Chances are the nurses who helped you bathe your premature baby in the hospital taught you a few tips and techniques to gently care for a premature newborn. But now that you’re home you’re struggling to remember every step.

That’s why we’re here to remind you to Relax; follow these easy steps to a stress-free and relaxing bath both you and your premature baby will love each time.

Swaddle Bathing Premature Babies

Perhaps your nurse advised waiting at least a week for baby’s first immersion bath, and instead suggested sponge cleaning areas that need freshening until baby is a little older.

Premature babies are used to being hugged by your warm amniotic fluid. You will likely find that a swaddle bath–a bath in which baby is cocooned in a thin, soft swaddle blanket wet (but not sopping!) comforts your baby during their first baths.

With a swaddle bath you remove one part of the swaddle, pulling it just far enough away to expose baby’s skin in each area for cleansing. Just as with a regular bath, you will want to clean the most sensitive parts of your baby , such as their eyes, first.

Go slowly and soothe your baby as you move from one area of their body at a time, pulling the swaddle away and then wrapping that area of baby’s body up again as you move to another part of baby’s body.

While this may seem like a long, slow bath, it’s important to keep baths shorter, rather than longer, for babies born premature because they may struggle to maintain their body temperature.

When and where your baby may still have vernix–that super sticky coating they were born with–let that remain and only cleanse any visible soil from the vernix. It will eventually wear off on its own; there’s no need to wash or rub it off as it’s Mother Nature’s perfect barrier cream designed just for your little one.

Support Your Baby During the Bath

Swaddle bathing is a bit different than a regular bath for a full-term baby. You will want to cradle baby in their warm wet swaddle close to you while you gently cleanse their skin.

Have all of your supplies, including extra towels, clothes and a safe place to wrap and dry your tiny baby ready. Turn off the phone and ask your partner or another person for an extra pair of hands to help . . . just in case.

Prepare the areas you’ll be bathing baby in for when you’re ready to dry and dress baby. Remember to fill a container, like a large bowl, with warm rinse water before you begin.

Pad your work area with extra clean towels. To warm your towels before the bath, toss them into the dryer on the “delicate” cycle for 5 minutes or so. Never use a microwave or oven to warm towels or clothes.

Grab a diaper or two or three, since bathing often stimulates babies to relax and let loose!

Clean from Top to Bottom

Beginning with the eyes, wipe from the inner to the outer eye corners with cotton balls or a corner of a clean wash cloth soaked and wringed of plain water. Then change cotton balls, or rotate to another corner of the cloth. Avoid cross-contamination of any bacteria housed in one eye to the other as it’s easily transferred. With this in mind, also avoid back and forth swipes on the same eye.

Continue to reveal and wash the rest of their body with mild baby cleanser. Pay extra attention to the neck folds and creases in baby’s arms and legs!  

Don’t be surprised if even gentle rinsing with fresh wash cloths startles baby. Avoid pouring water on your premature baby’s head or face. Cocoon baby in soft, warm towels and gently pat them dry.

Cuddle Time

While cocooned in towels, gently pat baby dry–never rub baby’s skin–especially preemie skin! As their skin dries, dress them in warm layers of clothes to help them remain warm following their bath. Now, it’s snuggle time!

Snuggle your freshly cleansed baby skin to skin or within the warm towels–sing, coo and talk to baby. Teach baby that bath time is a time to relax and enjoy the interaction with you. 


Rita Nutt, DNP, RN, is an assistant professor of nursing at Salisbury University in Salisbury, MD.

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