A newborn can bathe 24 hours after birth, and their first bath should be a sponge bath (1). A sponge bath for a baby is similar to a regular bath. However, unlike a normal bath done in the bathtub, a sponge bath is done by placing the baby on a towel and cleaning each body part with a wet cloth or sponge.
The sponge bath is done for newborns until the umbilical cord stump falls off. Once the umbilical cord is healed, you can begin bathing your baby the usual way in a bathtub. However, you may occasionally sponge-bath your baby even when they are a little older.
Read on to know why newborns need a sponge bath, the right way to do a sponge bath, and the necessary safety precautions to observe while sponge-bathing a baby.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 is a gentle bathing technique to clean your baby during the first few weeks after birth. Gathering the supply before you begin the bathing session and using clean and sanitized washcloths or sponges are a few essentials to ensure your baby has the best sponge bathing experience.
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