7 baby bath basics you need to know

Babies can be hard to wash. Here's how to get yours squeaky-clean.

08 April 2015
by Karen Nel

Aside from changing a nappy, what many new parents fear most is bathing their baby for the first time. Perhaps you’ve been doing it for a while and still don’t feel entirely confident. Maybe you’ve fallen out of practice since your firstborn. Whatever the case, follow this simple bath-time guide.

1. How often should I bath my baby?

You do not have to bath a newborn baby every day. Over-bathing can dry out a baby’s delicate skin and, because they can’t move around on their own, they tend to stay fairly clean.

“In most cases, giving a proper bath three times a week is sufficient, with cloth-bathing (use a warm, damp facecloth to wipe their face and then the groin area) in between,” says Clicks Senior Clinic Sister Carol Gray.

2. Is the elbow rule accurate?

Babies get cold very easily as their bodies are not yet able to regulate temperature effectively. If it is very cold in your home, try warming the bedroom and towel while you bath your baby, and make sure that the bathwater is ready before you start to undress them. Getting the water temperature right is crucial.

“You can buy a thermometer to check the temperature of the bathwater. Most thermometers indicate an ideal temperature of 37°C to 38°C, which is around body temperature. If you’re not using a thermometer, you can use your elbow – rather than your hand – to gauge the temperature. The water should feel neither hot, nor cold,” says Gray.

3. Where do I start?

“A baby’s hair tends to get greasy quite quickly, so it’s best to wash their hair every time you bath them,” advises Gray.

Undress your baby and wrap them in a towel to keep them warm, (keep the head exposed). Then carefully hold your baby over the bath (head tilting slightly downwards) and gently scoop the warm water , over their head to wet it, apply a , small amount of baby shampoo, , lather and rinse.

4. Do I really need special soap?

To bath your baby, support the head, neck and back on one arm, while using your free hand to gently wet, wash and rinse their body.

“Only use soaps that are specially formulated for babies. Adult soaps contain ingredients designed to remove oil and cleanse the skin. These detergents tend to dry out a baby’s skin very easily,” says PaedIQ paediatrician Dr Iqbal Karbanee.

5. What about hard-to-reach nooks and crannies?

“Often the skin folds can be tricky to keep clean. Remember to wash under the neck where drool or regurgitated milk can collect, between the innergroin areas and in the folds of the arms. It is also very important to ensure all these skin folds are thoroughly dried to prevent skin breakdown and fungal irritations,” says Gray.

Remember to clean your baby’s eyes too. Use a clean piece of wet cottonwool to gently wipe the eyes from the inner corner to the outside. Use a new piece each time (and on each eye) to prevent possible infection.

6. And tiny teeth?

Gray recommends brushing as soon as the first tooth bud becomes visible (before the tooth cuts through the skin).

“Initially it might be easier to wrap some gauze around your finger with a small drop of baby toothpaste on it and rub in soft circular motions over the gum area. You can also purchase soft silicone brushes that slip over an adult fingertip that gently brush the teeth and massage the gums,” she says.

Dr Karbanee also suggests giving infants a baby toothbrush to play with as soon as possible, so they can get used to the sensation.

7. Cleaning sensitive skin

Some babies have particularly sensitive skins and will even develop a reaction to bath and skin products formulated especially for babies.

“The main ingredients that tend to irritate the skin are the preservatives and fragrances in some baby products. If your baby does have a skin reaction, then only very simple, fragrance-free products should be used. If the sensitivity persists, see a doctor to assess if they have an underlying medical problem such as eczema,” says Dr Karbanee.