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In its earliest days, a newborn doesn’t actually need to be bathed. The vernix (the waxy white substance that coats the skin of the foetus and then the newly born baby) is naturally antibacterial and moisturising, helping protect your baby’s skin once out of the womb.
During this time, simply cleaning your newborn with wet cotton balls is enough. Remember to clean your baby’s neck thoroughly, where milk can leak during feeds. Genitals need to be cleaned with each nappy change with a wet cotton ball as well. Always wipe from front to back to avoid spreading germs or developing infections. If necessary, you can wash your baby’s face and hands with a moistened washcloth.
Once the umbilical cord stump has fallen off and the area has healed, you can start to bathe your baby in a tub. While your baby is tiny, it makes more sense to use the kitchen sink or a baby bathtub. Until your baby is crawling and getting into messes, it is not necessary to bathe your baby every day; instead, plan a bath two to three times per week.
Bathing a baby for the first time can seem scary. Handling a soapy and wriggling wet baby takes practice and confidence! Stay calm, maintain a good grip, and follow these tips:
1. Before you start, gather all the supplies you’ll need: a towel, cotton balls, baby soap (which isn’t actually necessary unless your baby gets really dirty), a fresh nappy and clothes.
2. Warm up the room (to about 23°C) and fill the tub with about seven to ten centimetres of warm water (to about 37°C). If you don’t have a thermometer, check the water temperature with your elbow: It should feel warm, not hot.
3. Undress your newborn in the bathing room and get ready to support her. With your baby lying down on her back, slip your hand under her neck and support her head in your hand. Hold your baby’s body on your forearm, against your waist.
4. Bring your baby to the tub and gradually slip her into the water, feet first. Slip her neck onto your forearm and grab her armpit with your fingers, making the grip with your thumb. Gently pour water on your baby’s body to keep her warm.
5. If you’re using soap, use baby soap, in small quantities – too much might dry your newborn’s skin – and wash your baby’s body from top to toes and front to back, ending with her genitals and bottom.
6. Wash your newborn’s eyes (from the outside to the inside), nose and face, using only water-soaked cotton balls.
7. Gently massage your baby’s scalp with your hand to wash her hair. If your newborn has cradle cap (those little patches of scaly skin on the scalp), do not try to remove them. Instead, gently massage the head with an oily soap to help remove them. Cradle cap will usually fall off within your baby’s first year.
8. Rinse her body with water and lift your baby out of the bath, supporting her neck and bottom. Remember, wet babies are slippery, so be careful.
9. Pat your baby dry with a towel. Newborn skin doesn’t need any lotion; simply diaper and dress your baby.
Jeanne Hauguel is a mother of two who has lived in Asia for seven years. She has been a doula in Hong Kong for the past two years, helping families through birth and post-partum. Click www.doulabirthstory.com to learn more, or email her at Jeanne@doulabirthstory.com.