Bathing baby: your step-by-step guide

By Michelle Vogrinec, GAIA skin naturals

Handling a wiggling, wet baby can feel a little awkward at first but with this handy step-by-step guide, you will be an expert in no time!

Bathing is a beautiful time to spend with your newborn. It is also an opportunity for other family members to get involved, with dads often enjoying this time to bond with their new bub. Before you start, ensure you have all the things you need within arm’s reach of the bath.

Getting ready

Choose a time of day when you're not expecting any interruptions. The bath should be positioned somewhere stable, at a height where you can comfortably hold your baby (a table is often best) and make sure you have access to running water.

Fill the bath with about 10-13cm of water or enough water to allow your baby to settle in the water with their shoulders well covered. To avoid over drying your baby’s skin, add a squirt of a mild, baby bath wash to the bath and swirl around with your hand.

Test the water temperature using a bath thermometer if you have one, or if you don’t, use your wrist rather than your hand, it should feel neither hot not cold. The recommended bath temperature for babies is about 36-38°C.

Now you’re ready, the first step is to 'top and tail'

Top and tail a newborn for the first month prior to bathing to avoid cross infection, as well as in between bathing to freshen their skin if you are not bathing every day. 'Top and tailing' simply means to carefully wash your baby’s face, neck, hands and nappy area without having to totally immerse your baby in water.


Lay your baby down on the floor or change table, with the clean cotton pads and bowl of warm water nearby. Always use fresh cotton pads when cleansing the separate areas to avoid cross infection. Undress your baby down to their nappy and wrap them in a towel to keep them warm.

Start by wiping each eye with a separate piece of cotton wool dampened with warm water, working from the inner corner outwards. Do not wash the eye itself.

Use a new piece to wipe around their mouth and nose, then another clean piece for their ears and face. Using another dampened cotton pad, clean their neck, focusing on the skin folds, behind the ears and under their arms where milk and fluff can get trapped. Take another piece and clean their ears and face.

Never put anything like a cotton bud in your baby’s ears or nose, just wipe what you can see.


Washing your baby’s genitals, bottom and nappy area is the “tailing”.

Keeping your baby’s upper body covered with a towel, remove their nappy (watch out for the fountain!)

Your baby's genitals will self-clean to some extent and are very delicate, so cleaning this area requires special care.

If your baby girl has had a very dirty nappy and poo has got within her vaginal area, with a fresh moist cotton pad, gently wipe the area from top to bottom, or front to back and down the middle. Then with a new clean cotton pad, wipe each side within her labia.

For an uncircumcised boy, wash the penis and scrotum area, avoiding pulling back the foreskin, and also wipe front to back. Don't try to pull back his foreskin to clean. If circumcised, don't wash the head of the penis until it's healed.

Ensure all skin folds have been cleaned and patted dry to avoid infection and chafing from damp skin particularly if you have a nice chubby baby!

If you are not continuing onto to bathing baby at this point, it's also a good idea to use a barrier cream on the nappy area to protect against the causes of nappy rash. Dress your baby and wrap them in a blanket to keep bubs warm.

Now onto bathing baby time!

Cradle your baby’s head with one arm, gently lower them into the bath, feet first, keep a close hold at all times. The water should be covering their shoulders so they don’t get cold.

Continue to keep a good grip and support their head with one arm, as they may get quite slippery when they are wet, and use your other hand to use a washer to sprinkle some water over your bub’s skin and gently wipe clean.

Washing their hair comes last so your baby doesn't get cold. While newborns don't have much hair, you can sponge what is there. To avoid getting eyes wet, tip the head back just a little.
Supporting your baby’s head and neck, lift them out of the bath then place on his back on a clean, dry, soft towel.

Wrap to warm and gently pat dry your baby’s skin rather than rubbing. Pay attention to ensuring you dry in the skin folds and creases, including armpits, groin, under the chin, around the neck and behind the ears, to avoid infection or chaffing.

You may want to apply a baby moisturiser to lock in hydration and protect against dryness.

Put on their nappy. Applying a barrier cream to the nappy area to protect against the causes of nappy rash might also be helpful. Products containing zinc and castor oil are highly recommended by medical professionals.

Some babies enjoy being in warm water right from the start, while others need a little time to get used to these new sensations on their skin. Gentle touch and hearing your voice is a nice way to increase bonding, whether you sing or talk your baby through what you are doing as you bathe them, it will help them feel supported.

Now it is time to get dressed, wrap them up in a warm blanket and snuggle!

Over time bathing baby will be a fun time for both you and your baby.

Things to remember:

DON’T try to use bath seats or bath rings. These are for older babies who can sit up on their own -- not for newborns.

NEVER leave your baby unattended. If you need to leave the table, take your baby with you.

DON’T check the temperature of the bath water with your hand, use a bath thermometer or your wrist to ensure it is not too hot.

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Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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