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Newborn Baby Bath Time: Dos and Don’ts Every Parent Should Know

Whether you consider yourself a new or seasoned parent, this list of what you should and shouldn't do during baby bath time might surprise you.

A baby playing with her toys during baby bath time in the tub

Newborns are precious and fragile, and need special care. Their immune systems are still developing along with their bodies, making them susceptible to bacteria and viruses. It’s important to follow a proper skin care regimen and newborn baby bath practices to help ensure your little one’s good health. 

“A newborn’s body is very delicate,” says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Tiang Sack Sing. “Their organs are still growing. How you take care of their hygiene through their showers will directly affect their health.”  

Here, we list the dos and don’ts of newborn baby bath time to help improve your baby’s well-being. 

Newborn Baby Bath Time: Dos and Don’ts 

Mother giving a newborn a sponge bath, washing baby's hair while keeping him swaddled
WHO recommends waiting for at least 24 hours after birth before bathing your newborn.

Practising good hygiene habits for your baby’s health doesn’t necessarily mean bathing them daily. They can be bathed two or three times a week to prevent their skin from drying out. The important thing is to keep your baby warm and avoid skin irritation.

Here are a few guidelines on bathing babies to ensure their health and wellbeing. 

1. Delay bathing newborns to maintain skin integrity 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends delaying newborn baby baths until 24 hours after birth. If your culture requires bathing your baby earlier, WHO suggests delaying bathing until six hours after birth. This is because a full-term newborn baby’s skin is covered by a protective layer known as the vernix caseosa, which is high in lipids and acts as the skin’s natural moisturiser.

Studies have shown that postponing a newborn baby’s bath to at least 48 hours after birth not only helps preserve their body temperature but also improves skin moisture. This enhances their skin integrity and development. 

2. Give newborns a sponge bath instead of a tub bath 

A sponge bath is recommended for babies until the stump of their umbilical cord falls off. This helps keep their umbilical area dry, preventing irritation and infection until the area is healed. Once healed, your baby is ready for a regular tub bath.

3. Keep first baths as brief as possible 

Keep newborn baby bath times short, for about five to 10 minutes. This not only minimises skin dryness but also helps prevent them from catching a cold. 

4. Ensure the bath water is warm 

Newborn Asian baby after a bath being towel-dried by mom
Always keep newborn babies warm in and out of a bath and avoid exposing them to cold air.

Due to your baby’s still-developing immune system, it’s important to keep the bathroom warm to help prevent them from catching a cold. Similarly, always ensure bath water is warm or lukewarm – test the water on the inside of your wrist to ensure the temperature is not too hot. Have a towel on hand nearby to quickly wrap them in after bathing. 

5. Always support their head and neck 

Always cradle your baby’s head and support the neck during baths. It’s best to prevent water from entering their ears as water can stay in the ear canal, which causes irritation and inflammation. You also shouldn’t leave your infant in the water unsupported or alone, even for a few seconds. 

6. Use products specially formulated for babies 

Bath and body products for babies contain mild formulations that won’t dry or irritate their delicate skin. Look for hypoallergenic products that contain fewer allergens and irritants or use those recommended by your paediatrician. 

7. Avoid exposing your baby to cold air 

“Gently dry your baby’s body, head, and belly button after a bath,” advises Physician Tiang. “Use a hairdryer to dry your baby’s belly button for a minute. Remember to turn the temperature setting to warm air before drying.” 

“We don’t recommend using alcohol swabs to clean the belly button as the cold alcohol will cause air to enter the belly button, resulting in abdominal distension,” cautions Physician Tiang.

Instead, you can apply a few drops of Qing Cao herbal oil (青草油) or Yu Yee oil (如意油) onto your palms. Rub them together and gently massage your baby’s belly button and abdomen for one to two minutes. “This can prevent abdominal distension and aid in digestion. It can also help your baby sleep well at night,” she says. Use a belly band to cover your baby’s belly button before putting on their diaper and clothes. 

You can also dip a cotton swab into some sesame oil and gently rub your baby’s fontanelle and belly button with it before the bath, suggests Physician Tiang. “This is an effective method to prevent abdominal distension, which can be caused by coldness during the shower.” 

Medicinal Herbs to Enhance Newborn Baby Baths

Yawning Asian baby girl yawning, lying down together with her teddy bear
Infant insomnia due to Heatiness can be helped with TCM herbal baths specially formulated for newborns.

Some babies may experience Endogenous Heat, insomnia, eczema, or jaundice. These are what TCM practitioners refer to as foetal allergies and are considered to be directly related to the mother’s dietary habits and health during pregnancy. 

According to Physician Tiang, when newborns experience this hyperactivity of Heatiness, they’ll find it hard to sleep, making them cry in the middle of the night. “If your baby’s crying is not due to abdominal distension or shock, then they’re most likely experiencing the symptoms of Heat.”

To help ease these symptoms, Physician Tiang suggests adding TCM herbs into your baby’s bath. Bitter gourd vines (ku ga teng, 苦瓜藤) can help relieve Heat, heat rash, and ease foetal allergies. Look for a herbal bath formula for newborns containing the ingredient.

“Any issues related to Heat can be relieved by showering with the herbal bath formula for newborns. It can help remove Heat, and toxins from the skin,” she explains.

Newborn Baby Bath Time: A Great Way to Enhance Health

Asian couple drying off baby with towel after bath
Make bath time a soothing experience that helps strengthen your bond with your baby.

Newborn baby bath time can be a great way to bond with your little one. When done right, it can be a soothing experience to help newborn babies relax and it supports their health. “Using TCM sparingly. Showering your baby the correct way is very important to maintain hygiene,” notes Physician Tiang. “It can help reduce discomfort so they may grow up happy and healthy.”  

Forward this article to your new mum friends to promote better baby health.

References

  1. John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. N.d. Neonatal Infections. [Accessed on 5 September 2022]
  2. Infection and Immunity. 2006. Neonatal innate immunity to infectious agents. [Accessed on 5 September 2022]
  3. Immunity. 2017. Protecting the Newborn and Young Infant from Infectious Diseases: Lessons from Immune Ontogeny. [Accessed on 5 September 2022]
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2020. Bathing Your Baby. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  5. WHO. N.d. WHO Recommendations on Newborn Health. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  6. StatPearls Publishing. 2021. Routine Newborn Care. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  7. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing. 2019. First bathing time of newborn infants after birth: A comparative analysis. [Accessed on 5 September 2022]
  8. NationwideChildrensOrg. 2022. Bathing Your Baby. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  9. Medline Plus. Reviewed 2020. Bathing an Infant. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  10. Stanford Children. Bathing and Skin Care for The Newborn. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  11. Research Review. 2019. Evidenced-based guidelines for infant bathing. [Accessed on 2 September 2022]
  12. BMC Research Notes. 2020. Newborn’s first bath: any preferred timing? A pilot study from Lebanon. [Accessed on 6 September 2022]

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