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Baths do more than keep your baby clean. They also give you a chance to bond. With a little planning and practice, both you and your baby will look forward to bath time.

Here are the basics about giving your baby a bath.

Do I Give a Sponge or Tub Bath?

For the first few weeks, babies get sponge baths. Then, after the umbilical cord stump falls off and the circumcision heals (if your baby was circumcised), babies can have baths in a sink or small plastic infant tub.

A bath two or three times a week in the first year is fine. More frequent bathing may be drying to your baby's skin.

What Supplies Do I Need to Bathe My Baby?

Have these items ready before bathing your baby:

  • a soft, clean washcloth (2 for a sponge bath)
  • clean cotton balls to clean your baby’s eyes and nose, or you can just use a washcloth
  • mild, unscented baby soap/shampoo (an all-in-one soap and shampoo can make bathing easier)
  • a towel
  • a clean diaper

Put the items where you can reach them easily so you can keep your eyes and one hand on your baby at all times.

How Do I Give My Baby a Sponge Bath?

When you have the items you need to bathe your baby, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a safe, flat surface (such as the floor or a changing table) in a warm room. If your baby is on a changing table, use the safety strap.
  2. Fill two small containers with warm (not hot) water. Add a squirt of mild, fragrance-free liquid baby soap/shampoo to one of the containers.
  3. Undress your baby and wrap them in a towel.
  4. Dampen a washcloth or clean cotton ball with non-soapy water.
  5. Wipe your baby’s eyes with the washcloth or cotton ball. Start with one eye and wipe from the inner corner to the outer corner. Use a clean corner of the washcloth or another cotton ball to wipe the other eye. 
  6. Clean your baby's face, nose, and ears with the damp washcloth.
  7. Wet the second cloth with the soapy water, then gently wash your baby's head and the rest of the body. Pay special attention to creases under the arms, behind the ears, around the neck, and in the diaper area. 
  8. Use the washcloth dampened with non-soapy water to “rinse” off the soap. Gently pat dry after.
  9. Diaper and dress your baby.

How Do I Give My Baby a Tub Bath?

When your baby is ready for tub baths, you’ll need the supplies listed above. You’ll also need an infant tub. This plastic tub can fit in a regular bathtub. It's a better size for babies and makes bathing easier to manage.

The first tub baths should be gentle and brief. Speaking gently may help keep your baby calm. If your baby gets upset, go back to sponge baths for a week or two, then try a tub bath again. 

These steps can make time in the tub easier:

  1. Keep the room and water warm: Put the tub in a warm room so your baby doesn’t get chilly. Fill the tub with 2 to 3 inches of warm (not hot) water. To test the temperature, feel the water with the inside of your elbow or wrist. 
  2. Place your baby in the tub: After undressing your baby, you’ll place your baby in the water right away to keep warm. Babies can wriggle around, so moving to and from the bath may take a little practice. Support your baby's neck with one hand and the bottom with the other as you lower your child into the tub. Put your baby in feet first and keep the head and face well above the water.
  3. Wash your baby’s face: Use a clean, damp washcloth (without soap) to wipe your baby’s eyes from the inner corner to the outer corner. Then clean the face and ears with the washcloth. 
  4. Wash your baby’s head: Using a small amount of liquid baby soap or baby shampoo, gently massage the scalp with the pads of your fingers or a washcloth. Include the area over the fontanelles (soft spots) on the top of the head. When you rinse, tilt the head back so the suds run down the sides. This helps prevent soap or shampoo from getting into your baby's face. 
  5. Wash your baby’s body: Gently wash the rest of your baby's body with water and a little bit of soap then rinse. Pour water gently over the body often for warmth. 
  6. Remove your baby from the tub: When finished, take your baby out of the tub in the same way you placed them. Your baby’s skin will be slippery.
  7. Wrap your baby in a towel or blanket: Use a towel or blanket to wrap your baby right away, making sure to cover the head. Baby towels with hoods are great for keeping your baby warm.
  8. Diaper and dress your baby.

How Can I Keep My Baby Safe During Baths?

A baby can drown very quickly if left alone during a bath. Follow these safety tips:

  • Always keep your eyes and at least one hand on your baby during the bath.
  • Never leave your baby alone or turn away (even for a second) during bath time.
  • Do not use a bath seat because it will not prevent drowning.
  • If you need to leave during a bath, wrap your baby in a towel and take them with you.
  • Do not put older kids in charge of bathing or watching your baby in the bath. Only a responsible adult should give a bath.
Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: April 2023