a few days, these characteristics disappear and you will have your bundle of joy with wonderfully soft skin!

How do you keep baby's sensitive skin healthy, soft, and smooth? Below are some tips:

  • Remember to use only baby-formulated products for your infant (unless otherwise suggested by your physician). Adult-formulated products can introduce unnecessary chemicals and perfumes that may irritate your baby's skin. This can cause rashes, bumps, and itchy skin.
  • Don't panic about the white "acne-looking" bumps that are breaking out on your baby's face. This is called baby acne, and often occurs in newborns. The white bumps are the result of oil glands that have not matured yet. The baby still has some of your hormones as a result of being in your uterus during the pregnancy, and it usually takes about 6 weeks for your baby's system to stabilize. The bumps will then go away. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, the only thing you need to do is wash them with water. Don't use soap or attempt to squeeze them because this may aggravate the bumps and make them worse.
  • Protect your baby from sun, wind, and dry air. Keep your baby covered and appropriately clothed (avoid over-dressing) to minimize the risk of heat rash. Also, limit the amount of time that your baby is exposed to sun, especially in the first 6 months. Your baby's skin is extremely sensitive to the sun. Check with your pediatrician about whether to use sunscreen before your baby turns 6 months old. Always use a hat whenever you are outside with your baby.
  • "Squeaky Clean" is not always good. Minimize the number of times that you wash your baby with soap. This allows the skin to maintain its normal pH level, and it reduces the chances of irritation.
  • A variety of normal spots or marks may appear on your baby's skin. Some are called Mongolian spots, and usually appear on the bottom or back of your baby. These spots usually disappear after the baby's first birthday. Strawberry marks (red, soft, raised marks) may also occur, and these will likely disappear as well. Go over your child's markings with your pediatrician at a well-child exam so you will know what to expect.
  • "Baby dandruff" can be normal. This scaling, crusty, oily scalp is called cradle cap. It may appear on your baby's head during the first few months and is caused by oil glands that are working overtime. Although it doesn't look good, it doesn't itch, and it can be treated by washing the baby's head with a baby shampoo every few days. A baby brush and mineral oil may help to loosen and remove cradle cap as well.



Review Date: 12/9/2012
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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