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Bathing & Moisturizing Baby’s Skin

By Catherine M. Hill, MSN, FNP-BC

Bathing & Moisturizing Baby’s Skin

From birth, protecting and promoting baby’s healthy skin is a daily job for parents and caregivers. Baby’s skin protects them from bacteria and germs, and helps them hold a normal temperature. At birth, your baby’s skin is thinner than yours, and it will continue to thicken and change through their 1st birthday.

Babies born before term (37+ weeks) may need as many as 9 weeks after birth for their skin to fully work as a barrier, keeping moisture, so they stay warm and hydrated.

Caring for Baby’s Skin

From bathing and moisturizing to product selection, you can trust you’re doing the very best every day for your baby when you follow the advice from your nurses. First, protect baby’s skin from things that can cause break down or irritation, including:

  • bathing baby too frequently; bathe every few days, not daily
  • using skin products that can irritate baby’s skin
  • having a family history of skin rashes or infections (dermatitis)

Protecting baby’s skin begins with keeping the nature-made, white, creamy coating called vernix intact from birth; there’s no need to rub or wash it off. Vernix protects baby’s skin, keeping it soft. It’s your baby’s first barrier cream; it moisturizes baby’s skin by increasing its ability to hold water, keeping baby’s skin supple and soft. Yes, it’s sticky, just let it absorb naturally into baby’s skin over time.

Bathing Baby

Bathe baby about 3 times a week—or every other day—for the first month of life if all is healthy and well with their skin; shampoo baby’s hair only once or twice a week.

Bath time begins with preparation: Arrange baby’s tub, washcloth and towels or blankets, and products all within reach. Bathe baby in a warm room away from drafts. Keep baths short—about 5-10 minutes at first—so that baby doesn’t get cold. Unless your healthcare provider has told you otherwise, it’s OK to immerse baby’s cord stump in the water when bathing baby in a tub.

If your baby was born early (before 37+ weeks), consider swaddling baby for bath times, and keep baths short—just a few minutes at most as preterm babies struggle to hold a healthy, normal body temperature. Have warmed towels prepared to immediately wrap baby in following the bath.

Bath Time Basics

  1. To shampoo, first wet baby’s hair, then apply an infant-safe shampoo gently with your hand. Lightly massage baby’s scalp with your hand or a soft baby brush, and rinse with water moving down the back and sides of baby’s head. Do not put pressure on the soft spot–known as the fontanel–in baby’s head
  2. Begin with a clean cloth; wash baby’s face first, body second and diaper area last. Always wipe away from the eyes and mouth and then into the creases as you go behind their ears, around their neck, into their underarms, between their fingers and toes, and in their diaper area
  3. Use gentle cleansers designed to protect the pH of baby’s delicate skin; never use products for adults or older children on babies
  4. Always support baby’s head and neck during bathing
  5. While holding baby, lower them into the water feet first. Allow baby to rest on your arm or supported by the tub with the water just up to their shoulders. If baby’s tub specifies different instructions, follow the instructions with your baby’s bathtub
  6. Swirl the water to eliminate any hot spots
  7. Use warmnever hot–water (100–104°F); check the water temperature with a bath thermometer
  8. Place baby’s bathtub in a warm room, safe space and on a strong surface
  9. Begin by washing your hands
  10. Gently rinse baby’s body with your hands or a soft cloth, moving from head to feet, ensuring no soap is left behind
  11. Move baby from their bath into a towel or blanket; pat their skin dry rather than rubbing it. Once dry, dress baby to keep them warm

Choosing Infant Skin Care Products

Follow these tips to choose an infant-friendly product for moisturizing your baby’s skin:

  • Use products designed and made for infant skin only as they can be protective, help baby’s skin retain water, remain soft and supple, and improve how baby’s skin barrier works. They’re also less likely to sting baby’s eyes. Adult products aren’t designed for infant skin.
  • Use as few products as possible—more is not better when it comes to infant skin—use only the specific products needed for baby’s skin care issues at that moment
  • Choose safe products that contain tested ingredients; natural and organic don’t always mean “safe” when it comes to infant skin. “Organic,” “green” or “natural” are marketing terms that aren’t defined or regulated by the federal government. Plant-based products aren’t necessarily safe or safer for newborn skin and, in fact, may be allergenic or toxic to infant skin
  • Keep skin issues at bay, such as eczema (allergic contact dermatitis), which is the most common skin condition resulting from the use of herbal therapies

Further reading: Six Strategies for Newborn Skin Care Products

Catherine M. Hill, MSN, FNP-BC, is an advanced practice nurse and nurse program development specialist at AWHONN, which publishes this magazine. This article was adapted from AWHONN’s Newborn Skin Care Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline, 4th ed.


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