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 even is a sponge bath?!
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.
When do I give my baby a sponge bath?
It’s not like your newborn is working up a sweat at spin class, so newborns only need a wash 2 or 3 times a week. You may want to increase the frequency as they get older — and dirtier!
Until fairly recently, babies were usually bathed within a couple of hours of birth, but the World Health Organisation now recommends the first bath take place 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 give a baby a sponge bath
You’ve decided the time is right for your baby’s first sponge bath, so here’s how to do it:
Prepare a safe space and lay out a towel for your baby to lie on in a warm room. Get everything you need ready so you don’t have to leave your baby’s side once you start. 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 water with your elbow — it should feel warm but not hot. You needn’t use shampoo or body wash on a newborn, but if you do, make sure it’s free from alcohol, preservatives, and perfume to protect their delicate skin.
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. 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.
Wash 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. Dry each area as you go.
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.
Wash their genitals and bottom last with a separate washcloth.
Once your baby has been washed and dried all over, dress them in a clean diaper and outfit, and get ready for some super cute post-sponge bath snuggles!