Skip to main content

Giving Your Baby a Sponge Bath

Read tips on how to safely give your newborn a sponge bath.

Giving Your Baby a Sponge Bath

For the first week or two of your baby's life, you won't have a chance to find out if he enjoys the bath. Until the umbilicus falls off (and a circumcision, if any, heals), avoid giving your baby a bath. Instead, you must clean him without immersing his belly (and perhaps his penis as well) in water. The best way to do this is a sponge bath.

Are You Ready?

Because you want to get your baby clean, dry, and warm again as quickly as possible, have everything ready before you begin the sponge bath. Here's what you may need to have at hand:

  • A towel on which your baby can sit or an empty portable tub in which he can sit
  • A source of warm water (a sink or a large pitcher filled with warm water)
  • Non-detergent soap
  • Baby-safe shampoo
  • A fine-toothed baby comb
  • Baby-safe nail clippers
  • Cotton balls and alcohol (until the umbilicus has fallen off)
  • A washcloth (the softer the better)
  • Cotton balls for washing the eyes (not necessary, but some babies like it)
  • A towel, or even better, a hooded towel/robe
  • Diaper cream
  • A clean diaper
  • A fresh set of clothes or pajamas

If you don't want to drive your heating bills out of sight by turning the thermostat up to 75 degrees, you can heat a small bathroom to that temperature quickly by shutting the door and running a hot shower for two or three minutes.

Before undressing your baby at all, make sure the room is warm (a toasty 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). Your baby will not like it (and will let you know it) if he becomes chilled.

If your baby doesn't like total nakedness (many newborns don't), then avoid ever completely undressing him, even for the bath. Keep your child's diaper on and his bottom half wrapped up in a towel while you wash his face, hands, arms, and chest. (You might want to keep the diaper on as long as possible to avoid accidents anyway.) Then dry off his head and torso, pull on a T-shirt, take off his diaper, and work on the bottom half.

A Little Dab'll Do You: How to Wash a Baby

Baby Doctor

If you have not had your son's penis circumcised, then wash it on the outside only. DO NOT pull back the foreskin to clean the penis. There's no need to clean under the foreskin, and you can do damage if you try.

To wash a baby, you need to work with one hand. Use your dominant hand to wash and the other hand to hold and support your baby. One hold that works well is to have your arm across your baby's back, gripping under her underarm with your hand and supporting her head and neck with your wrist. But as long as both you and your baby feel secure, any hold will do.

Using your free hand to wash your baby, start at the top and move down. Wash her eyes with a warm, damp washcloth or clean cotton balls dipped in warm water. Then move on to the rest of the face, the neck, the shoulders, the arms and hands, and the chest. Unless your baby is very dirty, you won't need a lot of soap. In most places, water alone will suffice. Indeed, if your baby has very dry skin, soap can make this dryness even worse.

After drying and wrapping your baby's head and torso, take off her diaper and wash her legs and feet. As you work down your baby's body, pay special attention to all the creases: under the chin, on the neck, around the joints of the arms and legs, on the belly, around the bottom. You'll be surprised how much schmutz can gather in these creases.

Finally, turn her over on her hands and knees, supporting her head and neck with your forearm so that you can wash her back, genitals, and bottom. Always wash the genitals and bottom last-and in that order. For at least the first couple of months, this area may be the only one that requires soap.

Baby Doctor

If the umbilicus oozes, turns red, or emits a foul odor, it is probably infected. Consult your pediatrician as soon as possible.

If you have a daughter, you do not need to scrub the inside of her vulva vigorously. Just gently spread her labia, then wash and rinse them with soap and water from front to back. You may notice a white, cheesy substance inside the labia. Do not bother scrubbing it away. It is perfectly normal, and if left alone, it will go away on its own.

If you have a son who has been circumcised, keep his penis dry until it has healed. (Even if the umbilicus has fallen off, avoid tub or sink baths until the penis heals, too.) Instead of washing, each time you change him, put a dab of Vaseline on the head of his penis and cover it with a small, sterile piece of gauze. (In addition, double-diapering for the first day or two after the circumcision may provide some extra padding to protect the healing penis.)

The umbilicus also needs to be kept dry until it withers and falls off, so stick to sponge baths for the first week or two. Wash the umbilicus daily with alcohol and a sterile cotton ball. When diapering your baby, fold the top of the diaper down in the front to keep it from covering up the belly. Airing out the umbilicus-and keeping it free of urine-helps to prevent it from getting infected.

Join the Family

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.