How to Sponge Bathe a Newborn

How to Sponge Bathe a Newborn

Bathing your baby — seems like an instinctive part of newborn baby care, but when you stop and think about it, do you know how to give a newborn a sponge bath? Come to think of it, what is a sponge bath?!
Just like diaper changes and swaddling your baby, sponge bathing newborns will soon be second nature. To get you started, here’s the what, the when, and the how…

In this article: 📝

  • What is a sponge bath?
  • How often should you sponge bathe a newborn?
  • How to sponge bathe a newborn
  • How long do you sponge bathe a newborn?
  • What baby sponge bath supplies do you need?
  • Newborn sponge bath FAQs

What is a sponge bath?

A sponge bath is when you wash each part of your baby’s body separately, with baby laying on a towel, rather than in a tub.

Sponge baths are often recommended for newborns who still have their umbilical cord stump, if they’ve undergone a medical procedure and have stitches or bandages that can’t get wet, or for babies who are too small or delicate for a full bath.

Traditionally, a tepid sponge bath was said to help reduce fever in babies, but this is not always the right, or only, course of action necessary.

How often should you sponge bathe a newborn?

It’s not like your newborn is working up a sweat at spin class, so newborns only need a sponge bath 2 or 3 times a week.

You may want to increase the frequency as they get older — and dirtier!

Until fairly recently, sponge bathing newborns typically happened within a couple of hours of birth, but the World Health Organization now recommends a newborn sponge bath at least 24 hours after birth.

This allows more time for skin-to-skin bonding between parents and baby and leaves the coating of waxy vernix on the baby’s skin for longer, which is thought to help protect against dry skin.

How to sponge bathe a newborn

When it comes to sponge bathing newborns, there are a few things to consider ‒ the temperature of the water, the pressure to apply, what soap to use…

If you’re not sure how to give a newborn a bath with an umbilical cord, never fear, we’ve broken it down into a simple step-by-step for you here.

1. Sponge bath prep

Prepare a safe space and lay out a towel for your baby to lie on in a warm room.

Get your sponge bath supplies so you don’t have to leave your baby’s side once you start their newborn sponge bath ‒ a few washcloths, cotton balls or pads, and a bowl of warm water (98.6 - 103.9°F is ideal).

Test the temperature of the newborn sponge bath water with your elbow — it should feel warm but not hot.

You needn’t use shampoo or body wash during a newborn sponge bath, but if you do, make sure it’s free from alcohol, preservatives, and perfume to protect their delicate skin.

2. Wash baby’s face

Lay your baby onto the towel and undress them.

Leave their diaper on for now and keep their body covered with a blanket while you wash their face with a wet washcloth ‒ the baby sponge bath has begun!

Wash behind their ears, and in any rolls of skin on their neck.

Use a damp cotton ball or pad to gently wipe their eyelids from the inside corner out.

Pat their face dry before moving on.

3. Sponge bathe the rest of baby’s body

Sponge bathe the rest of your baby’s body, gently dabbing (not rubbing) with a wet washcloth, paying particular attention to between their fingers and toes and any folds of skin.

Be sure to dry each area as you go.

4. Take care around the umbilical cord stump

Here’s how to give a newborn a bath with umbilical cord.

Gently wash around the baby’s umbilical cord stump with a cotton ball or pad and dry thoroughly.

The stump should fall off 5-15 days after birth, but if it hasn’t fallen off after 3 weeks, or if you notice any redness, speak to your doctor.

5. Sponge bathe baby’s bottom half

Take off baby’s diaper, then gently sponge-dab their genitals and bottom last with a separate washcloth.

6. Dry, clothe, and snuggles!

Once your baby has been sponge-bathed and dried all over, dress them in a clean diaper and outfit, and get ready for some super cute post-sponge bath baby snuggles!

How long do you sponge bathe a newborn?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sponge bathing your newborn until their umbilical cord stump falls off ‒ usually around 1-2 weeks of age.

After then, you can go for bigger baths, putting baby in the water rather than sponge bathing baby out of the water.

What baby sponge bath supplies do you need?

You don’t need much for a newborn sponge bath, although it won’t be long before they’re ready for a ‘proper’ baby bath.

All you’ll need to sponge bath a newborn is:

  • A bowl of warm water (enough to bathe baby ‒ around 2 liters)
  • A towel for baby to lie on during their sponge bath
  • A towel to dry baby after each step of their sponge bath
  • Two clean sponges or washcloths (one for baby’s bottom half and one for the rest of their body)
  • Clean cotton balls (to wipe baby’s eyes)
  • Clean diapers to change into
  • Clean clothes
  • (Optional) A mild, unperfumed baby-friendly soap

Newborn sponge bath FAQs

Still have a few questions about how to sponge bathe a newborn? We’ve got you covered:

Do you use soap when giving a newborn a sponge bath?

No, you don’t have to use soap when sponge bathing newborns.

It’s best to use unperfumed, mild soap to sponge bath baby after about 4-6 weeks.

How warm should the water be for a newborn bath?

The general advice for a newborn sponge bath temperature is between 98.6 - 103.9°F (37 - 40°C).

You can certainly use a thermometer if you’d prefer, but you can also use your elbow to test the temperature of the newborn sponge bath water, as that’s a pretty sensitive part of your skin.

Baby’s sponge bath water should feel warm, but not hot.

What’s the best baby bath sponge to use?

It’s best not to use a sponge that’s abrasive, as that can damage baby’s skin during their sponge bath.

Natural sponges, konjac sponges, bamboo sponges, or even washcloths and flannels are all safe to use when sponge bathing newborns.

Just make sure they don’t have any irritants in them, like built-in moisturizers or exfoliants.

How do you sponge bathe a newborn with circumcision?

If you chose to circumcise your baby at birth, then you’ll need to treat their healing circumcision with care during their newborn sponge bath, much the same as their umbilical cord stump.

It’s best to stick to sponge bathing your newborn until either baby’s umbilical cord falls off or their circumcision heals ‒ whichever comes last.

How long does it take to sponge bathe a newborn?

A usual newborn sponge bath will take around 5-10 minutes.

So that’s our ultimate guide on how to sponge bathe a newborn!

Looking for a little more advice and guidance? Why not ask our veteran mamas on Peanut!

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