How To Give Sponge Bath To A Baby And Precautions To Take

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A Sponge bath for baby is given within the first 24 hours after birth (1). Unlike a normal bath where the baby is directly placed in the water in a bathtub, a sponge bath involves placing the newborn on a towel and thoroughly cleaning them with a wet cloth or sponge.

Some recommend giving sponge baths to babies until the stump of the umbilical cord falls off. Then, after the umbilical cord has healed, you may start bathing your baby in a bathtub. However, sponge baths can be given occasionally until your baby grows a little older.

Have you been thinking about why you should sponge-bathe your newborn and how to do it? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Why Do Babies Need A Sponge Bath?

Newborns need sponge baths to keep the umbilical cord stump dry and infection-free, which are necessary for fast healing. The stump usually falls off when the baby is one to two weeks old (1). If it doesn’t, consult your pediatrician as it may indicate an underlying problem.

A sponge bath is also essential for boys whose circumcision hasn’t healed completely. It takes about one to two weeks for a circumcision wound to heal (2). So, until the wound heals, keeping the area dry can help in speedy healing.

Note: Remember, babies need not bathe daily. Bathing more frequently may dry out the baby’s skin. A bath twice or thrice a week or every alternate day is sufficient for the first year of an infant’s life (3).

Supplies You Need For A Sponge Bath

You can make a sponge bath easier for you and the baby by keeping the supplies organized and handy before the bath. Here’s a list of items that you would need (3).

  • A large bowl or tub of hot water
  • Soft washcloths or sponges
  • Soft towels
  • Cotton balls (optional)
  • Mild, hypoallergenic liquid baby soap
  • Baby wipes
  • Clean diaper and clothing

How To Sponge-Bath A Baby: Step-by-step

Here are the steps that you should follow to sponge-bath your baby (4) (5).

  1. Fill the basin with warm water. Check the temperature of the water before using it on the baby. Ideally, when you dip your wrist in water, the water should feel warm, not hot. 90°F (32.2°C) to 95°F (35°C) is the good water temperature for a baby’s sponge bath.
  1. Undress the baby and leave their diapers on. Cover them in a soft towel exposing the areas you will wash first. Next, lay them on a flat, padded surface, such as a towel, ensuring the baby and you are comfortable in your respective positions.
  1. Start washing the baby’s face first. Dip a corner of the washcloth in the warm water and squeeze out the excess water. Wipe the baby’s eyes from the inside corners to the corner towards the ears. Since the corners of the eyes have very delicate skin, you may use cotton balls instead of a washcloth.
  1. Wet the washcloth again and continue to wash the baby’s face. Gently clean the baby’s cheeks, chin, forehead, corners of the nose, and back of the ears. Clean one side at a time to avoid covering the baby’s face as it may frighten the baby. Pat dry using a clean towel. Avoid using soap on the face and cotton swabs inside the baby’s ears.
  1. Move to the baby’s remaining body parts and clean with a small amount of soap. Wet the washcloth and then drop a few drops of soap on it. Brush the cloth with your palm to make some foam. Next, gently scrub the baby’s neck, chest, abdomen, arms, legs, and back with the washcloth. Pay attention to creases/folds in the neck, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Rinse the soap off with clean water and pat dry using a towel.
  1. Keep the umbilical cord dry during the cleaning. However, if you notice any secretion or dried blood on the stump, gently clean it off using the washcloth and pat the area dry with the towel. Then, move to the diaper area.
  1. Remove the baby’s diaper and clean the baby’s buttock and genital area. Use the same soapy cloth or sponge and wash the baby girl’s genital area from front to back. If there’s some vaginal discharge, clean it gently. Similarly, if the baby boy is circumcised, dab the genital area with a wet washcloth but don’t scrub or rub it.  Once done, cover the baby with a clean blanket or towel to keep them warm.
  1. Clean the baby’s scalp at the end to prevent the baby from feeling cold. Hold the baby firmly with your forearm under their back and your hand supporting their neck. Then, tilt your arm so that the baby’s head is slightly tilted. In this position, gently scrub their scalp with a damp washcloth. Avoid shampooing as babies don’t need it at this young age. Once done, dry the scalp using a clean towel.
  1. Place the baby on a dry, clean surface. If their skin is drying out or flaking, apply a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer. However, it’s vital to know that most newborns don’t need a moisturizer (6). Put on the diaper and clothe the baby appropriately for the weather.

Once the baby is clean and dressed, place them in their crib as the babies tend to sleep well after a warm bath. However, if your baby seems hungry, you can feed them. After that, wash the towels and washcloths/sponges you had used and air-dry them. Cleaning bath supplies is vital as leaving them wet and unclean can make them a breeding ground for microbes that may affect your baby’s health.

Precautions To Take When Sponge-Bathing A Baby

Below are some necessary precautions that you should take for your baby’s safety while bathing.

  1. Put your baby on a flat surface that is comfortable for the baby and you. If the surface seems hard, pad it with fluffy towels, blankets, or soft cushions. Adequate comfort during bathing is essential to make the bathing experience enjoyable and relaxing.
  1. Stay vigilant and never leave your baby alone during bathing. It is vital, especially when bathing your baby on raised surfaces, such as a kitchen counter, basin in the bathroom, or changing bed. A baby left unsupervised is at risk of slipping and falling.
  1. Have bath supplies ready before you begin bathing your baby. It’s crucial as you mustn’t leave the baby alone at all. If you have forgotten an item or need to leave the room to answer a call or open the door, take your baby with you or leave someone else to take care of the baby.
  1. Clean your baby’s face carefully. Ensure no water enters the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Don’t use soap on the baby’s face as it can cause their skin to dry out and flake. If, by chance, some soap enters the baby’s eyes, wipe it clean using a damp washcloth.

A sponge bath for a baby is a gentle bathing technique that involves cleaning your baby with a moist towel or sponge rather than immersing them in water. Prepare the appropriate supplies and measure the water temperature before beginning the bathing session. Also, keep the baby’s umbilical cord stump dry and scrub the baby’s scalp at the end of the wash. Furthermore, while washing and drying your infant, you should take the necessary precautions to safeguard their safety. Remember always to hold the baby securely and never leave them alone in the bathtub, even for a few seconds.

Key Pointers

  • Sponge bath will help keep the newborn’s umbilical cord stump dry and free of infection.
  • Keep a hot water tub, soft towels, baby wipes, and clean diapers handy while giving a sponge bath.
  • Ensuring the umbilical cord is dry, placing the baby on a dry surface, and washing the baby’s face first are a few steps to follow during the bath.
  • Don’t leave your baby alone during the bath, and use no soap to the baby’s face.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Bathing Your Baby; AAP
2. A Guide for First-Time Parents; Kid’s Health From Nemours
3. Bathing and Skin Care for the Newborn; Stanford Children’s Health
4. Baby Hygiene; John’s Hopkins Medicine
5. How To Bathe Your Newborn; American Academy of Dermatology Association
6. Are you bathing your child correctly?; Edward Elmhurst Health
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Dr. Arlene Dijamco

(MD)
Dr. Arlene Dijamco calls herself a 'MultiDimensional MD' with expertise in integrative medicine, pediatrics, and cranial osteopathy. She studied at Harvard, Emory, and Albert Einstein and then completed Dr. Andrew Weil’s two-year integrative medicine fellowship.  She is known for her intuitive knack, empowering people to nourish and balance all layers of health. Dr. Dijamco is passionate about helping make the... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more