Baby's First Bath: When, Why and How

Today’s blog entry comes from Calm and Confident Doula Care team doula, Courtney Yorks. She gives us some good insights on when to give baby their first bath and tips on how to do that.

There are a lot of firsts when it comes to a newborn, and one of those will be bath time. I’ve heard people say that they were happy to stay in the hospital as long as possible — in hopes that they would bathe the baby multiple times so they didn’t have to do it themselves.


It can be a nerve-wracking task — the idea of soaping down an already wiggling infant when you’re beyond sleep deprived? No, thank you. But it doesn’t have to be anxiety-filled. It can be a time of bonding, a way to calm your little one and, eventually, even a time of learning and play.


Common questions and concerns that come up are- how soon, how often, where and when? Temperature?  Sink or tub? The list goes on.


The bottom line: The longer you wait on the first bath, the better. Here’s some more on the when, why and how’s of your baby’s first bath.



The World Health Organization recommends delaying the first bath until at least 24 hours after birth. Others suggest waiting up to 48 hours or more.


Once your baby is home, there’s no actual need to bathe daily. Until the umbilical cord is healed, the AAP recommends you stick to sponge baths. Then experts suggest once to twice weekly. Keep the face, hands and genitals clean with regular wipe downs though.


Once they are a little older, you can increase the frequency of baths to make it a routine. Some find it a helpful way to wind down kids before bed.



Studies have shown many benefits from waiting past the first day or more. One reason is that it allows more time for mother and baby to bond, especially with skin-to-skin contact.


By spending more time with mom and not getting whisked away for a bath, newborns benefit.  “A delayed newborn bath was associated with increased likelihood of breastfeeding initiation and with increased in-hospital breastfeeding rates,” states one report done through the Department of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.


And let’s admit it, newborns don’t exactly come out looking clean and ready to snuggle. But that creamy, white coating has a purpose. By holding off on bathing, the vernix, the covering that babies develop in the womb, remains with them longer. It was protection from the amniotic fluid, and once delivered, it helps regulate warmth, moisture, as well as contains antioxidant and antibiotic properties, according to research.


Another big reason to wait on that first bath is that babies are less capable of controlling their body heat than adults. It’s important to keep them warm, and part of that is not bathing right away. When the time does come, make sure you have enough layers to wrap them up immediately afterward.


Don’t worry, that newborn smell will come soon enough.



Great, so you’ve held off on the bath. But when it does come time for the first sponge bath — again, recommended until the umbilical cord has healed — here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic. Some of the ones we found the most important:

-       Keep one hand on the baby at all times. You should use your non-dominant hand to support their head and neck. It can be a bit of a juggling act, so make sure everything you need is within arms reach.

-       Use a flat surface — like a kitchen sink, changing table or bed — a basin or sink to hold the water and warm (but not hot) water.

-       Leave a majority of the baby wrapped in a towel and expose only the part that you’re washing at a given time.


One of the most important things to remember is to keep the baby warm at all times. Once the umbilical cord has fallen off baby can graduate to a baby tub or the sink.


The Takeaway

The benefits of delaying baby’s first bath range from better temperature control and increased bonding time, to improved breastfeeding rates and keeping the protective vernix with them just slightly longer.


You’ll have plenty of time in the years to come to rub-a-dub with your little one. So take your time and wait as long as possible for the first one.