Proper bathing, diapering, and care of your newborn's umbilical cord are important during the weeks and months following birth.
For the first year of life, your baby will only need to be bathed every two to three days. Sponge baths are a good way to help you and your baby become accustomed to the new routine. Limit bathing to sponge baths — not tub baths — until your baby’s umbilical cord drops off.
As you become more comfortable with your baby, you can adapt these guidelines to fit your baby’s needs:
- Bathe your baby in a warm, draft-free environment.
- Have bath supplies ready before beginning the bath.
- Keep the water temperature comfortably warm, not hot. Before placing your baby in the water, always test the temperature of the water with your elbow.
- Wash the baby’s face first, using plain water and a washcloth. Wash your baby’s eyes from the inner corner to the outer.
- Use a mild, non-deodorant soap and a soft washcloth to wash the rest of the baby’s body. Pay special attention to folds and creases.
- When washing the genitals, always wipe girls from front to back. When bathing a boy, never forcefully push back the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis.
- To avoid heat loss, wash the baby’s hair last.
- Cover your baby's head with a dry towel to help keep them warm after a bath.
- Use only lotions that are fragrance-free and alcohol-free.
You should change your baby’s diaper frequently, as soon as it’s wet or soiled. Initially, you may feel clumsy diapering — but as with any new skill, you’ll get better with practice. Here are some tips:
- Be ready. Before beginning to diaper, have the necessary items within easy reach.
- Be safe. If you use a changing table, it should be sturdy and have a safety strap. Also be sure it has plenty of room to contain all the items you need to change your baby. Even with a safety strap, you should never turn your back while changing the baby.
- Clean well. Gently and thoroughly clean the skin.
- For girls: Wipe the genitals from front to back. For the first four weeks after birth, it’s not unusual for girls to have a white, milky discharge that may or may not be tinged with blood.
- For boys: Clean under the scrotum. Do not push or pull the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis.
- Watch those pins. If you use cloth diapers, watch out for open safety pins. Always point them outward, away from the baby.
- Skip the powder. Baby powder may smell good, but it can irritate your baby’s lungs. It can also irritate the broken skin of a diaper rash.
Your baby’s umbilical cord doesn’t require any special care, except for keeping it clean and dry. If the cord does become dirty — for example, if there is a small amount of drainage on or around the cord — simply wipe it with a warm, wet washcloth, cotton ball, or cotton swab (Q-tip), and let it dry. Since there are no nerve endings in the umbilical cord, you don’t need to worry about hurting your baby. Folding the baby’s diaper below the cord will improve air circulation and help keep the cord dry.
After the cord drops off, usually in about 12 to 14 days after birth, you may notice some drainage and slight bleeding. This is normal — just clean the cord site gently until the drainage stops. However, if the skin around the umbilical cord becomes reddened, firm, and/or has pus or a foul smell — call the doctor.