Chances are the nures 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 6 easy steps to a stress-free and relaxing bath both you and your baby will love each time.

Baby loves the smell of your skin and the feel of your touch. Bathtime is always the perfect time to talk, sing and bond with baby as you gently massage and clean their limbs and body.  

Babies don’t need frequent baths like older children and adults . And with a preemie baby, less can definitely be more because their skin is still developing and is very sensitive. It’s easy to use too much cleanser or to let them soak for just a bit too long . Perhaps your nurse may have 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.

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.

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. 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.

Place baby’s bathtub on a firm surface, and set your bathing articles away from baby’s reach. Items to have at the ready include:

  • Stack of warm towels
  • Soft wash cloth
  • Cotton balls
  • Gntle cleanser made for baby’s skin
  • Cup for rinsing
  • Container of warm rinse water
  • 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 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 that they don’t get chilled, but not hot. Baby’s body temperature is likely 98.6ºF, 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 their back, gently immerse baby into the warm water up to their shoulders. You may want to place a folded towel into baby’s supportive bath to provide a soft place to rest on.

It’s OK if baby still has their umbilical cord, you can immerse it too unless baby’s healthcare provider has told you not to do so. Concentrate on supporting baby’s upper body and allow their lower torso to float freely. If they doesn’t relax into the bath, they may be telling you that they’re not comfortable. Perhaps the the water is too hot or cold, or you are cradling them at the wrong angle in the water, or that they don’t feel well. Not all babies love baths at first. Help keep baby warm by covering their torso with a warm wash cloth and in time you may notice that baby begins to look forward to this ritual.

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 their body with mild baby cleanser. (For boys with fresh circumcisions, sponge bathe only until your baby’s healthcare provider confirms the circumcision has healed.)

Pay extra attention to the neck folds and creases in baby’s arms and legs! Relish the rolls upon rolls of plump skin.

5. Rinse!

Don’t be surprised if rinsing startles baby–even if you’re ever so gentle. Start with pouring warm water from the top of baby’s head to the back of their neck, avoiding pouring water across their face. Then move down baby’s body, gently rinsing as you go. As you lift baby from the water to rinse their legs and feet, prepare to move them to the stack of warm towels at the end of the bath.

6. Pat dry

As baby rests as you gently pat their skin dry, sing, coo, and talk to baby. Teach baby that bath time is a time to relax and enjoy the interaction with you. Lay baby gently on Their back on the stack of warm towels and wrap Them up from head to toe.

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!


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.


Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, LCCE, is the founding editor of Healthy Mom&Baby, Senior Director of Partnerships & Publications at AWHONN, and a Lamaze-Certified Childbirth Educator at the Mommy Baby Class in Sarasota, FL.

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