How To Bathe Your Premature Baby

Chances are your nurse helped you bathe your premature baby in the hospital but now that you’re home you’re struggling to remember every step. Relax; follow these six easy steps to a stress-free and relaxing bath both you and your baby will love each time.

1. Be prepared

Just as you would gather supplies before making your favorite recipe, get your bath assembled in a warm environment. Choose a warm room without drafts, such as your bathroom. Turn off the phone and ask dad or another person for an extra pair of hands to help . . . just in case.

Place the baby bathtub on a firm surface, and set your bathing articles away from baby’s reach. Prepare with: a stack of warm towels, a soft wash cloth, cotton balls, gentle cleanser, a cup for rinsing, a container of warm rinse water, and a soft brush designed for babies (for cradle cap, if present).

Prepare the after-bath area for drying by padding 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 convection oven to warm towels or clothes.)

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

 2. Test the water

Your baby’s bath should be warmer than lukewarm, so she doesn’t get chilled, but not hot. Her body temperature is 98.6 F, so aim for bath water that’s between 99ºF to 100ºF. Test the water with your elbow, rather than your hand, as our hands are used to warmer temperatures. Remember to fill a non-glass container, like a large plastic pitcher, with warm rinse water before you begin.

3. Gently place baby in the water

Supporting your baby in the crook of your arm or with your hand on her back, gently immerse baby into the warm water up to her shoulders. It’s OK if baby still has her umbilical cord, you can immerse it too unless baby’s healthcare provider has told you not to do so. Concentrate on supporting her upper body and allow her lower torso to float freely. If she doesn’t relax into the bath, she may be telling you the water is too hot or cold, that you are holding her at the wrong angle, or that she doesn’t feel well. Not all babies love baths at first. Help keep her warm by covering her torso with a wet wash cloth.

4. 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 wash the rest of her body with mild baby cleanser. (For boys with fresh circumcisions, sponge bathe until your baby’s healthcare provider confirms it’s healed.)

Pay extra attention to the neck folds and creases in her arms and legs.

5. Rinse!

Start with pouring warm water from the top of baby’s head to the back of her neck, avoiding pouring water across her face. Then move down baby’s body, gently rinsing as you go. As you lift baby from the water to rinse her legs and feet, prepare to move her to the stack of warm towels awaiting her.

6. Pat dry

Lay baby on her back gently on the stack of warm towels and wrap her up from head to toe. While cocooned in towels, gently pat her dry–never rub baby’s skin–especially preemie skin! As her skin dries, dress her in warm clothes to help her stay warm following her bath. Now, it’s snuggle time!


Bathing Your Baby

3 Reasons to Delay Your Newborn’s First Bath

Splish, Splash in a Safe Baby Bath

Newborn Skin Care Basics

Bathing & Moisturizing Baby’s Skin

In conjunction with HUGGIES we have a section on diapering, including Practice Mindful Diapering and Diaper Rash Guide.


The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

Comments are closed.

Pin It on Pinterest